COLUMNS

Geauga Lake community made its mark on area

JOHN KUDLEY JR.
Kent Weeklies

“If I sold this house I would be selling part of me. It’s not a perfect neighborhood. 

But tell me where (is) the perfect neighborhood other than with God, you know.”

Liz Strahan, Former Aurora City Councilwoman

Mention the name Geauga Lake and one would immediately think about summer nights spent riding the Big Dipper, spinning around on the Sliver Rockets and eating cotton candy.

However, one may not have realized that directly opposite the entrance to the park was and is the unique and dynamic community of Geauga Lake. What began as a small collection of “summer cottages” with a few year-round residents has emerged to become a thriving and vibrant community of homes and businesses.

The residential growth of Geauga Lake began in earnest with the formation of two land development companies just prior to the outbreak of World War I. In 1915 the Geauga Lake Orchard Co., Inc. recorded its first allotment bounded by Lake Avenue to the north, Cleveland-Solon-Aurora Road to the east, with the southern property lines on Orchard Avenue to the south, and Pennsylvania Avenue to the west.

The company recorded a second allotment in 1916, which extended its northern and southern boundary lines westward to California Street. In 1920 the Western Reserve Land Co. established a third allotment to the south. It included the residential areas of Lloyd, Bryce and East Boulevards and an area that went undeveloped to the east. If fully developed, the community would number more than 700 residential lots.

As development moved forward a homeowners’ association was created in June 1921.

The Geauga Lake Improvement Association (GLIA) was chartered with the purpose of “promoting and protecting the business, educational, social, moral and civic interests and general welfare of its members and the community adjoining Geauga Lake, Ohio.”

Residents of the community were granted use of the lake through their individual property deeds. Lakefront property on the southern side of the lake adjacent to the “park” was also deeded to the GLIA by the Geauga Lake Orchard Co. Access to the lake was guaranteed to all property owners and their “heirs and assigns.” While the lake surface belonged to the Aurora Amusement Co., boating rights were granted in the deeds. The deeds stipulated that to gain access to the lake, one had to be a member of the GLIA. The rights and restrictions still exist today.

From its incorporation in 1921, until the annexation of the township by the village of Aurora in 1959, the Geauga Lake community was officially part of the larger Aurora Township.

However, the GLIA was the driving force in the economic and social well-being of the community as well as its active political voice. The officers of the GLIA constantly worked with the Township trustees to resolve the perennial issues of rubbish collection and sanitation. They even petitioned the State Highway Department to reduce the speed limit on Cleveland-Solon-Aurora Road (Route 43) from 50 mph to 35 mph.

In September 1953 the GLIA successfully sought approval from the Portage County Board of Elections to establish a polling place in Geauga Lake at the GLIA Clubhouse which was located down by the lake. Turnout in the first election held at the clubhouse surpassed that of both the village and the remainder of the township.

Beginning in 1942 the GLIA began attending to the spiritual needs of its residents by utilizing the GLIA clubhouse as a community church. Due to war-time gas rationing, the pastor of the Church in Aurora, the Rev. J. R. Hutcherson, commuted weekly from the village center to hold services by the lakeside.

In 1947 local residents raised money to construct a permanent church, which was dedicated in September 1953. The GLIA Clubhouse and the Geauga Lake Community Church served as the focal points of community activities.

Community members worked with township officials and Aurora Amusement Co. owners to build Geauga Lake’s first firehouse. Materials were provided by the township, and work was performed by volunteer firefighters and community members. The firehouse came into service in 1950 with a fire truck supplied by Township officials. In 1997 the station was replaced providing 24/7 area coverage.

Law and order in the community was maintained by an elected constable, who provided 24 hour service seven days a week. Unfortunately for the constable, the community was not concerned about his income. In fact, the only income that the constable received was through fines imposed on traffic violators.

The GLIA petitioned the township trustees to place a levy on the ballot to raise money to provide a full-time salary. The levy failed, however Al Budahazy continued to serve as constable until full-time police protection became a reality with the annexation of the township by the village.

The community voice was the monthly local newspaper The Listening Post. Not only did it serve the Geauga Lake community, but it was also the only locally published newspaper representing both the village and township.

First published in October 1946, the paper was the result of volunteer efforts of local Geauga Lake citizens. With borrowed typewriters and a mimeograph machine, 250 copies were distributed to residents of the Geauga Lake community and to others in Aurora, Reminderville and nearby Solon. The cost of operation was offset by hand-drawn ads and donations.

Articles included not only news about Geauga Lake but also the township and the village. The work of the GLIA, news about the Aurora schools and athletics, the events of community groups and organizations, editorial comments, as well as local gossip were covered in every edition.

When The Listening Post published its last newspaper in 1967, circulation had reached over 1,000 monthly copies with papers being sent to Aurora’s servicemen overseas.

While the laughter and screams that echoed across the park are now silent and the land has been reclaimed by Mother Nature, the Geauga Lake community continues to grow and prosper. Behind the store fronts of Nicky & Smitty’s, the V.F.W., the Volunteers of America and the Speed Way gas station nearly 600 families make the community their home.

Moving to Geauga Lake as a little girl following World War I and having lived in the community for over 80 years prior to her death in 2012, resident and community leader “Liz” Strahan resisted efforts by her children to get her to move stating that “…if I sold this house I would be selling part of me. It’s not a perfect neighborhood. But tell me where (is) the perfect neighborhood other than with God, you know.”

Kudley is president of the Aurora Historical Society.