MOUNT VERNON -- The woman can barely be made out, standing in front of a house with decorative trim, its two front doors suggesting that it's a rental property.
The backyard continues past a fence or trellis, and in the medium distance stands the sturdy beams of a tall railroad bridge. The two children with her are even smaller in the image, the boy in short pants and a cap, while the girl wears a dress with a light-colored bow in her hair.
Who are these people? That part's easy, to a point. The woman signed the postcard as Ada, and she identifies the children. The photo/postcard was mailed to Miss Bertha Reese, 252 Arndale Avenue in Columbus, and is postmarked “Brinkhaven, Ohio, June 11, 1910.”
The text is brief and chatty: “Dear Bertha: I received the pattern you sent me. Thank you very much. I am going to try it some of these days. This is a picture of our new home, Loyd, and Eva and I. What do you think of it? I hope this will find you all well. Sincerely yours, Ada G.”
I recently found this vintage postcard (one of several sent by this woman, now floating around in online collectibles markets) and was intrigued, wondering if the people could be identified and if the house still stands. After a little digging and a reconnaissance trip to Brinkhaven, I can answer those two questions.
Ada Grassbaugh, Centenarian
Ada was a common enough name on the 1910 census in Ohio, but there was only one Ada living in Brinkhaven at the time, and her last name indeed started with a 'G.' Ada Grassbaugh was living there with her husband John who worked as a clerk at the general store in Brinkhaven. In their 20s, the couple had only been married two years and were yet to have children of their own.
Digging into genealogical sources, I was able to find that Ada was the daughter of Carl and Huldah Schmid from Glenmont over the county line into Holmes County. Ada was born in 1886, but the next figure I saw looked like a transcription mistake, because it gave Ada's death as 1994. Further digging turned up a Social Security verification of those dates: Ada Grassbaugh was 107 years old when she died in Springfield, Ohio, less than 25 years ago!
Ada had outlived her husband John Paul Grassbaugh by over 30 years. The couple had children, but the two little ones in the postcard picture are Ada's sister Eva and brother Lloyd, aged approximately eight and six at the time of the photograph. Bertha Reese appears to have been a childhood friend of Ada's from Glenmont. Bertha lived in Columbus for a few years around this period, before marrying Arthur Carlen and moving to Akron, where she lived until she passed away in 1957. It isn't known if Ada and Bertha kept in touch over the years.
But records show that the Grassbaughs within a few years moved to Big Prairie in Holmes County, where John opened a general store and became the postmaster for that unincorporated rural community.
A picture of that general store from 1917, replete with an Uncle Sam “I Want You for the U.S. Army” poster, has been preserved by the Ohio History Connection. So why did John and Ada move?
Playing History Detective
The answer is almost certainly to be found on the date March 26, 1913. But first, let me show how I reached that conclusion. A close examination of the post card picture and the position of the railroad trestle holds the key. When I first saw the bridge, I assumed it was part of the huge span that crossed south of Brinkhaven and has been rebuilt in modern times as the “Bridge of Dreams” on the Mohican Valley Trail, which follows the course of what was then the Cleveland, Akron & Columbus Railway.
But historical photos of Brinkhaven show no houses stretching far enough south to put Ada's home near the CA&C trestle. Another period photograph, however, shows that there was a large wooden trestle curving into town from the south, a different railroad which crossed the CA&C near the eastern end of the Bridge of Dreams.
An inspection of the parking area for the Bridge of Dreams gradually yields up clues: on the south side of the parking area, a metal guard rail seems to point back into the woods along the hillside. On closer inspection, I found that there is a flattened out area curving off around the bluff overlooking Hunter Road and the Mohican River.
This, I realized, is the abandoned grade of the Toledo, Walhonding Valley & Ohio Railway (TWVO, also known locally as the Wally Railroad). It crossed the CA&C here, then went onto the large trestle which took it into Brinkhaven.
The TWVO entered Brinkhaven right about where the U.S. Post Office sits today. Therefore, if the trestle is seen in the background of the photograph of Ada's home, then the rental property sat in what is the low field just beneath the Brinkhaven Town Hall.
At one time, it was an entire neighborhood, and a substantial chunk of Brinkhaven. It stretched from the eastern extension of State Street, just off US 62 east of town, to the Mohican River on the southwest corner of town, where Thompson's Mill sat.
John and Ada's home was the second structure on what was originally known as Railroad Street, next to a larger house that mostly blocks it in the picture taken from the bluffs up above the CA&C station. That station—unlike the Wally Railroad station—was up by the current Bridge of Dreams. That view, alas, is no longer available thanks to the extensive re-forestation of the area in recent decades.
That entire neighborhood is gone today, and March 26, 1913, has everything to do with it. On Easter Sunday, March 23, 1913, heavy rain began pummeling the area. By Wednesday, March 26, almost a foot of rain had fallen on Brinkhaven. Before dawn that morning, flood waters began to tear through the village, eventually rising to nine feet above flood level.
Almost all of the neighborhood, presumably including John and Ada Grassbaugh's house, was swept away. Twenty structures were lost, and three people died.
The Grassbaughs survived the disaster, but evidently they decided to move to an area less prone to flooding and took up the new opportunity in Big Prairie. Nothing but grass marks the spot where their house once stood. The Wally Railroad trestle was later torn down, too, after the railroad went out of business.
One can only find traces of how the tracks once crossed Brinkhaven at an angle by slowly driving through town and imagining what it would look like if all newer structures weren't there. The vague line of newer buildings marks the path, as well as the embankment that is still partially in place.
With a little detective work, an almost forgotten postcard yielded a dramatic story from Brinkhaven's past.
Mark Sebastian Jordan’s writing in 2018 is supported by an Individual Excellence award from the Ohio Arts Council.