Bringing back the good old days

RAWSON, A VILLAGE of just 500 residents now, was a thriving community in the late 1800s, with numerous grocery stores, a hotel, mills and a factory. These undated photos show Rawson’s interurban railroad station (left), which provided transportation to Findlay, and a town band. The town’s history is lost to many current residents, which spurred several to plan this weekend’s Rawson Reminisce. A gathering will be held at the village park at 1 p.m. Saturday, where anyone is welcome to come and share their photos and stories.  (Photo provided to The Courier)

RAWSON, A VILLAGE of just 500 residents now, was a thriving community in the late 1800s, with numerous grocery stores, a hotel, mills and a factory. These undated photos show Rawson’s interurban railroad station (left), which provided transportation to Findlay, and a town band. The town’s history is lost to many current residents, which spurred several to plan this weekend’s Rawson Reminisce. A gathering will be held at the village park at 1 p.m. Saturday, where anyone is welcome to come and share their photos and stories. (Photo provided to The Courier)

By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
STAFF WRITER

RAWSON — People with ties to Rawson are trying to bring back some of the village’s heritage.

They are planning Rawson Reminisce, an event that will include exhibits, food and lots of pictures and stories, beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday at the village park.

“It was a group of people here in Rawson … they wanted to get a bunch of the older people around that remembered the history of Rawson and have them share it,” said Frank Gibbs, a fifth-generation resident whose great-great-grandfather, Phillip Burket, fought in the Civil War.

The idea is to encourage people to share their remembrances of the town so those stories aren’t lost.

“It’s important for people to know our history,” Gibbs said.

The village, which is now home to about 500 residents, was laid out on sections 13 and 14 in Union Township in 1855 by Frederick Keller and G.J. Kelly. It was named in honor of L.Q. Rawson, of Fremont, who was president of the proposed Fremont & Indiana Railroad.

A few houses were put up and stores opened, but the railroad ran into financial problems and only ever linked Findlay and Fremont. Growth in the village came to a halt.

It wasn’t until 1873 that the first train arrived, sparking new construction. Additions were made to the original plat and business grew.

Gibbs said Rawson used to be a much larger town.

“People didn’t have mobility to drive into Findlay to go to the Wal-Mart to get this and that, so you had a general store. There was a tile mill here. They made drainage tile out of clay to put in the ground to drain the land around here so they could farm it,” he said.

Carolyn Ferris, a lifelong resident who is chairing Rawson Reminisce, agreed that the village was once a thriving community.

“If you drive through Rawson now, there’s not much there, just pretty much houses. But we had car dealerships. We had tons of grocery stores, a slaughterhouse, a hotel. We used to have an interurban that ran to Findlay,” she said.

“There’s a lot of history to Rawson that people aren’t aware of,” said Ferris. “We used to have quite a booming town.”

The census of 1880 showed 227 residents in the village which was incorporated Aug. 6, 1884. Two years later, Rawson had two dry goods and grocery stores, a general store and drug store, a grocery and hardware, a stone and tinware store, a furniture store, an undertaker, two physicians, a hotel and livery stable, a barber shop and two saloons. Steam power ran a flouring mill, a saw and planing mill, a handle factory and a saw and shingle mill. There were two blacksmith shops, a wagon shop, harness shop, shoe shop, meat market and large tile factory. A grain elevator stood on the tracks of the Lake Erie & Western Railroad.

Ferris said many of the people who know much of the history of the town are getting older.

“A lot of the newer people and younger people don’t know what the town was like, so that’s what we’re trying to do,” she said.

People used to get together at the town’s annual homecoming festival, said Gibbs. But that event is no longer held.

“A lot of towns would once a year have a homecoming. Everybody comes home to see their old neighbors and friends, and you have a parade and you have a dinner and have some things like that,” he said. “But it’s been years since we’ve had that.”

The idea for the event actually started with Brent Neff who grew up in Rawson.

“For years I’ve been wanting to get together with some couples and look at pictures and tell stories,” he said.

As he continued to talk about the idea, more people got interested.

A committee was formed. Ferris volunteered to chair the event and Gibbs will serve as master of ceremonies.

Rick Essinger has been gathering and taking pictures for a CD that will be available for sale.

“The reason it’s called ‘Reminisce,’ it’s not only about the 1800s,” said Essinger. “It’s about 2014. It’s about whatever you want to sit and talk about, you can talk about.”

“I went around town and took pictures of things around town,” he said. “So you’ve got the old, the new, the sports teams. I’ve got all kinds of stuff.”

Essinger’s grandparents moved to the village from Mount Blanchard in 1948. His mother graduated from Rawson High School the following year. She was part of the last class before the school consolidated with Mount Cory to form the Cory-Rawson School District, he said.

Essinger noted that a sesquicentennial celebration was held in 2005, and new people have moved to the village since then who have no knowledge of the village’s last big event.

“So these people have never been really been involved in anything,” he said. “And I said we need to get some pride back in our town so that people understand Rawson has a really proud history. We just need to get it out there so these people can get involved,” Essinger said.

Essinger said part of the fun of living in a small town is sharing stories.

“I said at one of our meetings, remember the phone booth, and everybody laughed. There used to be a phone booth uptown, and everybody’s got stories about the phone booth,” he said.

He also remembers the initial tree that stood in the village park before it was destroyed in a storm.

“There used to be a great big tree. You had steps going up it. There were little places you could sit, and everybody had their initials on it. I don’t have a picture of the initial tree, but I remember the initial tree,” he said.

Ferris said there has been interest in the project from the start.

“Yes, it’s about Rawson, but we’re encouraging people from other communities to come and bring their pictures and their memorabilia, too, because we are one big community,” she said.

Gibbs said the committee will see what the turnout is like before members decide whether it will become an annual event.

“We’re trying to keep it simple, just to concentrate on the people and the stories and the photos and history,” he explained.

A tent will be pitched at the park, and people are encouraged to bring their lawn chairs. The old train depot that used to be downtown and was moved to the park in the 1950s will also be used.

Essinger will have a slide show with music running throughout the event. The Hancock County Veterans Service office will have a booth, and the Beef Association of Hancock County will be cooking sandwiches along with other donations from Norwood Cafe in Rawson and Ted’s Market, Pandora.

“We’re hoping to get some of the people that have been there for a long time to get up and maybe share some of the stories,” said Gibbs.

Wagon rides will also be available around the village, and signs will be posted showing what businesses had once been at various locations.

“We kind of think it’s going to turn into more of a social event which is fine,” Ferris said. “Maybe down the road this could grow. This is our first one so we’ll see what happens.”

Wolf: 419-427-8419
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