Our story starts in 1919 when a group of investors from the Cleveland area purchased a wooded property with 600 feet of Lake Erie frontage in tiny “Vermilion-on-the-Lake”, Ohio. They cleared the land, and using the very logs they felled, built an approximately 10,000 square foot private community center known as the Vermilion-on-the-Lake Clubhouse. The big bands of that era were soon accompanied by couples dancing on polished hardwood floors beneath a glittering globe. Those original hardwood floors, framed by the original log walls, are still there today. Soon, “Vermilion-on-the-Lake” became a summer playground and a sparkling jewel for well-to-do residents of western Cleveland.
These pre-Depression era high rollers purchased summer cottages throughout the area and shared access to the clubhouse’s 600-foot pristine and sandy beach. From pictures we have of the time, ladies with parasols strolled the boardwalk of the “Atlantic City of the Midwest”. As late as the 1950’s, top-notch entertainment attracted society’s elite to the “V.O.L.” to see the big bands of the day, including the leading edge sounds of the “Chuck Berry Trio” performing their hit “Maybellene” one summer Tuesday night in 1955.
But, alas, the luster faded. Rising lake levels reclaimed the pristine beach, the economy turned sour and many lot owners looked to sell. When Ford built the Baumhart Road truck plant nearby, many of the cottages were sold off as “temporary” housing for the newly recruited workers. “Temporary” turned to permanent year round use, the shoreline further degraded, and the clubhouse ceased to attract the upscale clientele. Maintenance waned and the original owners agreed to deed the property over to the “Vermilion-on-the-Lake Lot Owners Association” under certain conditions. Mainly they were concerned that the bills would be paid and that the association would survive. In 1967, those conditions having been met, the lot owners association acquired the deed, free and clear, and still holds it today.
During the 1960’s “Vermilion-on-the-Lake”, which had been an incorporated village was annexed by the then “Village of Vermilion” to create the current “City of Vermilion”. The Vermilion-on-the-Lake Clubhouse remains one of a very few lakefront historic venues still available for weddings and other social gatherings.
Several attempts have been made to rejuvenate the building over recent years, but economic priorities, a lack of interest in the community, the high taxes associated with lakefront properties, and general deterioration from weather and time have made it a difficult task at best. Income to cover these expenses is generated primarily from wedding and party rentals. Until recently, the association board has been operating primarily in “caretaker” mode, barely able to pay expenses and maintain the property at a level that is consistent with attracting weddings.
Recently, faced with new sewer assessments, increasing real estate taxes and insurance costs, decreasing revenues, a beautiful lake view screened porch that is being undermined, a deteriorating roof, soaring utility bills due to poor insulation coupled with leaking windows and doors, and a lakefront that is only beautiful in it’s memory, the question became “fight or fold?” This board refuses to fold. In fact, the newly energized board is looking into “historic” designation to help qualify for renewal grants, has implemented a more comprehensive “501C3 non-profit” status through an affiliation with the Lorain County Historical Society in order to enhance our ability to raise funds in the community, and has encouraged and renewed active use of the facility for citizen education and social concerns once again.
Typical “new direction” activities include a very successful Vermilion City Council candidate’s night, sponsored by the association as a public service in late October of 2003. For the first time, city council candidates were given the opportunity to answer a series of questions crafted and posed by the VOL Trustees that dealt with pressing citywide issues. The candidates then were given the opportunity to speak with and answer questions from their own ward residents in small group breakout sessions. This candidate’s night was open to all candidates and all residents of the city of Vermilion as well as other concerned parties. We expect to continue promoting and providing forums such as these.
The facility was also used by the Brownhelm Township trustees for their 2003 fundraising dinner, although that was technically a rental. In addition, the three annual Lenten Fish Fry's sponsored by the association were a big success. Each year we have the more traditional homeowners association functions including a community corn roast, our Fourth of July kids bike parade, Halloween party, Christmas party, and Easter Egg hunt. All of these functions promote a sense of community reminiscent of the early days of the Clubhouse.
Our association is also currently active with a Block Watch program that uses the “Clubhouse” (We now prefer “Historic Community Center”) for resident meetings to exchange information about security and safety in the community. In May of 2003 we formed a storm sewer committee that began looking into infrastructure needs in both the V.O.L. and the wider city and township areas, in light of a sewer project that was proposed for handling the area’s storm water.
Working closely with city council, the mayor, the service director and city engineer, the committee initiated and completed a petition to allow them time to further study the project, conducted extensive surveys and interviews, gathered and posted data relative to the project’s impact, studied the largely ignored economic and environmental impact of the project, and presented it’s findings to 130 residents of the VOL at the Historic Community Center on March 11, 2004. After presenting the resident’s suggestions to the city Utility Commission meeting on March 22 of that same year, the city council was invited to the HCC to hear the VOL committee presentation in detail and to inform and question the residents on their needs. Over 100 interested residents were in attendance and contributed positively to this very successful interaction. We hope you agree, this goes a bit beyond the typical homeowner’s association involvement.
There is more. We are working with representatives of Congresswoman Marcy Kaptor’s office in order to secure assistance in locating funding for projects critical to the survival of the HCC. Much work needs to be done to restore this gem to its once lofty place in the area. Our current plans include:
An economic development workshop that would bring experts in economic development into the HCC to discuss their successes and failures. We intend to include private and public companies as well as government entities that have experience encouraging businesses to locate in their communities.
A “Vermilion River Watershed” group that would operate out of a laboratory in the basement of the HCC where local students could test water samples from Lake Erie and the Vermilion river and it’s sources for the purpose of ensuring the environmental safety and viability of our water system.
Restoration of the HCC beach area augmented by state and federal money to limit erosion and protect the beach from pollution. A preliminary engineering study is posted in the HCC and carries an estimate of nearly $500,000. It includes plan drawings of the lakefront before and after.
Replacement of the HCC roof and winterization of the porch.. This project is now completed and paid for.
Implementation of parts of a city funded study for improvements to Showse Park, a lakefront park in the VOL that currently has a beautiful beach, with recently added access, and a sanitary sewer overflow that dumps directly on the beach. While we do not expect to be able to implement the entire $1.9 million in improvements, many of the improvements could be initiated at substantially reduced costs. And from an environmental point of view, the overflow problem must be solved.
Development of a “Museum” on the second floor of the HCC that would include exhibits and educational material relating to the history of the area and the HCC itself, hopefully to include interactive displays.
“Historic” status for the HCC in order to help us preserve her appearance and her ambiance for future generations to enjoy. We are recognized by the Lorain County Historical Society as a historic building. We have applied for state and federal recognition.
Continued use of the facility as a forum for community action, education, voter registration, and non-partisan political debates.
Marketing of the facility for weekday business meetings to augment the income from weekend rentals.
Continue to work with HUD to qualify the area for low interest loans and HUD assistance grants to improve the aesthetics of the area and to promote owner occupied dwellings.
The Vermilion-on-the-Lake Lot Owners Association no longer owns the "Clubhouse".In 2006, the Association formed the Vermilion on the Lake Historic Community Center Charitable Trust, Inc. and transferred the property to the Trust by vote of the entire membership. Our revised mission includes community service, involvement in the securityof the area through our "Block Watch" program and other initiatives, and the general promotion of the well being of the neighborhood and city. Our Trustees also act as the coreTrustees for the VOLHCC Charitable Trust. The VOL Lot Owners Association acknowledgesand thanks the Lorain County Historical Society for the guidance and support they afforded us while we transitioned the property to the Charitable Trust. We could not have done it without them.The Vermilion-on-the-Lake Historic Community Center Charitable Trust is a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation formed under the laws of the State of Ohio as a serviceorganization. Besides the restoration and operation of the Historic Community Center, our mission includes providing a venue for community fellowship and discussion, as well asproviding education to our citizens about the history and culture of our area. We hope to emphasize the historic nature of our unique building and encourage the businesses and foundations tasked with preserving our heritage, to lend a hand in restoring the Historic Community Center to its once glorious condition.Volunteering: We are a 100% volunteer run organization. No employees. No payroll. All funds go directly to operation, restoration, repair and upkeep, or to promote additional fundraising efforts.