of the West Park
Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio
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by Gary Swilik
In the 1890s West Park, then known as Rockport Hamlet, was a rural area of farmhouses, barns and fields, crisscrossed by railroad tracks and dotted with "roadhouses" where residents gathered to drink and socialize. One such establishment was Emmett's Tavern, run by Harry and Minnie Emmett (photo below), at the southwest corner of Herrington Road (West 150th) and Lorain Avenue.
Emmett's Tavern, open from about 1892 to 1904, was a wood-frame building which also served as the family residence. Photos show it was furnished with a long bar complete with a foot-rail and spittoon. A billiard table, illuminated by a hanging gas light, filled one side of the room. A wood or coal-burning stove provided heat.
Harry Emmett, the proprietor, was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1855. One of his daughters remembered him as having "breeding, charm, culture, and good looks, a glamorous handsome figure who had been on the stage and worked as a sailor on the Great Lakes. He was a dashing city boy from the east who wooed and won the hand of a farmer's daughter."
The farmer's daughter was Wilhelmina "Minnie" Seager, who was born in Rockport Township, Ohio, in 1865. Harry Emmett and Minnie Seager were married on February 5, 1885. They had daughters Nellie and Minnie early in the marriage. After a gap of nearly 11 years three more children were born D. Cornelius, Grace, and Dorothy. With children so wide apart in ages, Minnie called them "her two families."
Harry Emmett had not planned to become a tavern keeper. He was working for the local railroad when he suffered an accident. His daughter Minnie, named after her mother, left a written account explaining what happened. "In coupling some railroad cars his fingers were mangled so badly they had to be amputated," wrote Minnie. "Then he opened the tavern."
"He loved trees," daughter Minnie goes on, "and planted a grove of them in the yard. And right in the middle of the grove was an old authentic streetcar he bought for us for a playhouse. It was really something with red plush seats and kerosene lamps in each corner, a motorman's wheel, and a bell on the floor to be stomped on with a big clang. It made us famous! Our house was always full of company on Sunday with lots of food and noise and laughter."
Life changed for the Emmett Family when mother Minnie died of meningitis at age 42 on September 23, 1904, leaving her husband Harry the sole parent. The oldest daughters, Nellie and Minnie, were ages 18 and 16, but Cornelius was only 7, Grace 6, and Dorothy 3. The tavern was apparently sold at this time and the family moved to a home near present Chatfield Avenue and Rocky River Drive. Harry spent much of the rest of his life on the road pursuing various business ventures while his two oldest daughters took on the responsibility of keeping the family together.
Fortunately their late mother's family, the Seagers, lived nearby and were there to help. Their Uncle John C. Seager, for instance, was Mayor of Rockport Hamlet, an investor in the West Park Savings and Banking Company, and part-owner of Rockport Hamlet Driving Park, the popular horse-racing track at Kamm's Corners.
"That gave us the privilege of going to see the races anytime - free!" Minnie remembered. "We felt very important seeing Uncle John standing there at the gate, waving us in. One of the drivers, George Teare, was our neighbor. We always bet on Mr. Teare and he always came in last! Oh well."
Harry Emmett, his years as a tavern keeper long behind him, passed away in 1928 while traveling on a train near Rome, New York. He was buried beside his wife Minnie at Alger Cemetery. Their final resting place is marked by an elegant gravestone.
All five of Harry's children grew to adulthood however two of them died young. Dorothy passed away from tuberculosis in 1923 at age 22. Cornelius served in World War I and returned to West Park where he worked as an automobile salesman before passing away from tuberculosis in 1926. His name can be found on the West Park World War I Memorial located at the VFW post on West 150th Street.
Nellie, the oldest child, married and moved to Summit County, Ohio, where she died in 1948. Minnie married Arch McGregor and moved to Fairview Park where she was a charter member of the historical society. She died in 1977. Grace married local banker Ralph W. Reitsman, and passed away in 1981. Grace's daughter, Jean, and granddaughter Jennie, graciously provided information for this article.
The building that had once been Emmett's Tavern was divided into rental apartments and stood for decades. At some point in time it was moved slightly southwest, further away from Lorain Avenue. Surrounded by commercial property and parking lots it was finally torn down in 1983 to make way for the many fast-food restaurants that now occupy that area.