Most people travel to Sandusky, Ohio to experience daring drops, corkscrew turns and spinning swings from hundreds of feet above the ground, but I prefer the thrill of going there to see a porch with a rubber ceiling and walls, a Carnegie Library, a widow’s walk and a recently renovated historic hotel.
My first stop was the Cooke-Dorn House, a castle-like stone house with Greek Revival crenelated parapets. On the inside, it is a showplace of 1950s interior design.
The house was built in 1843 by Eleutheros Cooke, a Sandusky lawyer and politician. His son, Jay Cooke, later financed the Union cause during the Civil War and built his own castle on Gibraltar Island.
While the house originally stood at the corner of West Washington Row and Columbus Avenue in downtown Sandusky, a subsequent owner moved it a mile south to 1415 Columbus Avenue. Randolph Dorn, president of the Barr Rubber Products Company, and his wife, Estelle, purchased the house in 1951 and lived there for the rest of their lives. Estelle bequeathed the home to the Ohio Historical Society in 1994; today, it looks just as it did when the Dorns lived there.
The Dorns were collectors of Royal Doulton figurines and cranberry and ruby glass…
Venetian glass mirrors, a Bavarian Hutschenreuther porcelain dinner service, an 18th-century pear wood marquetry table with tamboured doors, an Empire sideboard, a writing desk with a mirrored surface and a brass desk set with petrified wood handles…
and a marble fireplace mantel adorned with carvings of grapes, recalling the Dorn Winery that Mr. Dorn’s father owned.
They tastefully decorated their home to display their collections to their best advantage. Mural wallpaper in the style of what Jacqueline Kennedy chose for the Diplomatic Reception Room in the White House hangs in the dining room. A suite of painted French Provincial furniture fills the guest bedroom. The house follows Mrs. Dorn’s feminine color scheme of yellow, celadon, pink, peach and rose, except for the master bathroom, which illustrates Mr. Dorn’s preference for a more masculine gray.
The Dorns were also products of their time. Smoking accessories are everywhere, from decorative matchbox covers and a music box that stores cigarettes in the living room to a pink tile ashtray fixture in the guest bathroom.
The couple incorporated many features popular in the 1950s into their home, such as reactive lighting switches in the closets, colorful Princess-style telephones in the hallways, Dutch doors, radiant heating registers, Executone intercoms and mirrored medicine cabinets with hidden shelves over his-and-her sinks in the master bathroom.
The kitchen includes a stovetop island, a Formica countertop with rounded corners, dark linoleum flooring, under-cabinet lighting, and painted steel cabinets with pull-down shelves to house mixers and other kitchen items are all typical of 1950s innovations. It actually made me homesick for my house in Oxford.
That didn’t last long, when I caught sight of the Sandusky Library’s turreted limestone building.
The Sandusky Library is one of Ohio’s earliest libraries partially funded by wealthy philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Ohio Governor George Nash and William Oxley Thompson, president of The Ohio State University, attended the building’s dedication on July 3, 1901. Ever since, it has been one of the landmarks of the Sandusky community. In 1996, the former Erie County Jail, a neighboring building dating from 1883, was renovated and connected to the library, creating an attractive complex that takes up most of a city block.
The Follett House Museum, a branch of the Sandusky Library, is home to a local history collection that documents the history of Sandusky and Erie County. The 1834 Greek Revival house features a widow’s walk where visitors on a nice day can enjoy a panoramic view of Sandusky.
All this was grand, but I decided I shouldn’t go home without experiencing something of Cedar Point, the Roller Coaster Capital of the World.
Cedar Point is situated on a seven-mile-long peninsula separating Lake Erie from Sandusky Bay. Once covered by groves of cedar trees and clean sand, the peninsula was home to a fishing business that capitalized on the area’s bountiful supply of perch, pickerel and sturgeon. To keep in step with the popularity of summer resorts and amusement parks at the end of the 19th century, entrepreneurs built boardwalks, a dance hall, bathhouses, picnic tables and a baseball diamond on the beach. A Grand Pavilion contained a theatre, concert hall, photographer’s studio, bowling alleys, a bar, an ice cream parlor and soda fountain, and a cupola where guests could look out over Lake Erie. A water toboggan, two roller coasters and a sea swing were the first rides at Cedar Point.
An Indiana businessman named George Boeckling thought that the longer guests stayed at Cedar Point, the more profitable the resort would be, so he built the Hotel Breakers, a grand 600-room hotel with running water and private baths.
After the hotel opened on June 12, 1905, guests enjoyed a lobby furnished with round seats, imported wicker furniture, a pressed tin ceiling and chandeliers and stained-glass windows crafted by Tiffany artisans. Hotel amenities included a barber shop, news stand, ice cream parlor, a shop that sold taffy, felt pennants and other popular Cedar Point souvenirs, and the services of a manicurist, tailor and stenographer.
Calvin Coolidge, Dwight Eisenhower, Warren Harding, Annie Oakley, John D. Rockefeller, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, John Philip Sousa, Helen Keller and a young Tyrone Power are some of the famous people who have stayed at the Hotel Breakers. Metropolitan Opera stars gave impromptu performances in the hotel’s four-tiered, balconied rotunda. While working as lifeguards at the hotel in 1913, Knute Rockne and Gus Dorais, two students at the University of Notre Dame, perfected the football forward pass during their free time on the beach.
A two-year renovation of the Hotel Breakers began in 2013, including repainting the hotel, replacing its roof, and remodeling the interior. The hotel reopened this past May, and it is comfortably fancy, reminiscent of Walt Disney World’s Yacht Club and Beach Club resorts. Now, the hotel has a new grand entrance, an updated lobby and public areas, renovated guest rooms, and a new Starbucks and a cocktail lounge in the rotunda.
To read more about the history of Cedar Point, see Cedar Point: The Queen of American Watering Places, by David Francis; Images of America: Cedar Point, by David W. and Diane DeMali Francis; and “Cedar Point’s Coasters and Carousels,” in the July/August 2015 issue of the Ohio History Connection’s Echoes.
If Ohio amusement parks are your thing, visit the Ohio History Center at 2:00 pm on three upcoming Saturdays. Curators will show slides of amusement parks in Southern Ohio, such as Coney Island and Kings Island, on July 11; amusement parks in northern Ohio, including Cedar Point, Seaworld, and Idora Park, on July 25; and central Ohio amusement parks like Buckeye Lake and Olentangy Park on August 22.