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Another ‘History Mystery’: Lake Erie Wine Cellars

April 21, 2016
By Marybelle Beigh - Westfield Historian , Westfield Republican

Several years ago, while doing research for a Lake Erie Concord Grape Belt historian, maps were located showing the location of many of the local businesses and buildings associated with the industry. Among them was one small isolated image on the 1907 Sanborn Map for a Lake Erie Wine Cellars on Gale Street, three-quarters of a mile west of the Post Office, which in 1907 was located in the Brewer Block, where the telephone office building is now (2016).

Some time after this, while doing research for an unrelated topic, but always on the lookout for any items of historic interest, especially historic fires in Westfield, a page one, Dec. 30, 1908 Westfield Republican headline, "BAD FIRE!" caught my eye. The sub-headline read in part: "The Davis Winery on Gale Street Entirely Destroyed by Fire Shortly Before Noon Today Believed to Have Been Set on Fire by Tramps." Not being familiar with a "Davis Winery," I read on to discover that a prominent local medical doctor, Dr. J. D. Davis, was the owner of Lake Erie Wine Cellars on Gale street; and a man caught leaving the building had been arrested.

Further research found that Dr. Davis had formed the company sometime in the 1890s, as there were "Local Brevities" one-liners about his having a telephone installed in 1898, purchasing the R.C. Irish building next to the Fenner block on North Portage to provide an office for Lake Erie Wine cellars, as well as opening a wholesale liquor store. In 1903, LEWC was incorporated, with John D. Davis, and two partners - A.W. Rumsey of Westfield and James T. Barnes of Prospect Station - as directors.

In 1905, J.D. Davis resigned his active interests in LEWC to devote all his energies to the medical profession, but two or three years later he apparently resumed full ownership of the business. In the meantime, the newspaper reported regular directors meetings of the corporation in 1905 and 1906, at least, as well as commenting on various businessmen traveling around the country for the company.

Just one week after the disastrous fire, the January 6, 1909 Westfield Republican announced that "James Brown, the man who was arrested in connection with the burning of the Lake Erie Wine Cellars, had a hearing (and)was held for the grand jury," being charged with arson.

Attempts to find out the exact location of the Lake Erie Wine Cellars on Gale Street have been unsuccessful - so herein lies another "History Mystery."

Over the years since learning of the existence and demise of the company, there have been a few "sightings" of various items relating to the mysterious LEWC. The first was seeing and photographing a letterhead and letter from the company about three years ago, which was recently discovered in my historian photo archives. There was an image of a building on the letterhead which until it was magnified, was assumed to be of the wine cellars. It was a surprise to discover that it was NOT the Lake Erie Wine Cellars, but the residence of Dr. J. D. Davis; but an even greater surprise to recognize the house (and barn behind it) as being that of a still existing historic home at 118 West Main - named the Ward/Davis house. This information has been verified by documentation indicating that Dr. Davis did actually own the house between 1902 and 1908, but indicate that it was probably built around 1860 by Ward. (This home has recently been on the Holly Tour).

The other "sightings" related to the LEWC include clearly-labeled ceramic jugs and bottles, currently in the extensive historic bottle collection of Vince Martonis, Town of Hanover Historian.

As always, your Westfield Historian requests faithful readers to please share any information, photos, or ephemera about Lake Erie Wine Cellars via email at westfieldhistorian@fairpoint.net, or phone 716-397-9254, or post a private message on the Westfield Historian Facebook page.

Thank you very much.

 
 
 

 

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