As the local history specialist at Porter Public Library, Deborah Rossman was perhaps the perfect person to author Arcadia Publishing’s photographic history book of Westlake.
“You know that I am a local history geek,” Rossman told an audience of about 100 Westlake residents who listened to her speak about the book at Porter Public Library April 22. “I love this stuff. So it’s not hard work for me because I really enjoy what I do.”
Entitled “Westlake,” the 127-page book officially went on sale April 21. The book, part of Arcadia’s Images of America series, sells for $19.99 and is available at local retailers, online bookstores or Arcadia at
arcadiapublishing.com. The book can also be purchased at the Porter Library gift shop. All proceeds go to the Friends of Porter Library.
Teaching residents about the community’s history fits nicely with the library’s educational mission, Rossman said,
As many people know, the area that now consists of Bay Village and Westlake was originally settled as Dover Township, Rossman explained. Bay Village broke away in 1900. Westlake took its current name in 1940.
The book includes 19th century images of Dover Center and Center Ridge roads.
“There are some wonderful stories of the original fire department,” Rossman said, describing efforts to put out fires by means of a bucket brigade. She recounted one story from 1906 in which the bucket brigade sought to put out a fire at a local hotel. As the story goes, the hotel basement was filled with “spirits,” or alcoholic beverages.
“One of the main concerns of the bucket brigade was to make sure they got those spirits out of the hotel in time,” Rossman reported. “And, by golly, they did. But the hotel went up in flames. I guess they used the spirits to make themselves feel better.”
Dover purchased its first fire truck in 1920 in an effort to fare better than the bucket brigade did in fighting fires, Rossman said.
The origins of Porter Public Library provided another interesting story, Rossman said.
“Our own library was a saloon to begin with,” Rossman said. “And the townspeople were quite upset about that.”
To add some sophistication to the community, a literary society was formed to organize lectures and concerts by Oberlin College musicians.
“That was the origination of the (library’s) ice cream social,” Rossman said.
A donation to the literary society to purchase books led to the formation of Porter Library, she said.
Farming dominated life in Dover for decades, Rossman said. Although it may be hard to believe with so few farms in the area today, Dover was once the second largest shipping point in the nation for grapes, she said.
Arcadia basically gave Rossman a template to organize the book, she said. The publishers also had her propose a half-dozen photos for the book’s cover. To Rossman’s delight, they chose her favorite.
The cover photo, from The Cleveland Press collection now archived at Cleveland State University, shows jubilant schoolchildren exiting Hilliard Elementary School on the last day of school in 1958.
“We were hoping they’d choose that one,” Rossman told West Life.
The individual faces of many children can be made out in the cover photo, and Rossman said she wants to hear from any Hilliard alumni who recognize themselves.
The largest number of photos used in “Westlake” came from the Cleveland Press collection, Rossman said. But she also received several photos from residents who read about her request for historical photos from the library’s Web site.
“Patrons brought us some wonderful stuff,” Rossman told West Life.
About a dozen such photos made it into the book.
Several photos, in glass plate format dating from the late 1800s, were submitted by the Clague Museum. Although they were nearly pitch black to the naked eye, their content emerged after being scanned and tweaked in Photoshop, Rossman said. Although only one such photo made it into the book, others can be viewed online at the library’s local history Web site at http://history.westlakelibrary.org.
Rossman also said Porter Library had a rich archive of local history material to build on for the book.
Rossman said she ended up with more than enough material for the book.
“It was more a difficulty of choosing what to include,” she said.
With the completion of “Westlake,” Rossman has two additional local history projects on her plate.
The first, done in conjunction with Westlake Assistant Planning Director William Krause, involves documenting the city’s Century Homes. Seniors from Westlake High School have been taking photographs of the city’s 60 oldest homes. The photos will be posted online and made into a poster, Rossman said.
The second involves the publication of another book on the history of Westlake, this one covering the years 1970 through 2010 to coincide with the bicentennial of the founding of Dover. The new history book would pick up where two books by William Robishaw, a local historian and former president of the Westlake Historical Society, left off. This project is just getting off the ground, said Porter Library Director Andrew Mangels.
Rossman will sign copies of “Westlake” at Barnes & Noble bookstore at Crocker Park at 7 p.m. May 2.