Willis Leiter Sawmill Postcard

Willis Leiter postcard c. 1900-1910 showing the Oviatt sawmill from the High Level bridge near North Dover.

Willis Leiter was the premier photographer in Northeast Ohio at the turn of the last century. Many of his photographs were printed on postcards at that time. Today, they are known as part of a genre of postcards called “RPPC’s” (Real Picture Postcards). They are very collectable.

Recently one came to light on eBay. It was purchased and donated to the Bay Village Historical Society. It is numbered 1384 and titled: “Scene from High Level Bridge near N. Dover O.” It was mailed Aug. 7, 1910, from the North Dover post office by a young woman named Neola to her friend Miss Aldyth Hawgood in Painesville, Ohio. Neola states that it is a picture of the old mill not far from Dover.

In 1910 the area near Dover Center Road and the Nickel Plate railroad tracks was known as North Dover. The High Level bridge was near the intersection of West Oviatt and Cahoon roads. It carried West Oviatt over Cahoon Creek at a time before the creek was contained in a culvert and soil filled around it.

The area where Cahoon Ledges is now constructed was a mill pond for the Oviatt saw mill which once existed along the west side of Cahoon Creek approximately where Aberdeen currently dead-ends into Cahoon Road.  Comparing old maps places the mill approximately on the back property line of what is currently 27420 Donald Avenue. The creek divides this portion of the parcel from the Donald Avenue frontage.

The photograph was taken probably sometime between 1900 and 1910. The 1914 Hopkins Plat book for this area appears to indicate that the mill was demolished by 1914.

“Bay Village: A Way of Life” states that Nelson Oviatt built a home near where Cahoon Road and the railroad tracks are today and farmed in the valley below while operating his mills. He had a gristmill south of the Oviatt bridge (the High Level bridge) and a sawmill north of it on his property. The mill pond went all the way to the Nickel Plate tracks.

At the time of the publication of the book (1974) they said the foundation of the Oviatt house was still visible as well as the mounded remnants of the dike that formed the mill pond. It was said that Benjamin Tuttle built this sawmill for Oviatt and that it had reciprocating saws instead of circular ones.

The book states that when Fred Hagedorn Jr. was a boy of 8 or 9 years old while living on Cahoon Road, his daily chore as the youngest of the family was to run to the combination general store and post office to get the German language newspaper. Since there was much lumbering being done in the valley this entailed running through the sawmill and over planks suspended on the dam and up onto Dover Center Road. This frightened him because he had to be careful not to trip on the rails used for carts to haul the lumber. Why he didn’t use the bridge is not clear.

Page 37 of the book has a sepia-toned photograph of the Oviatt bridge and states that it replaced an earlier wood one that had been constructed in 1854. The photograph shows Oviatt farm buildings northeast of the bridge, one of which may be incorporated in the current house at 27408 West Oviatt Road.

The book also states that Nelson Oviatt provided the lumber for a Baptist church that was constructed on the southeast corner of Dover Center and North Ridge (now Detroit) roads. He was paid $90 to construct the church.

The current owner of 1252 Dover Center Road in Westlake, just north of I-90 on the west side of the street discovered that buried within the shell of his current home are the remains of a Greek Revival structure (visible inside the attic). He believes it may be the former Baptist church building that was abandoned and then later moved down Dover hill and converted into a house.

It is intriguing to think that wood milled so long ago in a long-gone sawmill may “live on” in a house in 2022.

William Krause

William R. Krause, AICP, retired as the Assistant Planning Director of the City of Westlake in 2020 after over 30 years with the city. He also served on the Bay Village Planning Commission for 5 years. He was a trustee for the Bay Village Historical Society from 2020 to 2021 and a former board member of the Westlake Historical Society. He was chair of their Lilly Weston Committee and was a member of the Reuben Osborn Learning Center Steering Committee. He is currently a Trustee of the Western Reserve Architectural Historians. He has been married to Debra for 40 years and is the father of three grown children, grandfather of six and co-owner of a Yellow Lab named Sadie.

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Volume 14, Issue 8, Posted 9:28 AM, 04.19.2022