Dedication Speech

 
"Thank you and welcome. As many of you know, this was the site of the Silver Lake Amusement Park at the turn-of-the-last century. We ordered this weather, so you could get a taste for a day at the amusement park. Be thankful, that you are not dressed for that era. For the women, high necked, long sleeve blouses with multi-layered long skirts. And, oh yes, if you wanted to swim in beautiful Silver Lake, you’d be wearing 100% boiled wool swimwear covering top and bottom for both women and men. It’s been said, history repeats itself. Let’s hope early 19th century fashions don’t.

There are only so many words that will fit on an historical marker. These words were carefully and accurately chosen. History repeats itself and so do the history books. In doing the research, care was taken to find eyewitness accounts of these events.

History is a also tool to see where we have been, a tool to show how much we’ve changed and a tool to predict where we are going.

Let me explain more fully the details behind the wording on the marker. In the early 1800’s, soon after Ohio became a state, the first American settlers began putting down their roots in this area. Judge William Wetmore arrived in 1804. In 1808, the judge built a log cabin overlooking the lake (point) at the advice of his friend, Chief Wagmong, head of the local Indian tribe. Judge Wetmore was conscientious in his dealings with the purported Seneca. The history books mention 500 huts lining Route 59 and extending from the lake to the Cuyahoga River. Judge Wetmore never allowed any bartering with the Indians, so there would never be any hard feelings. The Indians traded venison and furs for whiskey, calico and vegetables.

Two accounts state the Wetmore family noticed their Native American friends were holding a war council - something that had never happened before. The Wetmores hurriedly armed themselves with the few guns they had and stayed up all night watching from top of the hill. As daybreak approached, the Native American camp appeared deserted. Two days later, the Wetmores finally ventured down to the huts and found them empty.

The early white American settlers did not believe the Indians were knowledgeable of the War of 1812. But on that night a British spy dressed as an Indian convinced the Seneca tribe to join the British forces in return for their land. Overnight, the Native Americans disappeared to fight, but ignored the Englishman’s plea to kill the Americans first.

As the war progressed, the Indians became suspicious of the promises of the British and they switched sides. Local lore reports some braves returned to Silver Lake as war heroes, decorated by the American General William Henry Harrison. As there were no other tribes living in the area and their families did not accompany them, they left to settle on a reservation in Wisconsin.

It is likely these original inhabitants were transplanted from one of the eastern states, perhaps New York and pushed west by a growing American population that cleared the land for farming. The Wetmore story is consistent with other Indian activity in the country. These Native Americans were the first conservationists. They only took what they needed from the earth. During the French and Indian War which was fought over the control of trade and the land in the New World and in the War of 1812 between the Americans and British over some of the same issues, it may seem that the Indians ever-changing loyalty was suspect. But they consistently joined the army of the likely winner who would promise them the return of their land and maintenance of their lifestyle.

By the time, they reached the shores of Silver Lake, the group may have been a mixture of displaced tribes. The effect of the Christian missionaries, who had arrived in the area in the late 1600’s could also be seen. Instead of living in long communal dwellings, each family occupied its own small hut.

Essentially, these first settlers were entrepreneurs, but their success was not measured in monetary wealth or even land, but in survival and the relationships formed to weather the harsh Ohio winters.

Later that century, when Ralph Hugh Lodge was growing up in Munroe Falls, this area was wheat fields. Perhaps the humble beginnings of the Silver Lake Amusement Park, commemorated on this side of the marker was the manifestation of Ralph Lodge’s mid-life crisis, for at age 43, he bought the lake..and just the lake. This was the same lake, Judge Wetmore had bribed a surveyor to run his property line next to the lake as to not pay a penny of tax on a drop of water.

The year after his aquatic purchase, now 1875, Ralph Lodge acquired 35 acres of earthen land, replaced the wheat fields with hard maple trees and began a horticulture business, supplementing it with boat rentals and swimming on the lake.

So from that time through World War I, the Ralph Lodge family operated the Silver Lake Amusement Park each summer. Situated around Silver Lake and Crystal Lake, it was served by three railroads, and, although the Park was closed on Sundays, it was a profitable venture. As many as 10,000 people visited the Park each day, including the families of many area companies who held their annual picnics here. The Park maintained its own police force, and Victorian-era rules were enforced to ensure proper behavior, especially on the popular dance floor, complete with a raised orchestra platform, from which floated the Silver Lake Waltz.

The Lodge family of nine children exemplified the mid-18th century’s entrepreneurial response to the Industrial Revolution and rapid improvements in technology. Their diverse interests included engineering, construction, and zoology. They applied these interests to develop a toboggan water slide, a roller coaster, a miniature train, an electric boat launch, a steamboat, an aquarium, and a menagerie. Their marketing skills were realized in the successful 15,000 square foot dance pavilion, dining hall, bathhouse, 83-room hotel, racetrack, airstrip and Sunday School camp. Below us, was the dance pavilion with a dining hall on the first floor. The current boathouse occupies part of the space. We are standing near the entrance to Silver Lake Park. Behind me was the hotel, aptly named, The Lodge. Also, in the spirit of the Lodge family’s notoriety for flower gardens adorning the park, we would like to bring to your attention the plantings around the marker, compliments of the Silver Lake Park Board and the Silver Lake Garden Club and the flagstone walk provided by the Village of Silver Lake.

The animal behavior journals and records that were maintained by the Lodges are of national significance. The Park has the distinction of being the first to consistently raise black bear cubs in captivity, a feat that the national zoos could not accomplish at that time. Alfred Baker, representing the Smithsonian Institute, visited the Park in 1903 to observe the Lodges’ techniques. He documented his findings for the Smithsonian in a booklet called, "Raising Bear Cubs in Captivity." In fact, Patrick, the patriarch of the bear family sired over 70 cubs.

In 1908, a defunct competing park encompassing Crystal Lake was purchased and turned into a camp on the north side of Silver Lake named Chautauqua Park. Prominent speakers of the day visited to dispense their worldly wisdom.

While constant improvements to the buildings and amusements were made yearly to ensure continued patronage, other special events were also part of the marketing effort. In 1900, the steamer, Will Dailey, was advertised to be dynamited in the middle of the lake. It rained. The boat was successfully destroyed the following evening. Also extensively promoted was the race between a car driven by notable racer, Barney Oldfield, and an airplane in 1913.

During World War I, it became necessary to utilize the railroads in the war effort, resulting in a decrease in visitors to the Park. To maintain profitability, Chautauqua Park housed service men. The automobile was gaining in popularity at the time and The Silver Lake Park Co. hoped an increase in car traffic would offset the decrease, but, in 1917, the last hold-out in the Ralph Hugh Lodge family, William Lodge, the treasurer of the Silver Lake Park Co. agreed to the sale of the land - over 500 acres for $500,000. The park was divided into residential lots. As a result, today’s Silver Lake is a residential community, situated on a privately owned lake. Now being a successful entrepreneur meant acquiring land and monetary wealth.

History is a tool to see where we have been, a tool to show how much we’ve changed and a tool to predict where we are going. This historical marker has been placed here for the future.

On behalf of marker’s sponsors, The Ohio Bicentennial Commission, The Longaberger Company, The Silver Lake Historical Society and the Ohio Historical Society, I welcome you to visit and enjoy!"

Candice Kramer Bergsneider, July 21, 2001

"Courtesy of The Silver Lake Historical Society"

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