When improvements now under way on the Conneaut docks are completed several years hence, Conneaut will have the finest dock on the lakes, in the opinion of marine men of that place.
One of the greatest projects under way, and scheduled for completion in 1926, is the widening- of the main river, to the extent that a 600-foot steamer will be able to turn completely around in the main river with ease. Formerly it was possible for but two boats to ride side by side in the main channel, but when operations under way by the Dravo Construction Company in straightening out the west bank of the river are completed, five freighters can easily pass. The west bank is to be buttressed by a huge concrete wall sunk to rock bottom on which will be erected a series of electric Hullets. Back of the machines will be storage space for 3,000,000 tons of ore, tripling the present dock capacity which is approximately 1,500,000 tons.
At present two new electric Hullets are being erected here, and when they are in operation, sometime this summer, will give Conneaut a battery of nine Hullets, five of them electrically operated. In the fall two of the old hydraulic Hullets, the first ever erected in the world, and the invention of a Conneaut man, will be dismantled. These two are now in the battery of four "water dogs" on the local docks which were placed in operation years ago, being invented and perfected by Frank Hullett, now deceased.
Great Bridge.—The most outstanding point in the history of Conneaut is the day on which the Connecticut Land Company's engineers landed, thereby starting the history of Ashtabula County. The next biggest day in the city's annals was Friday, July 18, 1924, when the massive viaduct spanning the deep valley of the Conneaut River was dedicated, thus opening to the citizens and the traveling public the largest bridge in the State of Ohio in the construction of which the state had assisted. The event was attended by elaborate pageantry and a program of addresses, among the speakers being several notable men. Among these were a personal Representative of the State of Ohio, the secretary of state, state director of highways, chief engineer of bridges of state highway department, chief engineer of the state highway department, senior bridge engineer of the United States Bureau of Public Roads and also a representative of the chief of the same bureau, the chief highway examiner, the city manager of Cleveland, the United States congressman from this district, and officials of Ashtabula County. The day's program began with a great pageant in which appeared all manner of vehicles in use for the past century and more. Notable among the equipages was the ancient coach owned and driven by Marquit Andre La Lafayette during his stay in this country, driven by a red-coated flunkey and, with a green clad footman and occupied by a couple dressed in the costumes of Lafayette's day; the carriage in which King Edward of England rode when he made a tour of this country; one of the old omnibusses that were used before the advent of the street-cars and modern carryalls; prairie schooners, drawn by oxen and attended and occupied by people garbed as in the days of old-time emigration; old-time high-wheel bicycles, and other agencies of transportation representing the evolution of the means of conveyance from the ox-team to the airplane. While the last-named machine could not actually participate in the parade, it was in evidence, soaring above the city and occasionally dropping an air-bomb to enliven the occasion. From a stand erected on the west approach of the viaduct a program of speeches was delivered to an immense throng of interested listeners. This part of the program concluded with the formal christening of the new bridge which consisted of breaking a jug of water on the superstructure, the act being performed by Mrs. Amelia Chidester, who was nearing her ninetieth birthday and the oldest resident of Conneaut who was physically able to do the honors of the occasion. The gallon of water that served on this occasion was made up of one quart of water from the supply of the cities of Chicago, Buffalo, Cleveland and Conneaut, a novel idea and very appropriate, since the completion of this bridge eliminated two of the worst hills on the direct National Highway between Chicago and Buffalo. It was estimated that 30,000 visitors were in Conneaut on the occasion of the "opening". The structure is briefly described as follows:
Located on the Chicago-Buffalo road. Replaces the last toll bridge within Ohio. Eliminates two of the most difficult hills on the Chicago - Buffalo road. Built jointly by the Federal Government, the State of Ohio and Ashtabula County. The structure is entirely of reinforced concrete. There are seven main arch spans with six smaller approach spans. The extreme length is 1,317 feet. Height from water to sidewalk—85 Width between curbs—32 feet. Sidewalks on either side—5 1/2 feet wide. The viaduct is on a grade, the east end being eight feet higher than the west end. It is the largest highway structure in which the State has ever participated. It contains 12,500 cubic yards of concrete and 1,100,000 pounds of reinforcing steel. The total weight is approximately 30,000 tons. Twenty-three months were required to build it. Cost approximately $516,000.
The agitation for this bridge was commenced in the summer of 1912, when a petition signed by 400 citizens of Conneaut was presented to the county commissioners, asking that body to construct a high-level roadway across the valley. At about the same time the county officials were also confronted with a movement at Ashtabula for a like structure at the north end of Main street. The answering of both prayers was out of the question, and as neither city could be favored without objection on the part of the other, the proposition lay dormant for a number of years. The progress in road improvements occasioned by the growing automobile traffic, the country over, called for more than local aid in construction and a National Government bureau was made, which apportioned aid to state bureaus, and with this backing, in 1921, approval of both big bridge projects in this county was obtained and federal and state aid pledged. Just about this time the old toll bridge, which had served in Conneaut since 1902, was condemned as unsafe and closed to vehicle travel. This necessitated all east and west traffic going through the terrible gulf road and created a demand for immediate action toward a remedy for the situation. This urgency was recognized by all, and contracts were awarded and work begun in August, 1922, and was completed in 23 months. This structure was, at time of its completion, the largest highway bridge in Ohio in construction of which the state had participated. Builders will be interested in the materials entering into the bridge composition, which embraced the following: Twenty-one thousand barrels of cement, 10,000 tons of crushed limestone, 10,000 tons of sand, 10,000 tons of crushed slag, 600 tons of reinforced steel, 9,000 square yards of waterproof cotton cloth, 450,000 paving brick, 200 tons of asphalt, 300 tons of crushed granite, 250,000 board feet of lumber, 300 pounds of paraffine. Over 800 cars of material was unloaded for the structure.
The advantage of this high-level roadway at this point is illustrated the following calculations by the expert mathematician of the News-Herald: "With the opening of the new bridge and the consequent doing away with the necessity for motorists to use the rough and treacherous hills and road across the creek valley the average driver will probably heave a great sigh and exclaim, "Gee, I'm glad I don't have to drive under the bridge any more."
But in addition to this satisfaction there is a distinct economic gain that few will sense. The new route from East Conneaut across the new bridge is approximately 1,000 feet shorter than it was by way of the old structure. An average of 5,000 cars passes along- this route each day and oftentimes on Sundays and holidays runs up to more than double that number.
Thus each day there will be saved by the new bridge 5,000 times 1,000, or 5,000,000 automobile feet. This is approximately 947 miles. Figuring the average gallon mileage as 15, this means that motorists every day will save 63 gallons of gasoline by using the new route.
Sixty-three gallons of gasoline at 21 cents a gallon is $13.23. In the course of a year the bridge saves a gasoline bill of $482.89. One gifted at statistics might also figure the saving in time, oil, wear on tires, depreciation on the machines, etc. Thus does the new structure justify the outlay involved, from a monetary standpoint."
The toll bridge which the new high-level displaced was originally a railroad bridge in Girard, Pa., on the line of the Nickel Plate. When it was displaced there, it was purchased by M. W. Culbertson, of that place, who made arrangements with the Ashtabula County commissioners to allow him to reconstruct it at the east end of Main street in Conneaut. It was put into service there in 1902, and in 1907 the superstructure was rebuilt. When the C. & E. interurban line was built, it crossed this bridge in a framework extension constructed especially for that purpose, along the north side. A few years later a part of this framework gave way under a funeral car and nearly precipitated the car, the mourners and casket to the valley bottom. Then the track was transferred to the main structure. The bridge was closed to traffic in the early spring of 1922, but the trolley cars were allowed to continue to use it until September of that year, when it was sold to a Buffalo junk concern, which shut off all vehicular traffic, and that was the death knell of the C. & E. interurban service, which was discontinued forthwith.
Adventure of a Pioneer.—One of the stories of adventures of the early day residents of Conneaut has to do with the strange experience of one Solomon Sweatland. Several versions of the story have been published, but the main features are related quite similarly, and the following account, copied from the Williams Brothers' History, is very likely as near to the facts as could in any way be ascertained, as there is no historical record of early date. Credit for this version is given to Harvey Nettleton. "Sweatland was an active young man, residing with his family on the lake shore, a short distance below the mouth of Conneaut Creek. He was fondly attached to the sports of the woods, and made a chase a source both of profit and amusement.”
"A favorite method of capturing deer at this time was to chase up a herd of them with hounds, and drive them into the lake, as these animals readily take to the water when hotly pursued. Sweatland kept a canoe for the purpose of going upon the lake in pursuit of the deer, and one of his neighbors, who acted in concert with him, kept a number of hounds. The arrangement between the two men was that while Mr. Cousins, the neighbor, should go into the woods, and with the dogs start the deer toward the lake, Sweatland should be prepared to take his canoe and pursue and capture the deer as soon as it should take to the water.”
"His canoe was nothing more than a large whitewood log hollowed out and formed into the shape of a canoe, about 14 feet in length, and rather wide for its length.”
"It was a lovely morning in the early autumn of the year 1817; Sweatland had risen early, in anticipation of enjoying a chase upon the blue waters of the lake, and without putting on his coat or waistcoat, listening as he went towards his canoe for the approach of the hounds. He soon heard their deep baying, and by the time he reached the boat he found that a large deer had already taken to the water and was rapidly moving away from the shore. Throwing his hat upon the beach and boarding his canoe, he was soon engaged in an animated chase. The wind, which had been fresh from the south during the night, began now to gradually increase until it became nearly a gale; but Sweatland, intent upon catching his prize, paid little or no heed to this. The deer was a vigorous animal and, stoutly breasting the waves, gave proof that in a race with a log canoe, managed with a single paddle, he was not to be easily vanquished. Our hero had attained a considerable distance from the shore before overtaking the animal. The latter, turning and shooting past the canoe, struck out toward the shore. Sweatland, with alarm, now discovered his danger. Heading his frail bark toward the land, he discovered that with the utmost exertion he could make no headway whatever against the terrible gale that was now blowing against him, but, in fact, was every moment being carried further and further from the shore.”
"His outward progress had been observed by Mr. Cousins and others on the shore, who now became alarmed for his safety. They saw at once the impossibility of his returning in the face of such a gale, and unless help could be got to him he was doomed to perish at sea. Soon a boat containing Messrs. Gilbert, Cousins and Belden was launched, with a full determination of making every possible effort for his relief. They soon met the deer returning toward the shore, nearly exhausted, but the man himself was nowhere to be seen. They continued their search until they had gone many miles from the shore, when, meeting with a sea in which they judged it impossible for a canoe to live, they returned, giving Sweatland up for lost.”
"Our hero, meantime, was manfully battling with the waves of an angry sea. He possessed a cool head and stout heart, which, with a tolerable degree of physical strength, and remarkable powers of endurance, were of immense advantage to him in his emergency. As the day wore away, he receded farther and farther from the shore. As he followed with his eyes the outline of the distant shore, he could distinguish the spot where his own dear cabin stood, filled with hearts burning with anxiety and distress on his behalf. During the day one or two schooners were seen, which he tried in vain to signal.”
"Seeing the utter hopelessness of getting back to the American shore, he made up his mind to sail with the wind and strike out for the Canada side. The gale had now arisen until it was indeed furious. He was borne on over the angry waters, utterly powerless to guide his bark. He was obliged to stand erect, moving cautiously from one extremity of his vessel to the other, so as to trim it to the waves, fearing that each succeeding plunge would be the last one. He was obliged, too, to bail his boat of water, using his shoes for this purpose.”
"Hitherto our hero had been blessed with the cheerful light of day. Now darkness was rapidly approaching. The billows of the sea looked dark and frowning. Thinly clad and destitute of food, our hero passed terrible night. When morning came, he found he was in sight of land, and that he was nearing Long- Point, on the Canada shore. After being buffeted by wind and waves for nearly thirty hours, he reached the land in safety, and no mortal man was ever more thankful. Still, exhausted from fatigue and faint from hunger, he found himself 40 miles from any settlement, while the country that intervened was a desert, filled with marshes and tang-led thickets.”
"We will not undertake to describe his toilsome journey toward the Canadian settlements. Suffice it to say he arrived in the course of 20 or more hours, and was kindly received by the people, who showed him every hospitality. On his way to the settlement he had the good fortune to find a quantity of goods, supposed to have been driven on shore from the wreck of some vessel. Accompanied by some of the inhabitants, he returned and took possession of the goods, which he carried to Buffalo, and from the avails of which he purchased himself a new suit of clothes. He then took passage on the schooner 'Fire-Fly' bound for Ashtabula Harbor. Arriving at his dwelling, guns were fired from the deck of the schooner and the crew gave three loud cheers. On landing, he found that his funeral sermon had been preached, and that his wife was clad in the habiliments of mourning."