Ralph Strong's Stories
At age 85 when Our Hometown was first written, Ralph Strong was still one of the area's most active citizens. He would winter in Florida and be back with wife, Hattie, each summer. Strong told us about the period starting in 1891.
Ralph was born that year, the great-grandson of John S. Strong who was sent to the area by the Connecticut Land Bank to survey and sell a section of Ohio known as the Western Reserve, which they owned. He landed in Cleveland by boat and worked his way out to what is now known as Strongsville where he stopped first in 1816. He surveyed the road from Cleveland to Wooster, cut the area into farms and accepted cattle as his annual payments. Each year he drove those cattle to market in Vermont - on foot.
The township was surveyed and cut into lots of 160 acres each and sold for $2.50 an acre. The early settlers, basically farmers, were from New England. Strong donated what is now known as The Commons, just like New England towns have, surrounded by the meeting house, church, businesses and log homes.
In February 1818, the township was organized and named Strongsville in honor of John Stoughton Strong. He started a gristmill in 1820 along the Rocky River so farmers wouldn't have to go so far to grind their grain.
William, his grandson, was a farmer and inventor and wrote stories and articles for farm papers. In 1887 he married Ella Barry, one of 14 children whose home was in the house which is the Neura Farm on Substation Road.
Ralph was born four years later.
"Father always said that when they married they had a horse and buggy and $25 to start out," Ralph noted. Later, they bought 50 acres of land on the same parcel which is the Strong homestead, the corner of Kingsbury and Pearl Roads.
At age six, Ralph became a "partner" in the farm and was given chores to do. Later, four cows were his to milk twice each day. The same year he started school at Strong's Corners, the corner of Sleepy Hollow and Pearl Roads. It was a one room school house, now converted into the home where Bill and Lucy Grant live.
"We learned reading, writing and arithmetic and I wouldn't change my eight years in that one room school for any eight years in the best school system of today," Ralph once noted.
One day while walking home from school, a big dog belonging to a neighbor came bounding out of his yard and bit Ralph's ear nearly off. The ear was sewn together, burned with a stick caustic and a fresh cow manure poultice placed on it.
"Pardon me," said Ralph, "but I laugh now and wonder what the health department would say about that poultice." For years the teeth marks turned white in the summer. But all was well.
Strong also noted that the school grounds were completely unsupervised in those days. "It's a wonder someone didn't get killed jumping off buildings with umbrellas for parachutes and turning somersaults in mid-air." In addition, older and larger students then, as today, found delight in roughing up the smaller children. One boy, four years older than Ralph, delighted in beating him up. He was a slow learner so both graduated into high school at the same time. In the first two weeks of school, Ralph used one recess period to even the score since he had since become "handy with the gloves." Strong knocked the former bully on his back in the match and after that was good friends with him throughout his life. The teachers, though not condoning fighting, didn't say anything about the incident and one even patted him on the back. Ralph later went on to become proficient in wrestling with only one senior preventing him from winning the championship.
The only athletic competition among schools in those days was baseball. In 1909, Brunswick High had two teams good enough to play two other schools - and beat them both in the same afternoon. The first team beat North Royalton, the second, Hinckley.
Corwin Morton was an outstanding pitcher for the first team and headed for professional baseball until he hurt his arm. Harry Brant was Brunswick's best homegrown player and received a tryout with the Detroit Tigers. "Had we had a coach," Strong said, "Harry would have received a tryout when he was younger and probably could have made the team as a regular."
However, Rube Marquardt, who later pitched for the New York Giants, moved into Brunswick during his high school years. He received a lot of publicity from the news media of the time for being the highest paid player - $10,000. He was considered bold indeed for trying to get that much money. He had a brother, Frank. Ralph remembered he pitched a game at Brookside Park before the largest-ever crowd to attend a game in Cleveland. The teams were Fisher Foods and Grennan Cakes and over 100,000 persons lined the hillsides to watch.
"I like to tell this, though I wasn't in the same class with those two fellows," Ralph remembered. "I pitched my best game at Brookside Park on one occasion. When I pitched, I had terrific speed and was so wild the batter's box was usually governed by how much nerve that batters had."
When he graduated in 1909, there were just seven boys and seven girls in the class. Earl Hadlock and Ralph climbed up on the roof of the old town hall, then on to the cupola and put their class flag on top. (If he had been able to see the ground that night, the chore would have probably failed.) At commencement each student had to give an address. Ralph's father served several years on the school board at about that time.
The year 1909 was the year of the big storm. The Strong farm was virtually wiped out. No crops but a few potatoes survived the tornado-like winds and hail eight inches deep. Ralph had started his college work at Western Reserve in Cleveland, but thought for sure his college days were over after that storm. But an aunt in Albion, Michigan, offered to board him if he went to Albion College, and through her efforts and the sacrifices of his parents, he was able to continue.
At Albion he took a three-year businessman's course, preparing to become a CPA. He accomplished that but never planned to practice, he just wanted the knowledge for business reasons. The fellow ahead of him registering for college was Harry Bangham, a senator's son, with whom Ralph became almost inseparable friends. He and Ralph and a girl named Margaret Osborne were able to take additional math work. They were assigned to decide whether the school should put in adding machines - the first - in 1910. They gave a favorable report and they were installed.
Ralph had a 7:30 a.m. math class and if the professor would oversleep, he'd call Ralph and he would take over the class of 60. Ralph took part in all athletics but never excelled in any of them. "I always have been proud that when I left I was offered a professorship in math. I turned it down but always regretted it because I could have taught and expanded my own education at the same time."
Later, Strong attended law school at Cleveland John Marshall, once again, never intending to practice. Ralph came back to run the family business, known now as Longview Farms, and was very successful indeed.
Ralph remembered that all the roads in Brunswick were dirt until about 1907 when a township vote was taken to improve or not to improve the roads. And if so, whether to start with the north-south or east-west streets. The measure passed despite some opposition by prominent people, and it was the north-south roads which won out.
"We had no cannons to shoot, but Dennis Johnson and I lugged two anvils out into the circle and put gun powder between them. Then we threw them together to let the town know the election results.
"Things went pretty smooth politically...for the democrats could not count 11 votes," he said.
Brunswick had no saloons, so anyone who wanted a beer had to go to Liverpool (Valley City). One fellow, Strong remembered, found he could get high on a patent medicine which had a high alcohol content.
In those days, ever male citizen had to pay a poll tax in either money or work. All improvements to roads or schools were paid for by assessments to the local citizens. "No state or federal aid," he said. Most men worked on the roads which they used to scrape in April with a road scraper drawn by six horses. "We found the scraper pulled harder from what is now known as Laurel Road north than it did going south of there."
Revival meetings were held by the Methodists and usually followed by the other church, known as the Disciple Church. The Methodists would sing, "Will there be any stars in my crown," and the Disciples would sing back, "no not one," he quipped.
"We had an ice storm so bad one year that Carl Steck skated all the way to Valley City from the Brunswick Circle." He also noted that there were times when it was so dry in March the roads were dusty...and others when the wagons were axle deep and four horses could barely pull them out.
Brunswick had two doctors who made house calls, Dr. Wood and Dr. Hawkins. One also pulled teeth. One fellow told Strong that the doctor pulled a tooth for him while he lay down in the furrow he had just plowed on his land.
"I helped to shovel snow from Brunswick to Weymouth one winter so Dr. Would could see a patient there."
They had a blacksmith shop which was most important those days to shoe horses and mend broken down equipment. One of the thriving businesses was Gene Miner's blacksmith shop (where Midas Muffler is). Carl Hausman, who was a powerful man, given to putting on fantastic demonstrations of strength. His daughter still lives in Medina.
There was a creamery about the place across from the Medina Auto Parts Store on Center Road now. They had a pond and used to cut ice from it for refrigeration in the summer.
Rural mail delivery covered Brunswick, part of Strongsville and Hinckley. Louis Peck and Teodor Chapman started deliveries by horse and buggy regardless of weather. "It's unbelievable but true. I saw it myself. A lady named Anna Weneck who lived on Grafton Road owed a bill at the grocery store. She took a postcard and a piece of sloth and with needle and thread, sewed the cloth on the post card with her money inside. I happened to be in the post office when it arrived, money and all," Strong reminisced.
There were three grocery stores. Aylard's and Perkins & Morris at the center and Babcock Brothers at Bennett's Corners. They delivered goods on a regular weekly basis to Brunswick Farmers and sent trucks to Cleveland each week with products from local farmers. Eli Pick was the local poultry dealer and auctioneer. According to reports, Eli was in an accident on the Central Avenue Bridge. He was thrown over the railing but held onto the lines until he was pulled back to safety. His only injury was the loss of half an ear.
The first two autos in Brunswick were owned by Seeley Stebbins and Jay Livingstone. Stebbins was careful but Livingston, speedy. But Stebbins was first to have an accident, running over a youngster. The child fell down and the car rolled over without touching him, luckily. The Methodist minister of the time bought a car and had a one-door garage until the day he forgot to turn the car off and drove right through the back, tearing out the wall.
The town funeral director was George Pitkin. "Pitkin only made one mistake. He dressed a corpse one day, mistakenly putting his own coat on him," Ralph said. "And he never found out until it was too late." The hearse was drawn by two horses, unless it was a muddy spring and then four horses were used. Sometimes even they barely made it through axle-deep mud. He seldom buried bodies the same day as the funeral, but kept the bodies in a brick vault on the cemetery grounds until the grave was dug, usually three or four days later.
The carpenter in town was Frank Clement who built more than half the homes in Brunswick during that era. He built the Strong family home and the first of four additions to it, in 1910.
Local stonemasons, Alfred Clement and Mark Stratford, were well known for their work and their engineering feats, especially the bridge over Route 42 west of Lodi which drew attention from far and wide. Clement was a member of the IOOF and a pinochle player of some repute. His daughter-in-law lives on Grafton Road.
John Miller built a barber shop where the brick building on the southwest corner of Routes 303 and 42 is now. The shop was moved to Weymouth where it still stands.
Brunswick used to have an outstanding band which played throughout the area including Chippewa Lake. Strong remembered that the drummer, named Huffman, set his drum down during a break, lost his balance and put his foot right through the drum. That same band, no doubt with a new drum, led the parade down Euclid Avenue one year under the name of the Brunswick Oddfellows.
In those days, Standard Oil had a pumping station on Boston Road (at the end of Prospect Road). This was a booster station for the giant transmission lines and the township benefited by the taxes for many years. There was a move one time to annex Boston Road to Strongsville which would have taken that revenue from Brunswick. A family named Lockwood stopped the movement.
The Electric Interurban Line
The electric line from Cleveland to Mansfield was build with a substation at Route 303 and Substation Road. This was welcome transportation for people wanting to go to Cleveland and also for shipping milk from here to Cleveland.
The gravel pit came into existence because of the line. That's the pit on Laurel Road west, at Pearl Road, now slowly being filled in.
When the Interurban Line was built, a spur was run to what was then only a hill. Then, the gravel was blasted away from the hillside and shoveled by hand and placed in a car. It was then hauled along the line where it was used to fill between the tracks.
The work was done by a group of 30 Italian men who lived on the site in a boarding house. Their work, however, was all for naught because they discovered the gravel wouldn't pack down and it all had to be shoveled back out and replaced with cinders. The pit was later enlarged by Minnesota Mining. "The electric line was a fine source of tax revenue for the township but later had to give way to the auto," said Ralph Strong.
The powerhouse for the electric lines was on Substation Road and held two large generators. There was a blacksmith shop at the substation where buggies were repaired. Farnum Gibbs sold Gertslager buggies there as well. Material from a church, torn down in Strongsville, was used for the building.
The crossing was the scene of several accidents. One night, Ruth Miner and Bernard Ridiker lost their lives crossing the track. There was no ambulance at the time, so Ruth's father had to carry her body on his lap to the funeral director's office. Glenn Kingsbury was also killed by a train three miles south. Perry Freese was crossing with his grain binder when he was hit by the train. It demolished his machine and killed him. Another accidental death occurred there, but of a different nature. Sam Roth worked on a section crew. He stepped into a booth where the phone for the electric line was housed. There was a short circuit and he was electrocuted. A fellow by the name of Bennett ran his grain machine into the side of an electric car, but lived to tell about it.
"I suppose I may be the only one who remembers that another group tried to finance an interurban car line out what is now Route 42. They graded for it all the way from Cleveland to just south of my house," said Strong, "when they discontinued their efforts.
The Brunswick telephone came into existence and "furnished" a way for women to find out what the neighbors had to say via the party lines. You just had to turn the crank and calls went through the main office which was in the charge of Dennis Johnson. The first exchange girl, I believe was Miss Benjamin," Strong said.
"Something I never forgot, and to me it makes sense," Strong continued. "When superintendent of schools Elmer Drake answered his phone he would take down the receiver and say, 'this is Elmer Drake, start the conversation please.'"
Something called the Farmer's Institute was held each winter. It lasted for two days and was held in the town hall. There were speakers on agricultural subjects and local entertainment held in the evening. Usually there was a capacity crowd, day and night.
Ralph's father built the first round silo in this area, which caused quite a stir at the time. In those days there were no mechanical sprayers so Ralph supplied the "power" while his dad sprayed. They also set out the first grapes in the area, which needed spraying.
Ralph remembers driving to Cleveland on a plank toll road from York Road to Cleveland. And on a trip to Akron he saw a boat going through the locks of the canal pulled by a white mule. In his junior and senior years, Ralph hauled potatoes to market in both cities, often staying overnight to catch the early morning buyers. The farmers of the time put in grape vines and each year 3,000 baskets of ret, white and blue grapes were taken to market by the Strongs, Newtons, Barbers, Kinch's and Killian brothers. The produce was taken to the market (others as well as grapes) where grocerymen and hucksters who sold to others would buy the fresh produce. Once, a local farmer named Brant got angry at a huckster and knocked him through a glass window.
Thousands of bushels of grain were harvested annually in Brunswick. Threshing machines were owned by Jacob Keller, Calvin Brant, Lyman Pritchard and others. Neighbors would get together and go from farm to farm to thrash the grain. And the women of the house had to feed them all. Single workers would board at the homes of the farmers and eat there, too. Strong remembered that they wore boots so hard to remove they required strong help.
For cattle and hogs, the Pierce Brothers of Strongsville were the big area buyers. Walter Folley was the local butcher who worked for Aylard Brothers. Other cattle went to Cleveland stockyards.
Strong remembered the town circle was fine as long as horses were the mode of transportation. But autos couldn't negotiate the turns and many ended up in the middle of the circle.
Vern Miner put up a sign in the circle which was published in papers as far as California. It said, "Drive like hell, we've got a big cemetery."
Surprised at how much he could remember about the past, Ralph noted that someone once said the Strong family would never degenerate because they chose good women. "And I married one - Hattie."