Jean Fischer researches early settlers in Avon

Historical Society celebrates fortieth anniversary

FEATURE ARTICLE from THE MORNING JOURNAL, 7-2-00, By NORMA HIGGINS, Morning Journal Correspondent

"Avon's history comes to life: Grandmother researches community's early settlers

AVON -- An insatiable quest for knowledge has lead to Jean Fischer amassing an impressive collection of facts, pictures and achievements of the early settlers in Avon.

Not only has she collected the information, she has put it all into understandable order and made the information readily available, earning her the well-deserved reputation of Avon's historian.

In between searching through dusty tomes and ferreting out information, Fischer is a skilled quilter and has completed quilts for her eight children and 15 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. ''I started out with baby quilts, then juvenile quilts, and now, I'm on graduation quilts,'' she said.

Fischer and her husband, retired orthopedic surgeon Del Fischer, moved to Avon from Lorain in 1966 because they needed room for their expanding family.

''We had remodeled a home in Lorain for six children, six of everything -- six toy drawers, six boot drawers -- suddenly we had two more girls and we had outgrown that home.''

On her way to Avon to look at a home, she spotted the Greek Revival Western Reserve home on the west side of Stoney Ridge Road, and she rushed home to discuss her find with her husband.

''We looked at the house on Sunday night and looked at it again on Tuesday and bought it Friday,'' she recalled.

Furnished over the years with antiques, the family has enjoyed living in what is known as the Cahoon House, named for the founding family of Wilbur Cahoon, who brought his family from Sheffield, Mass., to settled on the loam-rich ridge, near the French Creek.

Early on, Fischer, whose family lived on the west side of Cleveland was casually interested in history of Lorain County. After moving to Avon, however, she became intrigued with the people who had developed the Avon area in the early 1800s.

While traveling to New York City for a medical meeting, she found that the New York City Library was a font of information about people and families in Avon, particularly the Cahoon family.

''It was amazing!'' she said. ''It's unbelievable what you could find in the New York City Public Library.

''One of the rarely heard of members of the Cahoons was Reynolds Cahoon, a Morman, who was a construction supervisor who was involved in building the Kirtland (Ohio) Temple, and consequently went on to Salt Lake City,'' she expounded.

Fischer
Jean Fischer stands outside her home in Avon which was [completed for the family] of Wilbur Cahoon in 1826. MORNING JOURNAL/DOUGLAS A. KHRENOVSKY.

"[ Norton S. Townshend ] was a father of agricultural education in the United States, one of the founders of Ohio State University.

He came here at age 13 with his parents from England in 1831, and was instrumental in the tiling of Avon ... He went on to become a medical doctor in Elyria, after studying in New York City and Edinburgh, Scotland,'' said Fischer.

Over trained for his field, he turned to education, serving as a trustee for Oberlin College, and starting an agricultural school there before establishing an agriculture school in Cleveland, which failed due to insufficient funding, according to Fischer. He was also a congressman and served as a doctor during the Civil War.

Widowed and remarried, he, his two wives and his parents are buried at the Mound Cemetery in Avon, said Fischer.

''Many of the early settlers are there,'' she said, ''and others are in St. Mary Church Cemetery and Holy Trinity Church Cemetery.''

Fischer said her mother's family has been able to trace its roots to the 16th century because a minister wrote it all down.

''One funny thing I found out about genealogy is that if you're going into the 17th or 18th century you have wonderful records,'' she explained, ''but if you get up to the 19th century, the records are terrible.

We had all these people in Ohio scratching a living, chopping down trees, trying to just live, and keep the wolf from the door,'' she said. ''They didn't have time to write down a lot of information.''

There are almost no records from churches until 1851 or 1852 that you can count on, she said.

''We had mission priests coming and going. People went into Cleveland to get married, so it is very hard,'' she stated. ''And a lot of Holy Trinity records were destroyed in the tornado that roared through the area in 1924.''

Fischer was very involved in collecting information and writing the 32-page booklet for St. Mary Church Sesquicentennial observance.

''It took almost a year to complete,'' she said. ''I don't think I will ever do something like that again -- it's the detail, trying to make sure it is correct.''

She and her husband have made a slide program called ''The Avon Story.'' ''He did the researching and I did the verifying,'' she said. [Also see the Talking Quilt.]

''The Avon Story'' has been updated by Avon resident William Furnas, who created a video to bring the story into the 20th century.

The Fischers got involved with the Avon Historical Society when they first moved to town through the urging of friends and through the years have remained active members.

''Up to that time, I rarely went out. Del was involved in his practice, he was a pioneer in orthopedics, and I was involved in raising a family,'' she explained.

''We like antiques, and we like Williamsburg, Va. When we started going to Williamsburg, I didn't know what Queen Anne and Chippendale were,'' she laughed about her early lack of knowledge concerning furniture styles.

''But finding an antique house, that was really the beginning,'' she said. ''It was not my dream house at all. I had visions of center halls and staircases, (which are not part of the Cahoon House ), but it had all the other things I wanted,'' she said,

Living in a house with that represents so much history is, ''quite a responsibility,'' said Fischer. ''We have to take care of it,'' she said.

''We don't have as many people stop and ask to see it. Maybe it's because I'm not out in the yard as I used to be,'' she mused.

Fischer views the current rapid expansion of Avon, as many Avon residents do, with some consternation, however, ''We'll stay as long as we can take care of the house,'' she promises. ''I never feel that we own that house,'' she said thoughtfully.

''We are caretakers. Someone is going to come after us.

I had a poem, and the gist of it was, 'The man that built this house, didn't know who he was building it for,' but the punch line is, 'He built it just for me.'

''The Cahoons had eight children, and we have eight, so I think he built it for me,'' she said.

Listening to Fischer relate in a soft, gentle voice the details of homes and achievements of families who have lived in Avon since 1814 is a rare look into the lives of people who developed the Western Reserve.

Currently, her history research is a little more recent. ''I'm working on the 20th century. I'm gathering happenings such as when the streets came in, the Avon Isle, when electricity came to Avon, and of course, the modern history, the stores and sidewalks.

''When I really get serious about the 20th century, I'm probably going to start with newspapers, because that was a period when everything was recorded.'' "

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FEATURE ARTICLE from the Press, 6-9-04, By Julie A. Short

``Historical Society celebrates 40 years of preservation, education

AVON -- If the walls of the Wilbur Cahoon home could talk, what a story they would tell regarding the history of Avon. Cahoon was the first to settle in Avon in 1814. Built in 1825, this large home is one of the most impressive in Avon; but Cahoon lived in it only one year before his death in 1826.

The original land purchase was for 160 acres; and another 150 acres were added later, with a total investment of $550. The deed for the land is dated 1816 and is in the possession of the current owners, Dr. Delbert and Jean Fischer.

Information on this home and other historic homes and places in Avon can be found through the Avon Historical Society. The Society is celebrating its 40 anniversary and the Fischers have been active members since moving to Avon in 1966. Both serve as a wealth of knowledge regarding Avon's past and hope to continue educating new and long-time residents on the city's rich history.

"Three words that best describe our mission would be education, preservation and research," Delbert said. "Many people that moved here did so because of the quaintness of the community. We want to keep it that way."

Born as a result of the Avon Sesquicentennial Committee that was active in 1964, the Society initially consisted of 16 charter members who first held meetings in their homes. They later met in the library of the Avon Middle School after finally finding a home in 1977 at the old Town Hall of 1871 at the corner of Detroit Road and SR 611. Currently there are approximately 225 members. Taylor "Jack" Smith serves as president ...

The Society uses a variety of tools to educate the public on Avon's history. "The Avon Story" is a recently completed videotape history of the City from 1814 to today. "The Talking Quilt" is a sound-slide story of the national award-winning quilt created by members of the Avon Historical Society in celebration of the Nation's bicentennial [now available as a videotape]. Society members visit area schools and other interested parties to promote history and preservation, as well as the Society.

"Over the last three years, we've seen a boost in membership," Jean said. It has been a dream of Delbert's for one-tenth of the city's population to be members of the Society. "A town's history is important," he said. "I once wrote in an article that Avon could be the Hudson of Lorain County."

The Society receives no corporate sponsorship and is funded primarily through membership dues and fund-raising opportunities.

"We serve luncheons to a variety of civic, cultural and church groups in this house (Cahoon home)," Jean said. "Boxed note paper with the logo of Town Hall is also sold throughout the year."

The Avon Historical Society is a member of the Ohio Association of Historical Societies and Museums. Monthly meetings are held and usually feature a speaker giving a presentation on historic topics of interest to the members. The group also conducts field trips to historic places in the area.

According to the Fischers, the Society does not wish to construct a museum now, or in the future. By not establishing a museum, which would require huge amounts of fund-raising, the budget is freed up and funds are channeled to maintain the interior and exterior of Town Hall, making improvements as necessary and possible; providing a speaker's fund for monthly meetings; and constant updating of sound-slide presentations.

[The Socety does have a field tile exhibit at the Old Town Hall, corner of Detroit and Stoney Ridge. Jack Smith would like more information on Avon's nineteenth century 'Jugger' pond system. Dr. Norton S. Townshend introduced field tile to Northern Ohio, dramatically increasing the productivity of Avon's Agriculture. Dr. Townshend is one of the founders of Ohio State University.]

The Society recently purchased a new television and public address system for Town Hall. "The city has been very supportive," Smith said. "They provided the building with a new furnace and air conditioning unit. We are very grateful for their help."

During the Avon Heritage Duct Tape Festival Parade (June 19, 2004), the hall will be open for residents to stop in and watch the many videos presented by the Society or just to cool off and use the bathroom. "One of the many significant renovations and purchases we made to the Town Hall was adding the first and only bathroom to the building in 1991," Jean said.

Future plans for the Society include printing of a written history of Avon and booklets covering the century homes of the city. The Fischers and Smiths hope to pass the torch to the younger generation to keep the preservation of Avon alive. "We have some very active young members," Smith said.

The months of May and June are traditionally reserved for celebrating significant anniversaries of the Society. This year a celebration was planned for June 13 and included a tour of the Wilbur Cahoon home. However the event has been postponed until the fall due to health-related issues regarding Dr. Fischer.''

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FEATURE ARTICLE from The Chronicle-Telegram, 9-27-04, By Nick Houser

``Unofficial historian shares love for past with all

AVON - Jean Fischer doesn't just study history - she lives it.

Her love for the past bubbles out as she gives a local history lesson to a group of elementary students on a tour of her Stoney Ridge Road home.

And she knows many historical details. She can tell you about a week in 1911 when a man that was reeling from a romantic rejection became Avon's first, and probably only, terrorist.

The man shot at the girl's house, a horse and buggies and into the air, before committing suicide with a posse hot on his trail, Fischer said.

It's those little facts that Fischer, 77, revels in.

The tidbits just stick in her brain like glue.

"It's funny because you can tell me something that has to do with a local event that happened 100 years ago and I can remember it without having to write it down, but if it's something else I can't remember, if you ask me tomorow," Fischer said.

The retired nurse and her husband, Dr. Del Fischer, jumped right into the local history a year after moving to town in 1966. They moved from Lorain for the same reason many others still do today - because of the schools.

And that's exactly where Fischer loves to spread her research of the local tales to the newest history students.

Oftentimes, you can find her at the old Town Hall at the corner of Detroit and Stoney Ridge roads helping a Girl Scout Troop earn its history badge.

"For me, all the work in exploring the past is about education," Fischer said. "Because if I keep all of this valuable information locked in my house, it doesn't do anyone any good."

She brings them into the Old Town Hall home to show off the quilt that was sewn together in 1976 that features historic scenes from Avon's history and a video produced about it.

Fischer herself had a hand in that too and stitched a piece commemorating the Wilbur Cahoon House, one of the first framed houses in the city that was built in 1826.

She is an expert on the house, mostly because it has doubled as her home for nearly 40 years. Often, she opens it up to elementary students from St. Mary School and the public to serve as a link to the past.

"I like to think of myself as a caretaker more than the owner," she said. "When you think of all the people that ever lived there, I'm just taking care of it and it's not really mine."

But the Fischers like to think the home was built for them. Like Cahoon, they also had eight children and moved into house on Aug 10, 150 years to the day the builder moved into it.

When Fischer is not entertaining other history buffs, she is diligently tracking ... genealogy throughout town.

She started in 1991 with a notebook and the goal to track the first families of Avon. Her mission turned into tracking the history of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church.

THe single notebook has grown to 19, and every week she spends time sifting through local obituaries looking for ties to the town.

All of it is to get others around the city to embrace the past in addition to the bustling future.

"It's just a piece of the puzzle to the past that links the generations together and that's what I like to do the most," she said.''

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