Aurora celebrated centennial in 1899

John Kudley
Special to the Aurora Advocate
Centennial President Rollin Granger address the audience.

Early on the morning of Thursday, June 15, 1899 the Aurora community gathered on the lawn of the village’s public square to begin a two-day celebration of its founding a hundred years earlier in 1799.

On June 15, 1899, during the opening ceremonies various dignitaries offered their thoughts and congratulations. One of the speakers by the name of “Bess” had the honor of reading a poem written especially for the event by Sylvester Loy Bissell. Originally titled, “Aurora, the Village of Dawn” but preferred to have it called “The Village Centennial.” Bissell cited the “steadfast” resolve of the earlier settlers to Aurora to seek “the right to life, to love, to home.” Who on their westward march “burst upon an inland sea, a tide less, sun crowned mystery….’neath the beach and the maple’s shade…on the banks of winding stream, they started to hew out their cherished dream.” While the original settlers were held in the collective memory of those present, and that many of their sons and daughters had since moved on in different directions, Bissell wrote that the village still remembers them. Bissell ended his poem looking with hope to the village’s future…

Hymn to Aurora the Village of Dawn

Patient, unknowing, as ever, we wait;

Yet for Aurora, the Village of Dawn,

Let us hope much as the deep years roll on.

Pray that her homes and her churches may thrive,

Pray that her schools and her town-hall survive;

Emblems of freedom to think and to live,

Pledge of peace that the world cannot give.

So, in a hundred years we shall have gone,

Others shall sing of the Village of Dawn

So hail old Aurora! All hail thee today,

For ours is the time to rejoice while we may.

Sylvester L. Bissell

The Aurora Centennial Association was chaired by Rollin L. Granger. A Finance Committee and an “Old Relic Committee” were formed. The Finance Committee raised $400 to pay for the various events over the two day period of celebration. The “Old Relics Committee” collected artifacts, papers, photos and a wide variety of items which were put on display in a tent behind the town hall. A log cabin was erected behind the town hall representing the early homes of the Aurora’s first settlers. Food was prepared to feed over 500 guest. Guest speakers, the schools choir, the Aurora Cornet Band, and a Centennial Chorus informed and entertained the crowd. Mrs. John Gould spoke about Aurora’s “Pioneer History.” Reverend James McKee provided a “Church History.” Mrs. C.R. Harmon gave a speech about “Pioneer Women of Aurora.” Friday evening a “Soldier’s Camp Fire and Military History of Aurora” was held retelling the adventures of Aurora’s men in the “War of the Revolution,” the War of 1812, the Civil War and the “War with Spain.” The Bainbridge Martial Band and the Aurora Cornet Band played patriotic tunes as there was a veterans’ “March of Soldiers to Platform.” The Centennial Chorus, joined by the audience, sang a Civil War tune “Red, White and Blue.” Between speakers they sang “Yankee Doodle,” the “Star Spangled Banner,” “Marching Thro’ Georgia” and “America.”

The “Centennial Log Cabin” displayed “relics” from Aurora’s early settlers.

In his opening remarks, Granger painted a picture of how much the community had evolved over its first 100 years. “Our fathers did not come here one hundred years ago upon the Limited Express and telegraph back to the dear ones left in old New England their safe arrival in their wilderness home. The Railway Locomotive was then an unknown motive power to be revealed by the magic wand of human thought…The Electric Current had not been harnessed by man’s ingenuity and made to convey in silent words, through the ocean to other shores, to carry his voice in natural accents to the ears of the loved one far away. Theirs was a primitive motive power: the horse; the ox; the sailing vessel that slowly carried them from home and kindred westward towards the New Connecticut.”

In his speech, “Aurora’s Pioneer History,” written by John Gould and read by his wife, Gould told the story that he said was “material out of which romance is woven,…” proving that truth is stranger than fiction…” and a story that “would form a pretty plot in a novel.” Gould wrote that during the English Civil War, Charles I King of England was defender of the Catholic faith ordered the beheading of the Protestant opposition. One of those executed was George Sheldon a relative of Ebenezer’s Great Grandfather Isaac. The remaining members of the family fled to New England to avoid religious persecution. One of Charles I sons, Walter Stewart married Elizabeth, a sister of Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell had led the overthrow of Charles I and his subsequent beheading. The Cochran family that settled in Aurora in 1806 were descendants from this marriage. In 1808 the marriage of Ebenezer Sheldon, Jr. to Patty Cochran “united these once warring and beheading families…thus uniting two families, who but for a few generations before were playing foot ball with each others heads…”

When Ebenezer Sheldon built a crude log cabin for his family along the banks of the Aurora Branch of the Chagrin River in summer of 1799 one can only speculate of how the wilderness would be transformed into a thriving Western Reserve township. Within ten years of settlement the population had grown to just over 100. In 1807, the early settlers deemed it necessary to establish the town’s government. Samuel Forward, Phineas Perkins and Ebenezer Sheldon were elected trustees.

As the town grew settlers brought with them the skills necessary as carpenters and joiners to construct frame houses from lumber milled in Aurora and with nails, locks, door catches and glass brought from Pittsburgh. It was also that year that the village’s first community wide 4th of July celebration was held. In the evening a ball was held at the home of Samuel Taylor at which it was “alleged that the entire population attended.

A Centennial Program and a relic “Blood Letting Kit.”

During this first 100 years of Aurora’s history, the Erie Railroad would become an important connection of Aurora with the rest of the nation. Aurora Station would become the center of Aurora’s commercial growth. Aurora was on the way to becoming the “Cheese Capital of the World.” Aurora Center was the heart of the village’s political and religious activity. In the northeast corner of Aurora, Giles Pond (Geauga Lake) had become a popular summer resort and was on the way to becoming a center of amusement.

At the end of the celebration, Centennial President Rollin Granger told the audience of over 500 people that “We have come to the closing moments of this Centennial Celebration. We will not attend the next. I hope some one will be here one hundred years from now and do better that we have done. We have done the best we could…”

Author’s Note: The Aurora Historical Society sincerely hopes that you enjoy the look back into Aurora’s history. To learn more about the Society please visit us on the web at aurorahistorical.org or on Facebook at Aurora Historical Society. Holiday gift merchandise and memberships are available.