ELYRIA — Most students in Lorain know that famed writer Toni Morrison grew up there.
And most Oberlin kids know that their city was a part of the Underground Railroad.
But just because someone has lived in Lorain County all of their lives doesn’t mean they know everything about the area.
Long-forgotten history is buried within the borders, and “Hidden History of Lorain County” by Kelly Boyer Sagert, of Lorain, digs up the past.
A professional writer, Sagert was approached by Arcadia Publishing and The History Press to write a book about a specific location in Lorain County. While that didn’t pan out, the publisher asked her to work on something for its Hidden History series. The result is something Lorain County natives and novices can delve in to discover a past that shouldn’t be forgotten.
“I love history and read everything I can get my hands on,” said Boyer Sagert. “I’ve lived here all of my life, and I’m amazed at how many things I had no idea about.”
For example, everyone has likely heard the radio ads for Bryant & Stratton College, but what you might not know is that one of the founders was born in Amherst and that the college was revolutionary in its time.
Or, did you know that in addition to Toni Morrison growing up in Lorain, a number of other literary greats like poet Bruce Weigl, Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Durda and poet Helen Steiner Rice once called Lorain County home?
The challenge for Boyer Sagert was trying to decide what to include in the book.
“It had to pass the Hidden History litmus test,” she said. “My litmus test. It’s not a huge book, so I didn’t want to include things that were too well-known.”
At just 40,000 words, in some ways, the length of the book made it harder to determine what would be included, she said.
The book spans from before the earliest white settlers to the 1940s and includes areas from the entire county.
She tried to choose stories that would draw people with different interests, which is why there are two baseball stories, information about the Underground Railroad and Civil War, stories about the frontier being settled, tidbits on artists and political visits.
The book was written within a two-year time frame.
“There were so many pieces and parts,” Boyer Sagert said. “It was like putting together a puzzle and figuring out how this belongs and how that belongs. It made it more fun for me. I learned a lot of things, and technically I was able to spread my wings and make it all come together.”
The book is for anyone with an interest in history. It’s not a field guide, but if you’ve ever stopped to read one of those roadside markers and wondered, “What does that mean,” “Hidden History of Lorain County” likely will give you an answer.
Did you know that in Columbia Cemetery, a man from here who fought in the Mexican War has a memorial even though his remains are buried out west? Or that the first female pastor had connections to Oberlin?
Each story Boyer Sagert uncovered left her feeling more connected to the creativity, innovation and courage of those who forged Lorain County.
“The people who settled here gave up everything and took these insane risks settling here,” she said. “I’m really amazed at what groundbreaking people participated in forming Lorain County and either are forgotten or taken for granted. We don’t give ourselves credit for the role we have woven throughout history. We really were part of the fabric of our country being formed, and we just don’t acknowledge it.”
“Hidden History of Lorain County” is available online and in stores locally where books are sold.
Boyer Sagert is now at work on a new documentary about Victoria Woodhull, a suffragette, who was the first female presidential candidate. The documentary is set to be released in 2020 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote.
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