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The Avon Isle Park

A brief history of the Avon Isle

10-5-05 The Avon Isle Park is salvageable

11-13-06 Historic Avon Isle Park will soon get a facelift

11-10-10 Avon Isle Park building to be renovated

FEATURE ARTICLE from The Plain Dealer, 1-16-02, By Catherine Gilfether, Plain Dealer Reporter

``Hoping to renovate dance hall into a center for Avon's seniors

AVON -- Agnes Zilka vowed never to dance with a bald-headed man. But one spin around the dance floor, and marriage and children soon followed.

Zilka, now 77, and her intended first danced at a hall on W. 25th St. in Cleveland. But after they married and moved to Lorain County, they learned that Avon Isle Park was the place for fancy footwork.

In the 1920s, when dancing was outlawed in nearby Elyria and Lorain, a gal could still fill her dance card at the Isle. Situated at the center of the once-rural community, it was a natural gathering place for quilting parties, picnics, square dancing and bingo for over 60 years.

Residents want to preserve those memories by renovating the 1926 building. Many hope it will become the city's senior center, honoring and serving those who might have once waltzed around a dance hall - if not in Avon, then elsewhere.

Mayor Jim Smith once boxed in fund-raising matches at the Isle, the same building where years earlier farmers were said to have settled disputes via fisticuffs.

"People from all over northern Ohio used to come there," Smith said.

But the dancing pretty much stopped in the 1960s, and the building fell into disrepair. It now houses city parks-and-recreation offices.

"It's a landmark," said Jack Smith, president of the local historical society. "The building ... has a distinctive shape."

The wooden building with a long porch, hip roof and smaller gable at the top sits on a patch of land surrounded by the French Creek. In 1854, a channel was cut to increase water velocity for a nearby sawmill, and an island was created.

Avon Isle Park, painted by long time Avon resident Agnes Zilka, 77, is one of the many local landmarks she has painted. Area residents hope the Isle, once a dance hall, will be renovated to become a Senior Center. Plain Dealer photo by Scott Shaw

The white-haired Zilka painted a picture of the Isle in 1988. But nothing really re-creates the memories, especially of the first time she danced as a youngster.

"I would sit there, a bump on a log, and some guy would come up and teach me to dance," she said. "Then I would walk 2.5 miles to my home, Osage orange on either side of the muddy road. I got home and could still hear the whooping and hollering."

Elsie and George Biltz of Avon were the life behind the party. "George keeps a good, steady beat and is a perfect complement to Elsie's piano playing," Zilka's son, Martin, wrote for a college oral history project.

Elsie recalled being urged to "Call a square! Call a square! So one Saturday night . . . I called a square dance. Well, I tell you, if on Saturdays and Sundays, if you didn't get there early, you'd be lucky if you got in there."

Once, when a tired patron complained to Elsie, she told him to sit out a dance.

"Yeah, but when you start the music, I can't keep my feet still anymore," he said.

Neither can Avon residents, who want to get moving on the renovation. The mayor estimates it could cost $750,000 to renovate the building, rebuild the one-lane bridge, create a walking bridge to a parking lot and build an amphitheater.

Zilka wonders if "there's enough people with that kind of money" to save the building.

Historian Smith said there had to be. "To knock it down would be a sacrilege." ''

Contact Catherine Gilfether at cgilfether@plaind.com

2002 The Plain Dealer

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The current structure located on Avon Isle was constructed between 1925 and 1926 by F. J. Roth. The structure was initially called the Dance Pavilion and provided a home for many community activities. However, it is believed that several buildings have existed on that site; and the site has been known as a community gathering location.

Local groups used the structure for quilting bees, dances, picnics, clambakes and volunteers for the war efforts. Since the cities of Lorain and Elyria had banned dancing on Sundays, frustrated residents flocked to the Avon Isle to dance to the sounds of the big bands, including Guy Lombardo. In later years, amateur and professional boxing matches, such as Golden Gloves, were held at Avon Isle.

In 1997, the City of Avon purchased the Avon Isle along with four acres of surrounding land for $285,000. The structure still exists, preserving a piece of the history of the City of Avon and Lorain County.

Hundreds of years ago, this park was located in Indian Territory. Oral history tells us of finding French military buttons, human skeletons, and rusty old rifles. None of this can be proved today.

However, we do still find arrowheads when the ground is disturbed. This area could have provided a refuge for the hunters, a location to return to with the animals they had killed and a safe haven to prepare the animals for future use.

Over the years, commerce changed from hunting and trapping to farming and more modern pursuits. Ditches were constructed in many areas of Avon to promote farming. The use of field tile was introduced by Dr. Norton S. Townshend.

In 1854 a steam sawmill was built adjacent to Avon Isle and a deep channel was constructed to increase the velocity of the water to the sawmill. This construction truly rendered Avon Isle an island.

In the 1870's the Avon Isle park was used as Avon's Fairgrounds, where agriculture fairs were held.

Ag Fair

The Agricultural Fair of 9-28-1875, Awarding Committees:

Horses -- Charles Hall, Harry Torrill, Hiram Burrell
Cattle -- Horatio Torrill, Thomas Hurst, E. A. Day
Sheep -- John Ellson, Josiah Hurst, John Carter, Sr.
Swine -- Edwin Byington, Wm. Laudon, L. Crandell
Poultry -- N. S. Townshend, J. B. Wood, E. Snow, E. D. Hicks
Mechanics Work -- no committee shown
(men's fine boots, men's coarse boots, women's shoes, single harness, double harness, farm wagon, buggy, flour barrel, pork barrel, wash tub, bureau, bedstead, horse shoes & nails, gate irons)
Farm Products -- Sam'l Gillett, O. B. Cahoon, E. Jackson
(wheat, oats, barley, corn, Timothy Seed, Clover Seed)
Vegetables -- Jno. Blackwell, A. Townshend, J. Lester
(early potatoes, late potatoes, Turnips, Sweet potatoes, Tomatoes, Onions, Beets, Water Mellons, Musk Mellons, Cabbages, Squashes, Pumpkins)
Fruits - illegible; Dairy Products - illegible; Flowers - illegible
Domestic Manufacture -- Mrs. C. A. Fitch, Mrs. O. B. Cahoon, Mrs. T. Wilder
(Coverlet, yarn carpet, rag carpet, woolen socks, cotton socks, woolen mittens, domestic tailoring)
Ornamental Work -- Mrs. M. Townshend, Mrs. H. H. Williams, Mrs. Langdon
(worsted embroidery, silk ", cotton ", paintings ", drawings "
Miscellaneous Articles -- H. H. Williams, W. L. Smith, Mrs. Ford

[OFFICERS:] N. S. Townshend, Pres., Geo. S. Phelps, Secretary, Wm. L. Smith, Treasurer, Cyrus A. Fitch, Marshall

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NEWS ARTICLE from The Press, 10-5-05, By Julie A. Short

[Avon Isle Park is salvageable]

``AVON -- There's been a lot of talk lately about maintaining Avon's quaint charm, and one older building that deserves preservation consideration is the Avon Isle (37080 Detroit Road) ...

"We're running short on space to run our recreation programs," Galant said. "We are currently using the building for our baton and pompom classes and we will be starting a yoga class in the building." ...

According to Galant, ... the building is salvageable, but a number of repairs should be made including painting, installing new windows, updating the restrooms, lights and heating elements, as well as reconstructing the bridge which has been closed to cars and is available only for pedestrian access. Parking for the Isle is available at the Avon Animal Hospital ...

"We'd like to eventually try to make it a small recreation center for the kids and maybe add some more meeting rooms where we can rent it out. The land around the building could be used as a picnic area," Galant said. According to Mayor Jim Smith, it will cost approximately $300,000-400,000 to bring the building back to its original luster ...

[If the Isle were on the Department of Interior National Register of Historic Places, grant money for repairs would be available.]

The building sits on approximately 2.5 acres, along with another 1.5 acres on the other side of French Creek for parking which the city owns. When the city purchased the building from the former owners ..., the mayor had the money put into a "remainder trust" to benefit both the owner's family and the city.

The Avon Isle is near and dear to the mayor's heart as the location was where his parents first met, as well as the place he would participate in amateur boxing matches in the 70s. "We called him the 'Clipper Kid," Galant said, who back then was in the ring as Smith's manager. 'Clipper Kid' is in reference Smith working as a barber .

According to information listed at http://www.avonhistory.org, the Avon Isle was constructed in 1926 by F. J. Roth and was initially called the Dance Pavilion and served as a destination place for many in the area to gather for weddings, bingo, boxing matches, quilting parties and dancing.

In its early days, Charlie Chaplin movies played at the hall for a nickel. During the 1950s, the owner brought in a kiddie park complete with a Ferris wheel. "People from all over northern Ohio used to come here," Smith said. The dancing stopped in the 1960s and the building fell into disrepair.

"It's a landmark," Historical Society President Taylor "Jack" Smith said in a 2002 Plain Dealer article found on http://www.avonhistory.org. "The building ... has a distinctive shape." The wooden building with a long porch, hip roof and smaller gable at the top sits on a patch of land surrounded by the French Creek. In 1854, a steam sawmill was built adjacent to Avon Isle and a deep channel was constructed to increase the velocity of the water to the sawmill. This construction rendered Avon Isle an island.

Hundreds of years ago, it was believed the park was located in Indian territory. Oral history tells of finding French military buttons, human skeletons and rusty old rifles, although none of this has been proven. However, arrowheads have been found. The area could have provided refuge for hunters.''

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NEWS ARTICLE from The Morning Journal, 11-13-06, By MEGAN KING, Morning Journal Writer

``Historic Avon Isle Park will soon get a facelift

AVON -- Historic Avon Isle Park will soon be getting a facelift, but city officials want to restore it to its original beauty rather than modernizing its look.

The approximately 3-acre park at 37080 Detroit Road, which has been part of Avon since the 1920's, will need to have the bridge crossing French Creek rebuilt. An upgrade to the foundation of the popular 50-by-70 foot indoor dance pavilion, including a new porch, is also needed, according to Mayor Jim Smith and Avon Parks and Recreation Director Gerald Galant. Smith said it would cost about $100,000 to rebuild the bridge, and the timeline for improving the rest of the park will depend on finances. He said he hopes construction will begin this summer.

"It has a lot of significance; it's an historic structure," said Smith, whose parents once frequented the dance hall. Smith himself used to participate in boxing matches there. He said the park was a "mainstay of entertainment" in the first half of the 20th century and included a dance hall and small amusement park. Big bands often played therein the 1930s and 1940s.

He said the city is committed to maintaining Avon Isle's historic look and feel. "We're not going to change anything. We're going to bring it back to its original look the best we possibly can." The improved Avon Isle Park building will also allow the city to fill a need for increased space for group use for classes and youth athletic groups - which are growing more quickly than the city can find space for them. "(The Park) is something with history, but it is also something with square footage that you can have for modern useage," he said.

Jack Smith, president of the Avon Historical Society, said Avon Isle dates back to the 1870s when the Avon Agricultural Society used the area for fairs, which included contests for making preserves, knitting, weaving and harness making. "It was what they had to do in the ordinary course of their lives, and they took great pride in it and awarded each other prizes," Jack Smith said.

Later, Avon Isle's dance pavilion became famous in the early 20th century when Lorain and Elyria outlawed dancing on Sundays, Jack Smith said. "Avon was a rip-roaring town when everything else was shut down," he said. Avon Isle was also well known for its square dancing events. "I actually used to go square dancing there in 1950, when I was a sophmore," he said. He said he hopes to see the dance hall restored. "The original dance floor is beautiful," Jack Smith said. "I'd like to see some square dancing re-established there."

Ralph White, vice president of the Avon Historical Society, is working on an application to have the pavilion added to the National Register of Historic Places. "As a lifelong Avon resident, a lot's changing, and many of the old structures are being lost," White said.

White said he has recieved approval of a preliminary application to the National Register of Historic Places, but he has to file an exhaustive final application, documenting historical information on the building, before it can be considered for the register.

The historical society received a plaque from the Lorain County Preservation Network designating the pavilion as a Lorain County landmark, which the historical society plans to present to the city to display on the building after its restoration, White said.

Jack Smith said no matter what the activity, he hopes Avon Isle can be restored to its orignal form and continue to provide a place for Avon citizens to gather. "Everything changes in the sense that you do different activities in different eras," he said. "I'm not exactly sure what will be the primary function of the Isle dance pavilion, but I believe it will be used to good advantage for the town."''

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NEWS ARTICLE from The Chronicle-Telegram, 11-10-10, by Kaitlin Bushinski

Avon Isle Park building to be renovated

``AVON -- Officials are hoping the historic Avon Isle Park building will once again be a highlight for the city with the help of grant funding.

Mayor James Smith said the city received $171,000 from the Northeast Ohio Public Energy Council to make the building more energy efficient and update its siding, roofing and heating and cooling units and workers are already installing new windows ...

Smith said the total cost of updating the 8,000-square-foot building will be about $380,000. The city also is paying to replace the bridge leading up to the park, a $140,000 project.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources awarded the city a $50,000 grant for the bridge reconstruction, Smith said.

Smith said the facility will be used for different activities by the city, private organizations and the public.

"It's got a beautiful dance floor -- the porch will be nice because the creek that runs around it is absolutely gorgeous. People can go and enjoy themselves," he said.

The project is scheduled to be completed in a year, Smith said.

On Monday [11-15-10], Council will consider bids for the building's interior projects, such as restrooms.

In July [2010], Avon Isle Park was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The register lists places that should be preserved because of their significance in American history, culture, architecture, archeology or engineering.

[See www.avonhistory.org/jean/islapp8.htm]

Avon Isle originally was bordered on three sides by French Creek. It is believed to have been a stopping point for nomadic Native American tribes.

In the 1850s, a channel was cut to increase water flow to a sawmill, and Avon Isle became an island.

It became a public gathering place in the 1870s, was used as a fairground, a place for parties, and during the late 19th century as a place for the U.S. Army to buy horses to use in the Spanish-American War.

The building currently on Avon Isle, built in 1926, was used as a dance hall and was very popular with people from Elyria and Lorain, where dancing on Sundays was banned ...

The city bought the property in ... [1997].''

Contact Kaitlin Bushinski at kbushinski@chroniclet.com.



NEWS ARTICLE from The Press, 11-18-10, By Rebecca Turman

Council approves Avon Isle renovation work

``AVON -- Avon City Council members voted Monday night [11-15-10] to move forward with renovations to Avon Isle by awarding a $475,460 contract to Ross Builders Co. Inc., the lowest bidder.

In July [2010], the Ohio Historical Society announced the National Park Services listed Avon Isle, which served as a community center and dance hall, on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Ohio Historical Society provided a brief history on Avon Isle in a July 19 announcement:

"For more than 50 years, Avon Isle served as the hub for recreational and social activities for Avon and surrounding communities. Built in 1926, it served as a dance hall until 1959 and then hosted community functions until the 1970s.

The pavilion is architecturally intact and remains in its historic setting within Avon Isle Park. Avon Isle embodies the characteristics that make it an excellent representation of recreational dance pavilions associated with this early- to mid-20th-century America. During this time, social dancing was a major recreational and social activity.

Avon Isle was one of hundreds of dance halls that sprang up early in the 20th century in Ohio. While many dance halls were built in proximity to newly popular amusement parks, Avon Isle never housed permanent amusement park rides. Its natural park-like setting may have contributed to its continued use and survival."

Just before Avon Isle was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Avon Mayor Jim Smith initiated discussions regarding renovations to the building, located at 37080 Detroit Road.

During the Nov. 8 [2010] City Council work session, Ron Landig, president of RWL Architects, explained a full exterior renovation to Avon Isle would cost $310,000, per Ross Builders' bid.

The city has received approximately $171,000 from a Northeast Ohio Public Energy Council (NOPEC) grant, which will be put toward the project cost.

At Monday night's meeting, Bill Belloma, of RWL, said the grant would help cover the project cost of Phase 1 - the exterior work and waterproofing the membrane of the basement.

Belloma estimated it would take 110 days to complete exterior renovations.

Phase 2 of the project would possibly include some of the alternates included in the total $475,460 bid - new dressing room/toilet areas, making the first floor handicap accessible, new toilet rooms and new plumbing utilities ...

"It will be a very nice building," Smith said. "This thing will be used all the time once it's completed."''

Contact Rebecca Turman at rturman@2presspapers.com

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