Rose Around Town-OH FOR THE DAYS when elections were simpler (and shorter)... When candidates merely stole votes and arranged for dead people to vote... When politicians talked themselves red, white and blue, instead of speaking in the color of barnyards and mud...
This upcoming Presidential election seems to have been going on forever. And however things turn out,
most of us will be relieved when it's over. Elections on local levels are frustrating too. And we should be used to elections; after all, elections have been taking place in our New Western Reserve for 204 years.
The first election in our state was held on a road near my home, at the Perkins Land Camp on Girdled Road in what is now Concord Township. This was the site of the first territorial election to choose a representative to the State Legislature in 1802, and also the site of the last Territorial election, where two delegates were chosen to the Ohio Constitutional Convention.
Men from Richfield, Conneaut, Mespotamia, Burton, Middlefield and Painesville traveled torturous paths, littered with stumps, brush and fallen trees, to cast their votes in audible voice in open air. Now we seek ever-greater ease in voting, yet percentage-wise we turn out in lower numbers of eligible voters.
Even in pioneer times, corruption was a worry, and primitive rules were set. A candidate caught using bribery, harassment or other undue pressure was disqualified from future elections for two years.
There were fewer offices for which to vote. Only the lowest judicial officials were elected by local voters; all others were appointed by the legislature.
As time went on, and the populations of our communities grew, the effect of some elections on everyday life for certain local communities became apparent.
CONSIDER THE ELECTION in April 1899 in Fairport, when so much was at stake for
that community. The town has lost its village status in 1850. Railroad competition had put a serious crimp in its harbor commerce; merchants were leaving; and warehouses at
the harbor were vacated.
A railroad link had begun to bring business back by the mid 1870s, but the new activity brought serious lawlessness in the notorious waterfront saloons and bawdy houses. This had actually thwarted a serious attempt by the people of Fairport to annex into Painesville.
Without a police department of their own, the citizens themselves began to take the law into their own hands. With whips and chains and brooms, the vigilantes ran law-breakers over the border into Painesville. The election of '99 was a serious effort by citizens to restore law and order and a government that would lead to a more orderly future.
The Lake County sheriff and two Painesville police officers were sent to Fairport on
Election Day to ensure order and fairness, but the voting was surprisingly "pleasant, with not the slightest disturbance," according to the Telegraph newspaper in Painesville. At the close of ballot-counting, the townspeople enthusiastically paraded their new Mayor, George Riker, through the streets.
Law and order was restored that day with the unopposed election of David Lewis as Town Marshall at a yearly salary of $360. With limited funds, Lewis sometimes waited months for his pay, but he stayed the course for a town reborn.
VOTER INCONVENIENCE generally didn't keep the voters away from the polls, but it
sometimes changed borders. Voting, it seemed, took top priority over the amount of land a community might win or lose.
---Perry Township, for instance, once extended south of the Grand River, including Seeley Road, Paine Hollow and all the northeast sector of Leroy Township. But, a lack of bridges across the often rambunctious Grand River made voting difficult-to-impossible for Perry residents south of the river to get to the polls. Perry simply deeded the river-isolated land to Leroy, making the river itself the boundary between the communities.
---And an early Concord Township cemetery and surrounding land were also "moved" by annexation (into Painesville Township) to make voting easier for a neighborhood. In the days when all of Concord voted at the Town Hall, the township's northern border ran along Mentor Avenue. Voters of that area complained about the difficulties in getting to the voting across Concord's muddy, hilly, rough and winding roads. Their petition for annexation to Painesville Township was quickly granted. (That's why, in case you've wondered, the old cemetery on Mentor Avenue, across from Nye Road in Painesville
Township, is mostly filled with Concord settlers).
NOT THAT ALL elections were accompanied by civility, however.
---The Mormons at Kirtland in 1839 backed anti-slavery Democrat Martin Van Buren for president in 1839, while most of the region backed William Henry Harrison of the Whig Party. Van Buren got a majority of Kirtland votes, but lost Geauga and the State, prompting Eber Howe of the Painesville Telegraph to editorialize long and loud that the Mormons had "mishandled the ballot." (Even without Ohio, Polk won the national vote. Ironically, Editor Howe's strong voice was later added to the anti-slavery movement).
---When Democrat James Polk won the 1844 presidential election, and his supporters in Lake County held a merry candle-light procession, their party was spoiled by two bitter local members of the Whig party. Prominent Painesville citizens, George Morley and his brother John, mixed with the crowd and kept blowing out the candles and were loudly cursed by the Democrats.
---In 1895, when women gained the right to vote for school board members, two women were elected to the local board. The Painesville Telegraph furiously complained of a "sad time for Lake County men (as) the two best men who ever lived in Lake County have been swept out of office (by) scores of men... (who) voted as they wives wanted them to."
---An election in 1897 to build Mentor's first four-year high school for students of Mentor Township and Mentor Village failed due to serious bickering between the two communities as to where the school should be located.
GAMBLING WAS A voting issue, even in the old days. Under Governor Samuel Huntington, Ohio's Blue Laws were enacted in 1809 to regulate vice among the pioneers (such as gambling, disorderly conduct, drunkenness, swearing in public, etc.). This might explain Huntington's solid defeat in his run for the Senate, after which he slinked back quietly to his mansion in Painesville.
SCHOOL TAXES WERE unheard of among Lake County voters until Painesville's first
school board---the first school board in Lake County---was elected in 1851. Its first act, in keeping with a campaign promise, was to arrange a town-wide tax to finance public schools. The board then took over the Painesville Academy on Washington Street, at the present site of Harvey High School, and established a free school. Free for the students, but not the town's taxpayers.
In the area of territorial taxes, however, taxing wasn't new. The first tax collector was David Abbott of Willoughby. Elected in 1800 as the first sheriff of Trumbull County (of which Lake, Geauga, Ashtabula and sections of Portage and Cuyahoga Counties were then a part), Abbott agreed to double as tax collector.
After completing his first personal collection of New Western Reserve taxes, he traveled by horseback to Cincinnati to deliver money personally to the State Treasurer, as required.
OTHERS ELECTED INTO public office were also multitaskers, including Abraham
Tappan of Madison, who was both judge of the county and postmaster for Unionville; and Benjamin Bates, prominent Leroy settler and large landowner, who served simultaneously as township clerk, justice of the peace and overseer of the poor.
THE FIRST COUNTY-WIDE election, when our Lake County was newly incorporated, was held April 6, 1840. Total vote was 2,174, with the Whigs winning every office except in Perry, where a member of the Locofoco Party (an independent or radical sector of the Democrats) won the office of fence-viewer. (Perhaps it took a radical to resolve the property line disputes).
RUFFLED COAT-TAILS... In Lake County's 28 sheriffs since that office was formed
in 1840, the only woman to run for sheriff was Arta M. Spink, running under her four-term sheriff-husband's name as Mrs. Ora M. Spink. She promised a vote for her would be a vote for him, and as Chief Deputy, he would run the sheriff's office. The public was not enamored with the idea, and she was not elected.
POLITICAL PARTY SYMBOLS have changed since the early days. In 1892, the logo of Republicans was the eagle; the symbol for the Democrats was the rooster. These logos have been replaced by the elephant and the donkey. What's the logic behind the symbols? Hard to tell. What's YOUR idea on that?
(Our columnist Rose Moore says she always votes and, like the rest of us, is
sometimes satisfied with the outcome, and sometimes not. She can be reached at