By Kevin Kelley
The man who probably knows more about the history of Westlake than anyone else returned to the city where he spent most of his life last week.
Bill Robishaw, a former principal at Holly Lane and Bassett elementary schools and author of a major book on the city’s history, was a special guest at Holly Lane’s 50th anniversary celebration. At the dedication of the Founders Walk at Clague Park, he was the first of 200 residents to ring the Westlake Historical Society’s fire bell to mark the city’s bicentennial.
Holly Lane has been kept up well, he said, adding that the students were well behaved at an assembly at which he was presented a proclamation by Mayor Dennis Clough.
Although he now lives in Florida, Robishaw, who turned 90 in August, remains a member of the Westlake Historical Society. He served as the organization’s president for many years.
Lysa Stanton, the organization’s current president, said Robishaw continues to contribute.
He’s a wonderful resource,” Stanton told West Life. “We talk on the phone on a regular basis. He makes our job a lot easier.”
Robishaw is the source of much of Westlake Porter Public Library’s collection of historical photos of the city. He took some photos himself but collected many for the slide presentations he gave during his lectures on the city’s history.
While principal at Holly Lane in the early 1960s, he was made aware of an unpublished manuscript that had been written in 1931 by a former teacher, Reign Hadsell, and one of his students, Hazel Rutherford.
It took some time, but Robishaw edited the manuscript, entitled “A History and Civics of Dover Village,” referring to Westlake’s previous name. The book was published in 1981 by the Westlake Historical Society and the Friends of Porter Public Library.
A former Porter director, Kathleen Carnall, suggested he write a follow-up. After he moved to Florida in 1984, Robishaw wrote “You’ve Come a Long Way Westlake,” which covers the city’s history from 1931 to the 1980s. The title came from the talks on the city’s history that he gave to students and community groups.
“They’re the go-to books on Westlake history,” Stanton said of the two books. “They were the foundations of the history books that we’ve had since.”
When he was 16 in 1937, Robishaw’s family moved to Dover from Parkview Village in what is now Fairview Park. His family’s home was at the end of Hilliard Road, only the second house built between the Rocky River border and the county line, he said. Robishaw recalled that when he was a teenager, the community was mostly farmland, and that most homes lacked indoor bathrooms.
Although his family didn’t own a farm, Robishaw praised the young men of Dover who made their livelihoods as farmers.
“They were not educated in the way we think of today,” Robishaw told West Life. “But they weren’t dumb. They were smart. They just didn’t have the interest or need for going to college.”
The large farms were eventually divided up over the years. But even as Dover/Westlake, it maintained its sense of community through institutions like Porter Library, he said. When the need for a new library was discussed in the early 1980s, some residents didn’t think the city needed a very big one, Robshaw recalled. But he advised that one be built that the city could grow into. Sure enough, an expanded library was needed at the turn of the century.
Asked what the most important thing today’s Westlakers should know about the community’s history, Robishaw spoke of the early setters and those who worked to improve Dover and Westlake over the years.
“The early people contributed and made it possible for today’s Westlake to exist,” he said. “A lot of people contributed — and still are today — to the growth and to the improvement of the city, from the time it was a little village to what it is today.”