Historic Wellington

Wellington Town Hall, with its mix of Byzantine, Greek, Gothic and Spanish architectural styles.

Photo by Rachel Polaniec

August’s Magical History Tour takes us to the bucolic village of Wellington, located about 40 minutes away on OH-58 South. Visitor information can be found villageofwellington.com, and local restaurants and amusements are available.

This year, amid the tidy fields of corn and big red barns of southwest Lorain County, the village of Wellington is celebrating its 200th birthday. In 1818, four men from Massachusetts began the 600-mile journey to present-day Wellington, being joined along the way by William T. Welling from New York. Welling had the honor of naming the town, though whether he named it after himself or after the Duke of Wellington is still a matter of contention.

Incorporated on Aug. 6, 1855, the village of Wellington consisted of about 12,000 acres of the central area of the township. The impressive town hall, built in 1885 for a cool $40,000, boasts an uncommon combination of architectural styles – Byzantine, Greek, Gothic and Spanish. At the time, it hosted the largest opera house between Cleveland and Columbus; today the majority of the town hall is occupied by administrative offices. 

While the town hall is immediately eye-catching, a perusal of Historic Wellington is equally rewarding. Across the street from the town hall a series of murals decorates a brick wall, each capturing a person, event or concept important to the village. One such mural, “The Spirit of ‘76,” commemorates the famous painting of the same name, painted by Wellington resident Archibald Willard for the 1876 Centennial held in Philadelphia. The Spirit of ‘76 Museum, located on South Main Street/OH-58, pays homage to the artist and also details life in Wellington and southern Lorain County.

Wellington’s greatest national incident is also memorialized: The Slave Rescue of Sept. 13, 1858. In that year, John Price, an escaped slave, arrived in Oberlin, where he lived in relative peace for several months. All that changed in late August 1858, when a neighbor of Price’s master came to the city in pursuit of runaway slaves from his uncle’s estate. Upon learning of John Price, the neighbor alerted the authorities, who captured him and brought him to Wellington, where he was interred in the American House Hotel, now the location of the Herrick Memorial Library.

After Price’s capture, a group of men from Oberlin and Wellington went to the hotel, blocking the exits. When word arrived that militias were being sent from Cleveland, the men broke into the hotel attic where the authorities were hiding with Price and sent him back to Oberlin in a buggy, where he remained until he could be safely sent to Canada. While the men involved were indicted in violation of the Fugitive Law, a sympathetic judge handed down mild sentences. 

Not all of the wall’s murals depict radical (for the time) political movements. A cheery yellow mural graced with a black-and-white cow tells the story of Wellington as the “Cheese Capital of the World.” 

In 1866, Charles William Horr and his brother, J.C. Horr, founded a company to open the first cheese factory in nearby Huntington Township. Before the advent of modern refrigeration, the tremendous amount of milk produced by the farm's 1,000 dairy cows was converted into cheese before it could spoil, then shipped to consumers by rail. Prompted by the success of the Horr brothers, more farmers and cheese makers moved to Wellington to get in on the cheese-making game.

By 1878, more than 40 cheese factories operated in the region, and over half of these were owned by Horr, Warner & Co. At the industry’s peak in 1879, nearly eight million pounds of cheese were shipped through Wellington. The village was “The Cheese Capital of the World,” indeed! 

Although the creaking of machinery and lowing of Holstein cows have long since ceased, several of Wellington’s cheese-era buildings remain. Located on West Herrick Street/OH-18 is the former headquarters of Horr, Warner & Co., now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Within walking distance (for those so inclined) on South Main Street/OH-58 is the C.W. Horr House, built in 1870 for the businessman and his family. Horr's home is one of the many elegant houses lining South Main Street, and they come in all shapes and sizes. If one is up for the challenge, there is a delightful walking tour featuring the historic homes available online at touringohio.com/northwest/lorain/wellington.html

Since 1941, the end of August has brought the end of summer to school children and the Lorain County Fair to Wellington. Organized in 1846, the Lorain County Agricultural Society hosted the annual fair in Elyria and Oberlin before the Lorain County Fair was merged with the Wellington Independent Fair. Moved to the current site in 1941, the Lorain County Fair celebrates its 173rd year this Aug. 20-26.

This year promises more bucolic fun for everyone, featuring country music performances, harness racing, draft horse and pony hitch horse pulls, animal shows, shopping, rides, food, and the ever-popular demolition derby. Tickets to the various events are available on-site at the Fair Secretary’s Office, as well as online. As the second-largest county fair in Ohio, the goal of the Fair is, according to its website, “to educate people about animals and to hold a family-oriented event that represents the high standards that have been set over the many years.” 

As August winds down and we begin thinking about the rituals and responsibilities that come with fall and winter, perhaps we should pause for one final, glorious week of summer down in Wellington, Ohio. 

Rachel Polaniec

I live in Westlake with my husband and our two sons. I work as an Alterations Specialist at David's Bridal. In my free time I like to read, write, and cook. My family and I take part in War of 1812 reenactments throughout the summer. My lofty dreams are of traveling abroad, visiting the great museums, and drinking all the coffee. For now I content myself with antiquing and Keurig sampler packs.

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Volume 10, Issue 15, Posted 9:39 AM, 08.07.2018