Bad feelings following annexation battles lasted decades

Aurora Historical Society
The shaded area of this map indicates Aurora Hills Village under a proposal rejected by voters in 1958. The unshaded area would have remained the village of Aurora

Note: This is the second and final part of a two-part column regarding the establishment of Aurora as a city.

The birth of the city of Aurora in 1971 was the logical culmination of the community’s growth and development. However, the “child” was not conceived and brought into the world without its share of complications. There were those who sought to move in a different direction.

The first involved a prolonged legal battle that began in 1925 and was settled by the Ohio Supreme Court in 1932. Prohibition became the law of the land with the passage of the 18th Amendment in 1919 and remained in force until 1933 when it was repealed by the 21st Amendment.

During this era of the “noble experiment” both the Aurora Village and the township of Aurora which included Geauga Lake, was the home of bootleggers and speakeasies.

Aurora’s rural setting and close proximity to Cleveland made it an attractive location for this illegal activity.

In addition to the prohibition of alcohol, the era’s conservative values led to the passage of laws dictating the standards of behavior. In 1925, the State of Ohio enacted a series “blue laws,” that prohibited public dancing, roller-skating and similar entertainments on Sunday.

Permits could be issued to allow such activities by the county. However, Ravenna Probate Court Judge Henry J. Robison refused to issue permits believing that “Sunday dancing is unnecessary and that six days in the week give ample time for such form of recreation.”

To circumvent the law and the judge’s refusal to issue permit, a group of residents, business owners and officials from Geauga Lake Amusement Co., attempted to seek incorporation of what would be named “Geauga Lake Village.” If successful, residents would be able to elect their own mayor and village council. Ordinances could then be enacted to allow activities presently prohibited by law.

Precedence for this was set by voters in Brady Lake, located in Franklin Township, when they successfully installed their own village officials and enacted legislation allowing Sunday dancing. Like Geauga Lake, Brady Lake was a small resort community which relied on Sunday recreation.

In July of 1930, as the legal action to create Geauga Lake Village was proceeding, the Geauga Lake Improvement Association (GLIA), representing the rights of property owners outside the proposed limits of Geauga Lake Village, filed suit in Portage County to prevent its incorporation.

The GLIA claimed that the unreasonably small boundaries created an “improper division” of the Geauga Lake community. The proposed included 53 residences, seven bars and the amusement park, while outside the proposed limits there were an estimated 300 permanent and summer residences. The court ruled in favor of the GLIA keeping the Geauga Lake community intact and therefore part of Aurora Township.

The next controversy concerning the political makeup of the community occurred while the township was being annexed by Aurora Village. Once again, it was a group of citizens living in the Geauga Lake area who initiated the dispute. In the summer of 1957, the GLIA had formed a study committee to investigate the pros and cons of annexation by the village.

The committee soon discovered that another part of the township had already begun the process of petitioning for annexation. The GLIA immediately became concerned that if sections of the township independently sought annexation, the township would be divided, leaving the remaining sections of the township with inadequate operating funds.

Therefore, the group filed petitions with the county commissioners seeking incorporation of the entire township independent from the village. The new incorporated township would be known as “Aurora Hills Village.”

In opposition to the movement a “Citizens Committee for the Good of All Aurora Township & Village” urged voters to reject the proposal and allow the annexation of the entire township by the village of Aurora. The group believed that it would be administratively more cost-effective, would avoid planning and zoning conflicts between the two entities, and would provide for orderly building codes and traffic regulations throughout the community.

Voters agreed with their position and rejected the proposed incorporation of the Village of Aurora Hills. Annexation of the township by the village proceeded and was formalized only July 21, 1958.

Soon after annexation was complete a group of “Southern Aurora Residents” sought to secede from what was now Portage County’s newest and largest political subdivision, surpassing that of Kent and Ravenna. The northern boundary for the new township began on the eastern edge of the village at the Mantua line, running along East Pioneer Trail to the center of the village. It then took a “deep jog to the south by southwest” and back northward to the corner of West Pioneer Trail by the Church in Aurora. The boundary proceeded directly west along Pioneer Trail and then followed Route 82 to the Summit County line.

In effect approximately one-third of the village would be cut out by the “Southern Secessionists.” Their reason to “detach” was based on the claim that the remaining portion of the village was economically diverse in nature. The northern portion was largely “suburban” while the southern portion was “agricultural.” Therefore they concluded that the “character” of both areas was too diverse to be compatible.

In a letter to the Portage County Commissioners, the group referred to the day that annexation was approved as “Black Monday” and argued that their “rights as free born Americans” had been denied.

Meanwhile “Geauga Lake Secessionists,” opposed the newly proposed charter, urging a “no” vote, and announced their plans for “detachment” from the village of Aurora. Their proposed boundaries began at the Geauga County line and went south along Route 306, across the old Aurora Village line in a western direction to Cochran Road, then southward to Route 82, and finally west to the Summit County line.

After a tumultuous debate and court actions the attempts at “secession” were overturned.

Despite their opposition to annexation, several of those served as valuable members of the village council. While the political question of annexation had been put to rest, the ill will generated between various sections of the Aurora community carried into succeeding decades. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the political, economic and social divisions began to diminish.

John Kudley is president of the Aurora Historical Society.