A Look Back at Aurora: Celebrating the 50th anniversary as a city

John Kudley Jr.
Special to the Aurora Advocate
The Aurora Shores housing development was in the early stages of planning.

On March 20, Aurora will celebrate its 50th anniversary as a city. In 1971 the population had just reached 6,549 registered voters. The average yearly income was $10,600 and the cost of a house was $25,250. A gallon of gas cost $.40 and a first class stamp was $.08. Alan Shepard was the fifth man to walk on the moon and the first to hit a golf ball on its surface. The Soviet Union launched the space station Salyut I.

The “Pentagon Papers” exposed by Daniel Ellsberg were published in The New York Times. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld school busing as a means to desegregate the nation’s schools. It was also the year of the deadly prison riot in Attica, New York during which 10 hostages and 29 prison guards were killed. The Weatherman, a violent offshoot of the Student for a Democratic Society (SDS) detonated a bomb in the U.S. Capitol causing $300,000 in damage and killing one person. The 26th Amendment to the Constitution lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.

The first handheld calculator made by Texas Instrument hit the market and the Intel 4004 microprocessor was invented. Cigarettes ads were banned from television. Led Zeppelin’s untitled 4th album was released, Jim Morrison of the Doors was found dead in a Paris hotel room, Charles Manson was sentenced to death, and Richard Nixon was named The New York Times “Man of the Year.”

Aurora Auction and Flea Market located on Route 43 operated by the Stutzman family.

"The Last Picture Show," "Diamonds are Forever," "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Dirty Harry" were among the top box office hits. Rod Stewart’s "Maggie Mae," and Tony Orlando and Dawn’s "Knock Three Times," along with songs by James Taylor, Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan spent weeks on the top of the charts. "All My Children," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "The Odd Couple," and "The Partridge Family" captured television audiences that were limited to watching only three national broadcasting stations. “Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down,” “You deserve a break today,” “Hey Mikey! He likes it,” and “I am stuck on Band-Aid, ‘cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me!” were catch phrases that stuck on your mind for hours.

The Aurora City Schools were under the direction of Superintendent Paul Snyder and Jack O’Rourke was high school principal. Louis Mancine and Josephine Dodge were guidance counselors. The Language Department was under the supervision of Joe Manno and Joan Morris directed the Social Studies Department. Ester Nichols headed the Math Department and Helen Schilling was chairman of the Science Department. Other high school teachers were Mary Eilers (art), Dick Kinkoph (industrial arts), Tom Boldt (physical education), George Rose (business) and Mary Washburn (psychology). The high school on West Pioneer Trail was in its sixth year of use. Miller Elementary, Lake Elementary (now the home of Valley Christian School) and Craddock Middle School housed grades K-8. Harmon Middle school would not open until 1973. Two rooms on the second floor of Craddock served as offices for the superintendent and treasurer.

Housing development in Aurora was beginning to take off. The first subdivision that had been built in the 1950s included the 140 homes on Sherwood and Robinhood Drives off North Bissell Road. By the 1970s Four Seasons, Chatham Estates and the Highlands were under construction. Walden constructed by Manny Barenholtz was offering buyers the amenities of a golf course community. Aurora Shores was in the early stages of planning and development.

Aurora was the destination for many visitors. Geauga Lake Amusement Park was purchased by Funtime Inc. and was expanding the park. Sea World was in its second full year of operation. Shamu’s arrival from its winter home was a yearly major event. The Aurora Country Club, which hosted the 1967 Cleveland Open Golf Tournament featuring Jack Nicklaus and drawing 55,000 spectators, remained one of the premier courses in Northeast Ohio. The Aurora Farmer’s Market and Auction operated by the Stutzman family drew large crowds.

Commuter trains still operated stopping at both the Geauga Lake and Aurora Stations. A year early the community was elated when the Chamber of Commerce was able to reach a deal establishing toll free telephone service with Cleveland. The town’s longest running newspaper, The Listening Post, had ceased publication, but Aurora had a new paper when Ralph Kiedel and his sons Greg and Ken began The Aurora Advocate.

Bud Anderson later moved his auto repair business to the shop that is now the site of Aurora Car Care under the ownership of Pat Houlahan.

Grocery shopping in Aurora was limited. It was until the Aurora Village Commons was constructed that Heinen’s (now Marc’s) came to town. Barrington Town Center was still Breezy Point Farm. Shoppers go to Solon to shop at Pick-N-Pay or Kroger’s. However, the community did have its “mom and pop” shops. There was Brownie’s in the old Treat store in front of the Aurora Train Depot. Located in the same building was Ric’s Pharmacy operated by Ric Mattmuller until he moved into the Aurora Village Commons. Ed Hackbart’s store where the Wayside Workshop is located closed its doors in 1969. In the Geauga Lake there was Lyon’s grocery store on the site of Fisher Auto Parts. For that late night run for milk and bread Aurora there were two Lawson’s Dairy Stores. Who could forget its “chip chop” ham or world famous French onion chip dip. And then there was that jingle “Roll on, Big O” that that blared across the radio and on television. It sang the tune of two weary eyed drivers, fighting the elements on the road to bring fresh squeezed orange juice in just 40 hours. The Lawson’s in Geauga Lake is now the home of George’s Donuts. The Lawson’s in the center of the town was in the building adjacent to the Aurora Car Wash which is now occupied by a restaurant, nail salon and Domino’s Pizza.

Millie’s Beauty Shop, located in the building now the home of Nicky & Smitty’s Restaurant had patrons from the surrounding communities.

Driving into Geauga Lake from the center of town along the south side of Route 43 there was a cluster of commercial activity. Hansel Excavating was located where the City’s pump station is located. Then there was Bob Starkey’s Real Estate (Margaret’s Fine Tailoring) in the small little house next to Nicky & Smitty’s which at that time was Millie’s Beauty Shop and Harold’s Barber Shop. Lawson’s Dairy Store was part of the building. The Cottage Tavern on the southwest corner of Route 43 and East Boulevard and was later destroyed in a fire. The V.F.W. Hall was the site of Waddings Recreation. Teresa’s Pizza was the home of Suburban Window. The Volunteers of America was once the White House Tavern. The Chinese restaurant was Val’s Party Center. A vacant auto repair shop is now Matlin’s Transmission. Speedway was Prince’s Gulf gas station. Next was Bozic’s Sohio gas station and the Odyssey was the site of a Clark gas station.

Returning to Aurora’s town center driving south on Route 43 was the new 100-bed Anna Maria nursing home. At the corner of Route 43 and Bissell Road was the Suburbanite Restaurant where patrons could purchase their popular “Whale” burger. At the intersection of Routes 82 and 43 there were Havies’ Pennzoil and Jack’s Texaco. While at the corner of Routes 82 and 306 was Bud’s Sohio. Aurora had two car dealerships. There was Rose Chevrolet where Dunkin Donuts is located and Heritage Ford now Ganley Chrysler. Aurora’s major industrial businesses were Custom Beverage and Fashion Two Twenty. A history of Aurora 50 years ago would not be replete without mentioning the old Pioneer Tavern a popular watering hole built from concrete blocks made on site by Samuel James for his stove and tin shop in 1904. Recently remodeled for office space it was once the Chamber of Commerce building and a real estate office.

The Suburbanite Restaurant, now the home of El Camino Restaurant, capitalized on Sea World to promote their “Whale” burger.

In 1971, city officials estimated that with that by the1980 census the population would reach between 15,000 and 20,000 residents. The need for improved water services was a major concern as they looked to Streetsboro to supplement the city wells. School officials were also planning for future growth.

The current population of Aurora is 16,338. Controlled growth through the acquisition of large tracts of land by the city Aurora and strict development regulations have kept Aurora far below the 1971 estimates. Instead of housing the lands have been saved for parks and greenspace. Gone are the traffic jammed roads leading to Aurora that attracted countless crowds to Geauga Lake, Sea World and the Aurora Farms & Auction. Gone are the computer trains that ran through Aurora. And gone are the days when it seemed that Aurora had more gas stations then it did places to buy groceries.

A special thank you to Jim Vaca, Nancy Decarlo, Carl Schneider, Fred Knop, David Ellis, and Donna and Don Hintz for their valuable recollections of the Geauga Lake area.

Printed with the permission of the Aurora Historical Society which retains rights to all content and photos.