Painesville is a pleasant town on Lake Erie just a few miles east of Cleveland. Through it runs the Lake Shore railroad constructed in the mid-19th century, a gateway to the west from Albany, Buffalo and Erie.
In 1861 the train carrying president-elect Abraham Lincoln from Springfield to Washington stopped in Painesville where citizens, aware that war was likely, turned out to greet the prairie lawyer on his way to a fateful inauguration. Four years later the funeral train bearing the slain president made 26 stops on a somber 12-day journey back to Springfield. The special train stopped in Painesville where a huge distraught crowd turned out to pay final respects to the great liberator who preserved the union.
My story is more prosaic.
In 1925 Howell Wood was a 22-year-old Ohio farm boy. After teaching two years in a one-room school in the hill country of Gallia County on the Ohio River, Howell was eager for opportunities elsewhere.
A relative in Gallipolis told dad that AT&T was hiring in northern Ohio, needing men to build its trunk phone line from New York west to Chicago. An enquiry to the foreman resulted in a telegram saying if Howell got to Bucyrus he could have a job. Hastily packing his bag dad boarded a north bound train. A month later he was a lineman for AT&T and the crew arrived in Painesville.
On a free Sunday afternoon dad and a fellow workman climbed the steps of the grand Lake County courthouse and had their picture taken atop one of the statues of biblical Cain and Abel that guard the entrance to the impressive domed building constructed in 1909.
The AT&T crew eventually made its way to west Michigan where young Juanita Hilbert was the telephone operator in the village of Wayland. The two young people fell in love. Nita’s father Fred was initially skeptical about his daughter’s affection for the handsome man from Ohio. His doubts were erased after he contacted the Masonic Lodge in Gallipolis and learned that Howell was a member in good standing. The young couple soon eloped and were married in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.
On a warm July day in 2020 Howell’s son Barry arrived in Painesville and mounted the same statue, a sturdy slab of sculpted stone still intact 95 years later. #