"A new town hall was built in 1876, new lumber mills were erected and many people offered to make Conneaut their home on account of the advantages, and in 1878 the population was put at 1,300; the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad (Nickel Plate) was constructed through Conneaut between the years of 1881 and 1882, which saw the first real boom. After much active work by leading citizens, Conneaut won over Ashtabula in efforts to secure the Nickel Plate shops. The coming of these shops to Conneaut brought the arrival of mechanics, new business concerns and new residences until in 1886 the census total amounted to over 2,200.
"The next year, Conneaut subscribed enough money to bring the Pittsburgh, Shenango & Lake Erie Railroad, now known as the Bessemer. At the harbor new docks were built and the old ones reconstructed. The channel was deepened and widened in readiness for the coming of the great ore and coal trade.
"The first ore was received in 1892.
"It was discovered that it took too long to unload the big boats by the wheelbarrow method, so Brown hoists were purchased. The number of tons of ore gradually increased from year to year, thus necessitating the purchase of the powerful machines known as Huletts and electrics.
"July 4 of the year 1896 marked the 100th anniversary of the founding of Conneaut, which was widely celebrated.
"The Pittsburgh Steamship Company, organized in 1897, purchased a fleet of 16 steamships and 20 barges; two new docks were constructed.
"The Bessemer ran its first passenger train in 1897 and in this year handed about a million tons of ore. In 1916 the largest amount of ore was received in Conneaut harbor, it being about nine and one-half million tons. Conneaut Harbor has made several world records for unloading ore, and has among its large structures the largest four-track swing bridge in the world.
"The last 25 or 30 years of Conneaut's history have seen the development of many important industries, among which are: The Conneaut Brick Plant (1898) ; The Conneaut Can Company (1901) ; The Conneaut Leather Company (1903); The Cummins Canning Factory moved into their new buildings (1909); The Burke Machine Tool Company (1910); and the Conneaut Shovel Company (1905)."
As the Western Reserve developed the stream of emigrants toward the west flowed steadily and Conneaut, being on the direct line of travel became quite an important stopping place. The need of accommodations for the floating prospectors soon became apparent and this was supplied at first by the construction of a log hotel where is now the corner of Main and Broad streets. The landlord's name was Dunn. This was succeeded soon afterward by erection of a frame hostelry, of which Pierpont & Davenport were the first proprietors.
The first schoolhouse was erected near the corner of Main and Washington streets. In 1835 Conneaut Academy was incorporated, the incorporators being A. Dart, Henry Keys, Lewis Thayer, Josiah Brown, James Brooks and Aaron Wright. This institution of learning opened in an old building that was moved onto the property now the corner of Main and Mill streets. The Rev. Judah L. Richmond was the first teacher, he being assisted by Miss Sara Bonney, who was appointed principal of the institution a couple of years after she began teaching. In 1844-5 a brick structure was built for the academy. L. W. Savage and a Miss Booth conducted the school the first year in the new building.
In August, 1868, the village board of education took over the Academy, on a ten-year lease of the building and grounds, and the institution eventually merged into the regular public school of the city. From the time of this transfer, the schools followed the trend of public school progress, always keeping up with the times and today the educational facilities of Conneaut are among the best. The latest addition to the requirements was a large new building erected within the past year in the western section of the city.
Early Churches.The early settlers of Conneaut Township had a distinct sense of obligation to the Author of their being for His guidance and protection over them during their journey westward and their efforts to establish for themselves homes for the future in the new land. The first public demonstration of this spirit was in 1800, when a meeting was called to be held at the home of Aaron Wright. This was but the forerunner of a succession of like gatherings which were attended faithfully, but it was not until 1818 that a regular organization was effected.
The Conneaut Christian Church Society was organized at a meeting held in the school house on the ridge road between Conneaut and Amboy on May 23, 1818. The original roster contained the names of fifteen members and on that occasion Elder Cheney preached the initial sermon.
Subsequently, meetings were held in the school house generally until 1834, when the congregation had reached numerical proportions that warranted their having an independent place of worship and they built for themselves and such non-members as desired to identify themselves with the society a church home on the site where is now the home of the Cummings families, the location then being known as the "Center". After seven years, the building was moved closer to the business section and located on Buffalo street.
The next church organization effected was that of the Congregational - Presbyterian faiths, at the home of Robert Montgomery, in 1819; the itinerant preacher, Joseph Badger, was the organizing officer and as there were not enough Congregationalists or Presbyterians in the immediate vicinity to support separate churches, it was decided to make this a union organization of both, to which all agreed. In 1828 the congregation were able to occupy their own church home which had been under construction for a couple of years.
A Methodist class was formed in the east part of town in the early '20s, one in what is now Amboy in 1823 and one in the village in 1828.
On Oct. 18, 1831, a meeting was held in the Ridge school house at which was effected an organization of the Baptist Church, 23 members signing the charter roll. Twelve of these had letters from other churches and the others had recently been baptized. The first pastor was the Rev. Asa Jacobs, who served in that capacity for six years. Shortly after he was succeeded, in 1837, by the Rev. J. L. Richmond, the church meetings, which had up to that time been held in the school house, were changed to Conneaut village.
In the passing of later years other denominations organized and built their houses for worship and the church representation in Conneaut is today that of the average modern city.
The most elaborate structure of this nature in the city is the First Congregational, which was rebuilt in the years from 1907 to 1916 by personal expense of George J. Record, and dedicated as a memorial to his deceased daughter, Mrs. May Record Findley.
Conneaut Harbor.At all points along the south shore of Lake Erie where rivers that were navigable, or could be made so, emptied into the lake, the harbors thus afforded were of great importance to the adjacent towns.
Conneaut was particularly blessed in this respect, the mouth of its river being broad and deep, and it was said to have been the finest natural harbor between the Cuyahoga and Buffalo, with the possible exception of Erie. The location of this harbor at the entrance to the new Western Reserve of Connecticut brought it into prominence at once, as the influx of settlers from the East came mostly by water, and Conneaut River was easily accessible to the boats that brought their personal belongings.
When the original surveying party came to this point they were attracted by the evident advantages the spot afforded, and that was what largely influenced them to establish their headquarters there during the time that they were engaged in the eastern section of the Reserve. They erected storehouses in close proximity to the river's mouth, thus greatly lessening the handling of shipments that came in by boat.
The evolution of Conneaut River from a shallow stream into one of the greatest ports-of-entry on the Great Lakes reads like a fairy tale. This work is indebted to C. S. Putnam, one of Conneaut's most enthusiastic boosters, for the greater part of the following story of the progress and development of the harbor.
Not until in the nineteenth century did the marine business on Lake Erie begin to assume even minor importance. In 1805 Buffalo was made a port of entry, but it was in 1817 before her fleet, then the largest on the lake, numbered seven vessels, with a total of 459 tons. During those early years Conneaut Harbor had a very small commerce, conveyed in sailing scows and light draft schooners. The first steamer on Lake Erie "Walk-in-the-Water"was launched in Buffalo in 1818. It was a small, crudely constructed passenger and cargo boat of less than two hundred tons, equipped with inferior engine and surmounted by smokestacks made of ordinary stovepipe-iron sheets. Her maiden trip to Detroit, with some forty passengers, consumed thirteen days. Verily, the trip was made in a slow "walk", but the boat's arrival here was an event which attracted a crowd of people to the harbor, as it did at every other port along the lake. This new marine wonder continued the only steamboat on the law during the four years of her service, until in October, 1822, she was wrecked by being driven ashore one night in a gale of wind.
In 1825 two other steamboats of better design and greater tonnage were making regular trips between Buffalo and Detroit, stopping at principal ports along the south shore of the lake. In 1827 the opening of the fertile states farther west resulted in a great tide of emigration in that direction and the demand for transportation caused a rapidly growing fleet of both sailing and steam craft to be constructed at ports all along Lake Erie and as they increased in numbers, so, also, they increased in tonnage capacity, until boats of six or eight hundred tons were common. To accommodate the passenger traffic and facilitate the handling of the cargoes of the larger boats it became necessary to build long piers out into the lake at some of the ports. At a point about a mile west of Conneaut harbor such a pier was constructed where steamers stopped regularly, as did also many of the larger sailing craft, because unable to enter the shallow harbor mouth. In 1829 the first Government improvement at Conneaut Harbor was completed, on an appropriation of $7,500.00, in the building of two piers, or jetties, each two hundred feet long, which made a harbor entrance one hundred feet wide, with twelve feet of water. From then on the up-lake pier went into disuse and the harbor came back into a rapidly increasing marine growth and glory. To recount the commercial activity and growth of the shipping business at this harbor during the '30s, '40s and early '50s in detail would not add to the interest of this history particularly. During that period of a quarter of a century Conneaut Harbor kept its place with other ports, becoming an important point for the shipment of lumber, staves, grain, spirits and other products of the contributing territory as far south as Youngstown, 65 miles, and long caravans of six and eight horse or ox-teams could be seen trailing along the toll-road between the two places. Tall-masted vessels and steamboats frequently filled the river for a mile back from the lake, up to Dimmick's and Wood's Landings. The receipts at the harbor and constituting back-hauls of the teamsters consisted principally of machinery, tools, agricultural implements, furniture, salt, lime, general merchandise, and a great variety of necessities and luxuries of the people of that period. It was a regular port-of-call for the fleet of passenger packet steamers plying between Buffalo and Detroit. These steamers always traversed the lake, well within sight of land, calling at all the principal ports, and occupied about four days in making the trip in either direction. This was fairly expeditious, considering the number of stops and the time consumed in handling larg-e shipments of package freight and taking on many cords of four-foot wood for fuel between ports.