Due to a premature and prolonged warm spell this April, Medina’s flowering trees — streets and streets of white pear and crab apple– have burst into a tsunami of blossoms that have lasted longer than usual.  Driving or walking down certain streets in town is like entering a fragrant cloud canopy.

This legacy of beauty comes to us courtesy of the Shade Tree Commission and its commitment to the creation of a “healthy urban forest” in Medina.

Created about thirty years ago by the city administration, the Shade Tree Commission is an offshoot of the national program, Shade Tree U.S.A. The Medina group began with $1,600 — a small amount even then — and a handful of passionate volunteers.  Perhaps the most passionate was the late and legendary Harold Thoburn, an Agricultural Extension Agent who, upon retirement, devoted all his time and energy to the Shade Tree Commission.

The group began planting trees in the tree lawns of old and new residential streets, as well as on other public properties.  Flowering trees were not the only types selected.  The Commission also planted Golden Rain trees, oaks, maples and sweet gum trees.

“Trees are selected because of their suitability to a particular tree lawn,” says Virginia Jeandrevin, one of the original members of the Shade Tree commission.  “This varies from neighborhood to neighborhood.”

Over the years, the budget of the Shade Tree Commission has increased and ten years ago, the City of Medina hired a full time City Forester.

Virginia Jeandrevin also points out that in surveys of what residents consider important in a community, an abundance of trees is listed in second or third place. (Schools are first.)

Well then, is there anyone who is not happy with this profusion of petals?  Unfortunately, yes.  Consider the plight of all the allergy sufferers, plagued with the worst pollen conditions in years, consigned to the indoors with nothing to do but ingest their medications.

(Photos by David Brown)

Beautiful? Yes, unless you suffer from allergies.

A few steps from Medina’a Public Square is a popular, Victorian-themed restaurant — Miss Molly’s Tea Room and Gift Shop.  It is pretty, feminine and very, very floral. Roses predominate — they are found on all the teapots and teacups, they spill out of vases and adorn the wallpaper. There are also lace table cloths , heart-shaped sandwiches and Christmas lights all year long.

Miss Molly’s is a very successful restaurant — if you don’t have a reservation for lunch, you may have to wait in the hall and twiddle your thumbs for a long, long time. And it consistently gathers accolades from the local media. (“Best of the Best” from the Medina County Gazette and  Fox 8’s Hot Spot in the Akron/Canton area.)

Here’s what you see here on an average weekday lunch hour.  At a nearby table sit four generations of women: a young woman with her infant daughter, her mother and her grandmother.  At another table, a group of eight animated middle-aged women are gathering, bearing gifts.  It’s clearly someone’s birthday or special occasion.

A few moments later two mothers walk by with four- year old daughters in tow.  The little girls are dressed in ruffly frocks and patent leather shoes — perfect attire for their first Victorian tea.  They will probably be served the “Little Miss Molly” — double-decker peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwiches and pink lemonade.

The food is also very feminine : salads, puff pastries, scones with Devonshire cream and preserves served on pretty plates.  Selection of teas is extensive and everyone gets an individual china teapot.

Here are some Miss Molly’s classics:

Heart-shaped puff pastry with the signature strawberry pretzel salad.

Chicken, tuna and pimento cheese served with love.

The experience doesn’t end there.  The check is paid at the gift shop which is filled with its own temptations.  Buy your very own rose-strewn teapot and some exotic teas to go with it — or original oil paintings, handmade jewelry, books, note cards. The selection is extensive.

Miss Molly’s is a popular place for bridal and baby showers and birthday parties.  Since they are open on Friday evenings, they can also accommodate rehearsal dinners.

The restaurant is  located on 140 W. Washington Street, one block west of Public Square in the former Medina Telephone Exchange building.

Hours are 11:00 – 3:00 Monday-Saturday, 12:00 -4:00 on Sunday and 5:00-8:00 P.M. on Friday.  For more information, go to www.missmollys.net.

Twenty two years after the 1848 fire, the unthinkable happened.

On the night of April 14th, 1870, according the the “1881 History of Medina County and Ohio”,  “The alarm sounded…calling the people unceremoniously from their virtuous couches and in a few short hours, almost the entire business district of Medina was in ashes, much of it for the second time.”

The village still did not have a fire department.  At about 3:00 A.M., A.W. Horton mounted a horse and galloped off to Seville to borrow their hand engine and rouse volunteers.  In the meantime, the townspeople resorted to a bucket-brigade to fight the fire.

When the fire finally burned itself out the next morning, practically the entire business district around the square was destroyed — 45 buildings including barns and stables.  The photograph above shows the southwest corner of Public Square and the charred remains of H.G. Blake’s three-story brick building.  The square black object in the middle of the street is a safe.  Blake had started a bank in the back room of his Phoenix Store and the safe was the only item to survive the fire.

The following morning, business owners absorbed the shock and regrouped.  Fortunately, this time many did have insurance and they quickly began to rebuild. The “1881 History” goes on to say, “So far as adding to the beauty of the town, the great fire, like that of Chicago, was beneficial, inasmuch as it was the means of building up a much better class of buildings than are generally found in a town the size of Medina.”Within a decade Public Square was filled with handsome Victorian buildings, some featuring ornate brickwork and ornamental cornices.  No two buildings were exactly alike, but all were of a uniform architectural style.

The photo above shows the south side of the square with H.G. Blake’s new Phoenix Block at the far right.  It housed a bank (now substantially expanded from the safe in the back room of his store), a drugstore, law offices and a large public auditorium on the third floor.

It took the outbreak of a third fire — a small one in 1877 — to finally convince the townspeople to create a fire department.  In the meantime, the elegant Victorian buildings have survived intact, and thanks to a nationally-lauded restoration in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, continue to make Medina’s Public Square a showplace of Victorian architecture.

Medina in 1846 from: "Historical Collections" by Henry Howe.

The story goes like this:  On the evening of April 11, 1848, two young men — drifters, probably — were playing cards in the back room of Barney Prentiss’s shoe store.  One of them blew out a candle and tossed it into a pile of trash in the corner. But he was careless — the candle was still burning.  A fire broke out.

Medina was originally built on the New England model : white clapboard structures surrounding a village green called Public Square. Those wooden buildings quickly caught fire and by the next morning, twelve buildings on or near Public Square had been lost — six businesses, four dwellings, and two barns. The loss in dollars was estimated at about $40,000.  This had a significant impact on the little village of 118 souls.

There was, unfortunately, no fire department, and the insurance company –Medina Mutual Fire Insurance– that had insured some of the buildings was practically insolvent, so very little of the insurance was ever paid.

Nevertheless, the citizens rallied and rebuilt. The net result was the construction of  sturdier, more substantial buildings in brick. For example, H.G. Blake, a lawyer and merchant who lost his two-story frame building, built a three- story brick building in its place. He also poetically  named his his shop on the first floor, the Phoenix Store, after the mythological bird that rises from its ashes.

The village residents probably heaved a collective sigh and thought, “This will never happen to us again.”

They were wrong.

And the two card players?  According to the story, they disappeared the next day and were never heard from again.

H.G. Blake's new brick Phoenix Store on the southwest corner of Public Square.

Hometown USA world premier

The month of April is associated with three significant events in Medina’s history — the 1945 world premiere of a Hollywood movie (actually a 30 minute short subject) describing the village as the quintessential American small town, and two devastating fires: the first on April 11, 1848 and the second on April 14, 1870.

We’ll deal with the fires in due time. But first, let us go to the gala world premiere of  Medina’s movie, “Home Town USA” at 7 o’clock on the evening of April 10, 1945.

The big night of the "Home Town USA" premiere

The big night of the "Home Town USA" premiere

In 1945, just as WWII was ending in Europe, “Pathfinder”,  a weekly news magazine for small towns, selected Medina as a model of small town life. Together with the film company RKO Pathe, they produced a 30 minute film about Medina called “Hometown USA”.

Sixty five years later, watching “Home Town USA” is still a very moving experience.  A bygone Medina (population 4,500) is captured forever on black and white film on a particular October day when, the narrator says, “the air in northeast Ohio is like wine.”

The film features two professional actors and dozens of local residents.  In the opening scene, a fictional lawyer, played by a middle-aged actor, dictates a letter to his secretary, a young actress.  In the letter, which is addressed to his nephew who is serving in the Armed Forces, he shares news about the folks back home  All the people he talks about are actual residents of Medina.

After a while, the lawyer ambles across Public Square and chats with several local businessmen. The Square bustles with traffic and activity.  Pretty young women with the shoulder-length hair styles of the 1940’s shop in the stores and  smile into the camera. The park in the center of the Square is thick with trees planted just after the Civil War. (They all succumbed to Dutch Elm Disease in the 1950’s.)

Local high school students, eternally sixteen and high spirited, crowd into Tony’s Candy Kitchen for ice cream sodas after school. A smiling Miss Ella, the legendary kindergarten teacher (rather incongruously decked out in a fashionable hat) pushes her little charges round and round on a carousel on the playground of the Lincoln School. Sam Masi, the equally legendary  football coach shows the lawyer the military fitness program for young men that he runs  behind the high school.

And as the lawyer walks home at the end of the day, he strolls past century homes and churches that still look much the same today.

According to a  March 29, 1945 Gazette article, the movie “shows Medina as a shining example of small town America with its advantages, its opportunities and its general all around better living.”

The film was shown to audiences throughout the country in the late 1940’s.  It is available in DVD form at the Medina District Library.

Scene of small town America

Tom Doyle shows a section of 19th century leather fire hose.

Tom Doyle shows a section of 19th century leather fire hose.

Tom Doyle is in his element this Saturday afternoon.  People keep drifting into his private fire museum, Little Wiz,  singly and and in groups, eager to see his amazing display of antique fire fighting equipment — an organized chaos of antique fire wagons and chemical tanks, of 19th century smoke helmets and early 20th century fire alarms.  They are eager to take his tour and hear his stories.  And he is just as eager to oblige.

During the week, Doyle runs FBN Systems, a security installation business, but it is on weekends that he really has fun. He has assembled his impressive collection within a relatively short time — he opened the museum in 2008. His interest in fire fighting equipment began when he found several fire grenades in a building where he was doing an installation. (Fire grenades are chemical-filled balls that were lobbed at fires before sprinklers came into use.) Suddenly he was hooked.

“I bought a lot of things on E-Bay,” Doyle explains.  “And people started bringing things to me.”

1859 hand drawn fire cart with hose reel

1859 hand drawn fire cart with hose reel

His most spectacular acquisition is an 1859 hand-drawn fire cart with a hose reel from New York City. It is in excellent shape and much of the decorative paint remains.

“This one would have used a leather hose — which is what they were originally made of, before canvas or rubber,” he explains.  “And it would have been in use  before cities operated fire departments. Firefighters were originally hired by insurance companies, and it was not unusual for fist fights to break out if two competing companies arrived at the same fire.”

Hallock chemical fire truck

Hallock chemical fire truck

Doyle’s other major acquisition has a local connection.  He owns a chemical fire truck manufactured by Hallock Engineering of Medina. Of the 22 fire trucks built by the company between 1913-1918, only four remain.  Medina once owned one,  but it had been sold long ago and subsequently, disappeared.  Doyle’s truck came from Sanford, a town outside of Orlando, Florida.

The Little Wiz is located somewhat off the beaten path in a former store on 326 East Smith Road, in the middle of a neighborhood of old Victorian mansions, offices and businesses.  But fire fighting enthusiasts always seem find him.

Tom Doyle gets a donation from a fan

Tom Doyle gets a donation from a fan

One repeat visitor today is Gene Seckler, a fire inspector for an insurance company.  I’ve been to a lot of these kind of museums all over the country,” he says.  “And this is one of the best.” Today he is donating a box of fire grenades to the Little Wiz.

And where does the unusual name, Little Wiz, come from?

“In the 1920’s this building was a deli and sandwich shop,” Doyle explains. (His other enthusiasm is Medina history.) The workers from Bennett Lumber (now closed) used to come here for lunch.  It was called the Little Whiz Grocery.  I dropped the ‘h’ “.

The Little Wiz Fire and Historic Medina Museum is free and is open on Saturdays from 9-4, and by appointment other times.  Groups are welcome.  This summer Doyle will host an Open House for owners of antique firetrucks.

His telephone # is 330-419-0200.

To see more antique equipment from The Little Wiz, click here.

The 1872 Lincoln School

Sketch of the 1872 Lincoln School from the "1881 History of Medina County."

Medina may have achieved iconic status in preservation circles after its nationally lauded restoration of  Public Square in the late 1960’s — but these efforts came too late to save three landmarks which were once important in the life of the village.  The 1872 Lincoln School, the 1891 Medina Primary School and the 1840 Rose Cottage have all vanished without a trace.  Only sketches and photographs remain to attest to their existence.  Here are their stories.

The 1870 fire that destroyed most of downtown Medina was followed by a frantic building boom that resulted in the construction of the Victorian buildings that make Public Square the historic showplace it is today. That building boom included the construction of  the Lincoln School.

This imposing, two story structure with a tower and belfry opened  in 1872 and was able to house all the village students, from primary grades through high school under one roof. (Prior to this, students had attended one-room schoolhouses scattered throughout the village.) In fact, Lincoln School was so large that there was space enough to rent to Carver’s Normal School, a college level training program for teachers.

The 1881 History of Medina County called it “a temple of learning of which any town might be proud.” It was located on the corner of South Broadway and East Smith Road.

Thirty years later, the village had grown so much and student enrollment increased so greatly, that a new school building was needed.  In the fall of 1912, a ten room structure was built just north of the Lincoln School.  It was named the Garfield School, in honor of  Ohio-born President James Garfield,  and was separated from the Lincoln School by a narrow walkway.

The Garfield School was buillt just north of the Lincoln School.

Photo of the Garfield School -- Medina County Historical Society

In 1950, Medina was in the throes of the post-war baby boom and still more classroom space was required.  A decision was made to to tear down the grand old Victorian.  Former students recall packing books and supplies into paper bags and marching down the stairs and out of the old Lincoln School one last time.  As the structure was being demolished, the Gazette mourned the loss of  “the last  link with the one-room schoolhouses of the village.”

A 24 room addition to the Garfield School was erected in its place. The enlarged Garfield School is still part of the Medina City Schools.

The 1891 Medina Primary School 1891 Medina Primary School from “Images of America: Medina”

Whether it is the nineteenth century or the twenty first, Medina’s problem remains the same –  too many students, not enough classroom space.  By 1890, the capacious, two-story Lincoln School was filled to capacity. Before the village built the 1912 Garfield School, they constructed this new  (and rather short-lived)  structure for the primary grades at a cost of $7,687.

On January 23, 1891, the brick grade school, alternately known as the Medina Primary School or  “The Little School”, officially opened. It was located on North Broadway Street, just north of Public Square.  It was torn down in 1923 to make way for a large and ultra-modern new Medina High School. In 1976, that high school building was sold to the county and presently serves as the County Administration Building.

Hiram Bronson's 1840 Rose Cottage

Hiram Bronson's 1840 Rose Cottage: Medina County Historical Society

Hiram Bronson was an important figure in the early days of the village. He owned a dry goods store on the corner of North Court and West Liberty Street (the present day location of the coffee shop, Cool Beans), was elected Sheriff of Medina County while in his twenties and served in the Ohio Legislature from 1865 to 1869.  He also owned most of the northwest section of the village.

In 1840 he built this lovely, Western Reserve-style home dubbed the  Rose Cottage, on the northwest corner of West Liberty and North Elmwood Streets. Thirty years later, the structure was moved to another location on North Elmwood when he decided to build an even more imposing home. Both the 1840 Rose Cottage and the 1870 home have been torn down. Above is a photo of a painting of the Rose Cottage by Sherman Bronson which currently hangs in the Medina County Historical Society.

Hiram Bronson died in 1892 at the age of 90, the last of his family to live in Medina.  He left behind a street that bears his name and a beautiful stained glass window that he and his family donated to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

cooking with sandy A chilly, rainy Saturday in March. What to do? A vegetarian cooking class at Root Candles (623 West Liberty Street) sounds like the perfect way to spend the lunch hour. And then, there is always the opportunity to browse through Root’s spectacular assortment of gifts and holiday items — and to take advantage of the sale on candles (20% off until March 28.)

First — the cooking class.  Sandy Baugh, a retired middle-school teacher with a warm, animated manner, runs her classes in the small cafe in the back of the store.  She doesn’t have a stove yet — the Root Company has  acquired one for her and it will arrive soon.

However, she makes extensive use of crock pots and a counter top pizza oven and has produced seven offerings.

This afternoon, in keeping with the Lenten season, the fare is meatless. Sandy begins with a Greek Rice Salad filled with anchovies and capers accompanied by a zucchini red pepper sesame cheese bread.  The key ingredients in both dishes come from bottled sauces from Stonewall Kitchen of Maine and are sold by Root — Stonewall Kitchen Classic Greek Dressing and their Roasted Red Pepper Sesame Sauce. Both offerings are very good, especially the Greek Salad.

She then moves on to two crock pots, one filled with a vegetarian chili and the other with a lentil soup.  Once again, the Stonewall sauces — Maple Chipotle Grill Sauce and Traditional Marinara Sauce are key.

While a pizza is baking in the little pizza oven on the counter, Sandy, keeps up a running commentary and offers two pasta salads — sun dried tomato pesto pasta — which several people in the class like very much, and a Mediterranean pasta made with an asparagus soup mix (Wind & Willow Red Pepper Asparagus Soup Mix) which is a bit bland.

The pizza, a Boboli crust with a Stone Kitchen Marinara Sauce covered with sauteed mushrooms and eggplant — very reminiscent of  that Italian restaurant staple, Eggplant Parmesan –  is the last item.

The class ends with a handful of recipes, a 25% coupon for all kitchen products, and an invitation to browse the extensive selection of sauces and mixes from a variety of manufacturers that Root carries.

And then, on to the rest of the store and the 20% off on candles.  Not a bad way to spend the day.

To contact Sandy for private classes:  call (330) 723-4359

For class schedule:  go to www.rootcandles.com

Recipes for all the dishes mentioned are available at www.stonewallkitchen.com .

Sandy Cooks

Endless choices from Stonewall Kitchen

Endless choices from Stonewall Kitchen

stored in: Food and tagged:


One of the finest restaurants in Northeast Ohio is located in a most unlikely setting  — inside a former Red Barn Restaurant  surrounded by insurance offices, a funeral parlor and a spa on North Court Street.

But chef and owner, John Kolar, has wrought some magic here. One enters his austerely elegant cocoon with its terra cotta walls hung with modern art, and dim, romantic  lighting — and it feels like New York , or maybe Ibiza. But it is the food that people drive long distances to savor — the  “contemporary cuisine with worldly influences”.

Kolar is a worldly individual himself.  A graduate of the famed Culinary Institute of America, he trained with New York City uber-chef Jean George Vongerichten, then worked for such highly rated area restaurants as Fire on the east side of Cleveland and the Three Birds in Lakewood.

Being a Hinckley native, however, Kolar eventually returned home to Medina County to practice his craft — or perhaps art might be a more appropriate term.  (For a look at the menu, go to www.thymetherestaurant.com.)

On Thursday, a group of women gathered at Thyme at lunchtime to bid farewell to a book club member who is moving back to Michigan. Here are some of the wonderful things they ate.2010_03114-18-090003_edited-1Beth and Marilyn thoroughly enjoyed the salmon wrap. It is not just the food that is exceptional here — so is the presentation.

2010_03114-18-090005_edited-1The lobster quesadilla was sinfully rich, but Gloria decided, “Why not? It’s a special occasion.  After all, how many times does Marge move to Michigan?”

2010_03114-18-090006_edited-1Virginia loved the Brie and Portabello Mushroom Pizza, but had to take half of it home.

Thyme the Restaurant: 716 North Court Street, Medina, Ohio, (330) 764-4114.

Judge Albert Munson surrounded by spirits.

Judge Albert Munson surrounded by spirits.

The Munsons were a prominent but quirky family who lived in Medina from 1877 until 1956 when the last member passed away.  The patriarch was Albert Munson, Probate Judge, state legislator and political activist. He was also a devout spiritualist and regularly held seances in his home — although he never acted as a medium.

Munson, a founder of the Republican Party in Medina County, actively supported his friend, William McKinley’s campaign for president.  After McKinley was assassinated in 1901, his spirit — according to Munson — visited the judge frequently through seances and spirit writings.

The reports of these seances are contained in Munson’s handwritten notebook, in letters written by mediums and in notes taken by Munson’s daughter, Cora Munson Blakeslee.  Transcripts of these sessions are in possession of the Medina County Historical Society.

Munson, who died in 1911, also claimed to have communicated with the spirits of Abraham Lincoln and James Garfield.  Daughter Cora said, “He was a lifelong worker in the cause — always trying to help others see the light.”

In addition to his political and spiritual activities, Albert Munson and his son, Lyman ran a successful hardware business on Public Square. The handsome Victorian building that housed the business still bears the family name.

When he was elected Probate Judge in 1877, Munson built the bracketed Italianate home seen in the picture below.  Mediums and spirits were not his only guests — he also hosted numerous social and political events for village residents.  The house is now the headquarters of the Medina Community Design Committee.

Albert Munson on the steps of his house of spirits.

(Photos courtesy of the Medina Community Design Committee.)