The secret history of my hometown

Ashley Herzog
4 min readJun 8, 2022

Avon Lake, Ohio, was once a sailors’ hideout on the Great Lakes.

Me and my neighbor in front of my childhood home in Avon Lake, Ohio. We grew up to be friends in college.

I grew up in a town on Lake Erie that was once known by its Native American name, Xeuma. It was later known, along with other neighboring towns, as the French Creek District, followed by its present name, Avon Lake. If you grew up in the Cleveland area, you probably know Avon Lake as a “new” suburb. But Avon Lake is not new, and its history is just as rich as Cleveland’s. While the city of Cleveland sits on what was once a no-man’s land, Avon Lake was home to Native American tribes living along the French Creek.

My family moved into a brand-new house in one of the first major sections of a neighborhood called the Westwinds in 1990. I was 4 years old. I quickly noticed a couple things: first, all the streets were named after sailing terms. My street was called Beacon Court, near the meeting point of Bounty Way and Long Point.

All the houses were shiny and new, with brand-new floors and carpeting. The newness was exciting. But it made it all the more alarming when the kids romped around in the basement and found black widow spiders. In fact, I still shudder thinking about it. The adults shrugged and said, “of course there are bugs in the basement, stay out of the crawl spaces,” and called an exterminator.

But “black widow” spiders and other nasty critters get their names for a reason. As an adult, I started to wonder if the developers had unwittingly plowed through a cemetery to build The Westwinds. The question was: whose cemetery? The neighborhood had been empty, wooded land behind a small farm before the developers purchased it in the late 1980s. There were no headstones.

But when we moved in, I kept noticing there were mounds. Not hills, and not artificial, landscaped embankments — but steep, cone-shaped mounds. They seemed to be packed with firm clay, although they had long ago become heavy with grass. My dad told me they were going to knock them down, so we were free to run and down them. I remember groups of kids playing tag and other games on “the hills.” It was a workout running up and down those mounds.

Fast forward to 2022. As an adult with limited but budding knowledge of local Native American culture, I would say those weren’t hills. Those were mounds. My guess is…

--

--

Ashley Herzog

New account. I’m still a professional journalist, novelist, and radio host. And Catherine’s mom.