Lakewood: Part Of "The Wild West"???

Everything's relative, I suppose. Just ask anyone familiar with Dr. Einstein's great theory.

Yes, at one time, the lands west of the Cuyahoga River were indeed considered both wild and western in the eyes of many of our early settlers. The land presently comprising Lakewood finally became a part of Rockport Township after treaties with various Native American tribes were concluded. This area was heavily wooded at that time, and was well marked by at least two major Native American trails that became the present Warren and Detroit Avenues. (Warren, by the way, was named after Isaac Warren, an early settler and son of Revolutionary War hero Dr. Joseph Warren. Isaac Warren resided at the intersection of Warren and present-day Madison Avenue.)

Even when civilization as we know it spread farther west, the Rockport area continued to retain a "Wild West" flavor for many years. Lakewood did not achieve "hamlet" status until 1889, and did not even become a city until 1911. Even then, and for many years thereafter into my own lifetime, concrete horse troughs, hitching posts, and old horse tie-down stones could commonly be seen around our city.

In 1849, when the East Rockport area (as Lakewood was then known) was still held primarily by large landowners with fruit farms, gold was discovered in California, and the adventures of the other "Wild West" began to be romanticized in the press. By then, Ohio's Native American tribes had been forced from the state. (Ohio's Wyandots were the last tribe to leave, in 1843, from their home in the Upper Sandusky area.)

A number of shallow tunnels were reportedly dug from homes along what was then known as Detroit's "old plank road" straight down to Lake Erie. Several residents from this area were also reportedly active in the Underground Railroad, and it was fairly common folklore that those tunnels were likely used by escaping slaves on their journey to boats out on the lake that would take them to Canada and freedom.

I was recently made aware of yet another tunnel system. A former Lakewood resident informed me of a tunnel that went east and west from Edwards to Ethyl Avenues, and also north to the lake. That tunnel was reportedly accessed through a basement hatchway from Lakewood's original YMCA building (the former Hall Mansion) where the ballfield presently sits. Although the Hall mansion was constructed after the Civil War, that tunnel system may well have pre-dated it. Indeed, there are many stories of mysterious tunnel openings that dotted Lakewood's cliffs, allowing for the possibility that many secret "Wild West" or Civil War-era adventures apparently transpired here back in those days.

The island presently referred to as "Yacht Club Island" at the mouth of the Rocky River was reportedly used as a Native American burial ground, according to the late Dan Chabek, a former Lakewood Sun Post writer. (Dan's excellent and historic compilation of articles can be found in his book Lakewood Lore.)

There's a fascinating story connecting our Rockport area to the better known "Wild West," and that would be about Adele Parker's "Paradise" Ranch. The story of the amazing, very famous, and fiercely independent Adele Von Ohl Parker and her ranch could occupy several columns all by itself. But in brief, Parker had been a talented horseback rider and show person with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Eventually starting her own show, she reportedly found herself out of work and stranded in Cleveland at the onset of the Depression, having a bunch of horses, a rabbit, and less than a dollar to call her own.

A natural showperson and indefatigable promoter, she was nevertheless soon able to acquire a tract of land on Mastick Road overlooking the Valley. She then established a 34 building ranch there. Any number of rescued animals reportedly lived both in and out of her home from time to time. There's even a famous story about some of her elephant guests bathing in Rocky River. Many school children enjoyed visiting the ranch over the years to see the animals and learn how to ride her horses. "Wild West" shows and rodeos also transpired at the ranch, and many famous "Wild West" stars, including Gene Autry, along with many Native Americans, were reportedly guests there over the years. When Parker passed away in 1969, so did our area's tangible connection to Parker's timeless western boots and saddles, although a historic state marker can still be found at the site of Parker's former homestead.

I'll mention one more connection of Lakewood with the "Wild West." Jack Schaefer was a famous novelist and creator of Shane (made into a 1953 movie of that name starring Alan Ladd and Jean Arthur). Schaefer was born in Cleveland and grew up on the corner of Belle and Franklin. A graduate of Lakewood High School, Schaefer was one of the better known writers concerning western themes. Dan Chabek also profiled him in one of his columns.

The spirit of the "Wild West," therefore, once moved quite freely on the streets of early Rockport, as well as modern Lakewood, and some might say that it continues here today, pard'ner.

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Volume 10, Issue 6, Posted 5:07 PM, 03.18.2014