By Kevin Kelley
(Editor’s note: In recognition of Westlake’s bicentennial celebration, West Life will review in the coming weeks several books about the history of Dover and Westlake.)
If you’re looking for a short, easy read to learn more about the history of Westlake, perhaps the best place to start is “A History of Westlake, Ohio: 1811 to 1961.”
Published by the Westlake Historical Society for the city’s sesquicentennial, the book is divided into two parts. Part I, written by William D. Ellis, covers the arrival of the first settlers to 1901. Part II, written by Mary Ellen Wobbecke, covers the 20th century to 1961.
Each chapter covers a single topic, such as education, politics or business, and is no longer than three pages. Ellis is more colorful with his prose, while Wobbecke is more straightforward.
In a chapter on religion, Ellis notes that choice corner lots in Dover were reserved for religious congregations. “Today our Westlake gas stations are located over the ruins of churches,” he wrote.
The traveling ministers and guest preachers apparently provided a fire-and-brimstone style of religion that believed most humans end up in Hades.
“A glimpse of God here was a terrifying experience,” Ellis said. “Two well-loved Dover women were driven out of their sanity by ministers with stone-grinding voices and glares that left tooth marks.”
By the end of the 1800s, wealthy Clevelanders had built a number of summer homes along the lakefront. Permanent residents, whom Ellis calls “the natives,” didn’t like the summer people. Property taxes were higher along the lake, but the “native” board of trustees spent most of the tax dollars in the southern section of Dover. This caused the summer people to secretly circulate a petition to secede from Dover.
“People living along the bay refused to come to the Dover churches anymore,” Ellis wrote. “South Dover and North Dover people stopped speaking to each other.”
Following a court case, the summer people held their election. Northern Dover seceded to form Bay Village following a 93-33 vote.
Wobbecke describes the rise of grape farming in the early 20th century, reporting that nearly every man, woman and child in Dover was employed during grape-picking time. In addition, a thousand young people and some adults took the streetcar to the Rocky River bridge, where farmers went before sunrise to hire pickers.
Two airplanes were forced to make forced landings in Dover in separate incidents in 1916 and again two years later. Both landings involving the new invention caused great excitement, Wobbecke wrote.
The first telephones came to Dover around 1900, with the local physician, the undertaker and general store owner the first customers.
To avoid confusion with another Ohio town named Dover, the community changed its name to Westlake in 1940.
The 1950s saw 8,000 new residents come to Westlake. With nearly 13,000 residents, the village became a city in December 1959.
By 1961, Wobbecke concluded, Westlake had become “a middle-class community, a middle-income community.”
“Most Westlakers have strong opinions on most subjects, and they are willing to defend them,” she wrote. “And when we want something done, we organize a group and work to achieve our purpose.”