As an Ohio native and three-time governor, President Hayes held a deep interest in the state’s history. He was an early member of area historical societies. He collected original materials that help tell the stories of the people who settled and developed the region. Since the Hayes Center’s creation in 1916, collecting and preserving the area’s history has remained part of the institution’s mission.
Among the Hayes Center’s holdings is the Charles E. Frohman Collection. The wide-ranging archive of unique materials chronicles the lives of those who shaped the future of the Erie Islands and the communities of Lake Erie’s Western Basin. It is a rich collection of books, papers, photographs, and maps of which more and more are digitized. Through support from the Sidney Frohman Foundation, some 2,400 photographs now appear online at Lake Erie’s Yesterdays through OhioLINK’s searchable image database.
Recent efforts have focused on photographs of ships that once plied the waters of the Great Lakes. The photographs were taken and collected by Louis Baus. A long time Cleveland, Ohio photographer, Baus worked independently and then as a staff writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. A native Clevelander, Baus in his later years was fascinated by commercial shipping on the Great Lakes. As a member of the Great Lakes Historical Society, he spent many days traveling and photographing American and Canadian vessels.
Before his death in 1949, Baus had compiled 18 albums of more than a thousand pictures of Great Lakes ships. There are pictures of tugs, freighters, ferries, mail boats, lumber and car carriers, barges, and the ports and harbors they called home. His original black and white prints fill most of the albums, but Baus also collected drawings, pen and ink sketches, and photographs by others. For each vessel, he wrote a capsule history.
You can search Lake Erie’s Yesterdays for a picture of a single ship by entering its name or the entire collection by entering “Baus.” Whether viewing his albums in their entirety at the Hayes Center or online, one gains a sense of those vibrant days when vessels carrying wheat from the Great Plains, ore from Minnesota, and timber from Michigan dominated the Great Lakes. At the same time, one can’t help but be struck by the number of ships lost in storms, collisions, and groundings, taking lives and fortunes to the bottom with them.
Louis Baus’ passion for the region’s waterways extended beyond the Great Lakes. Between 1896 and 1933, he traveled and photographed the entire length of the old Ohio Canal - from Cleveland to Portsmouth. In 2004, the University of Akron purchased Baus’ collection of photographs of canal boats, crews, passengers, locks, and businesses along the canal ways. His more than 400 photographs can be viewed on the university’s website.