THE PORTERS ( cont.) by Maureen Smith
Alexander Porter was born March 15, 1843 in Lorain, the 6th born child of Nathaniel and Clarissa Kneeland Porter. It was in Lorain where he attended the local schools, later, it is said, even spending a couple of summers at Oberlin College. Inspired by his three older brothers, all of whom were seamen, Alexander began his career of sailing at the age of 13. His first excursion on the Great Lakes was as a cook aboard the scow Orleans which was built in 1856 for G.W Jones and J Porter, and under the command of Capt. James Porter, brother of Alex. In 1859, he sailed as part of the crew of the bark “W. S. Pierson”, which made it’s maiden Atlantic Ocean voyage out of Cleveland to Liverpool, England with a stop over in Bristol carrying aboard, staves and timbers. The ship was under the command of Captain Aaron Root of Lorain a veteran commander of the lakes who came out of retirement to accompany this grand voyage. The return trip met with a challenge, that of being stranded in frozen waters in Ontario, Canada to which they had to wait until spring when the port was re-opened to continue the journey home.
Alexander enjoyed sailing very much and from the time of his return, he sailed the lakes every summer. He was employed by a big lake steamship company, and his many years of experience had led to his command of numerous boats, his first was as the skipper of the “Rescue” among others were the “Orleans”, “Milan” “Winona”, “Thomas Gawn”, and the “David Wallace” just to name a few. He became the owner of many boats and conducted a prospering business in sailing.
Alexander married Susan Dorliska Freeman on December 12, 1871 in Lorain Co. She was born January, 1844 in Canada, the daughter of Stephen Van Rensselaer, and Laura (Wolcott) Freeman. Stephen came to Lorain County and settled in LaGrange in 1829.
Susan moved to Lorain in 1867 from La Grange. She was a school teacher in one of Lorain’s first school buildings located where the fire station #1 was located prior to her marriage. For years after her marriage, she sailed the Great Lakes with her husband. A story is reported that about 1879, while sailing with her husband aboard the J.U. Porter, as they loaded stone in what was known as Oak Point, a storm erupted and the boat became grounded. The two of them “walked all the way to Lorain attired in dripping clothes.” She was on of the last charter members of the Church of Christ. She died March 5, 1927 Lorain and is buried at Elmwood.
Alexander & Susan, had no children of their own, but when Alexander’s cousin’s son, William V.R. Porter, and his wife Sadie (McDonald) Porter, both died while their three children were young, Alex and Susan took on the duties of raising them. Susan’s sister was the wife of Marion. As it would be, two Freeman sisters, married two Porter cousins. They had resided at what had become known as the “Porter House ” 503 Washington Avenue in Lorain.Today, the house has a sign that says, “PORTERHOUSE, 1842″
I had always assumed that it was there, at 503 Washington Ave, that Nathaniel and Clarissa Porter had first purchased a lot in Black River Twp. and raised their family. I had wondered also about the year, 1842. That must’ve been the year it came into their possesion.? According to the land records, Nathaniel purchased land in Black River in 1836. So why did the house say 1842?
Upon discovering the land deeds, Nathaniel purchased a lot north of there on what is now known as 224 Hamilton Ave. So who lived in the “Porterhouse”?
The first record I have of a Porter owning that lot was in 1879, two years after Nathaniel had died, when Alexander purchased the lot thru an auction that was ordered by the court of a Samuel Mapes, the owner, who’s case had a judgement brought against him in a dispute over financial troubles. He was ordered to list the house in the Elyria newspaper for five consecutive days, upon which then, it was to be auctioned off and sold to the highest bidder. Alexander Porter was the highest bidder with a bid of $334.00. The question still remained as to where the 1842 came from?
Another story associated with the “Porterhouse” was from a local newspaper advertisement for Lea & Perrin’s Steak Sauce asking the question;
“How did the Porterhouse Steak get its name?”
Answer: From the Porter House, a hotel in Lorain O., where Charles Dickens, touring the U.S. in 1842, was served an unusually delicious steak. Delighted, he spread its fame everywhere, always referring to it as the Porter House steak. Soon, leading hotels began to apply the name to their finest steaks. An appetizing tip for present day steak lovers. The flavor of any steak is wonderfully improved by a dash of Lea & Perrin’s Sauce, the perfect seasoning for all meats, fish, soups, gravies and seafoods.”
In 1842, Charles Dickens did tour the United States. He arrived in Boston and made his way westward as far as Pittsburgh, where he boarded a paddle wheeled boat and headed for Cincinnati. After traveling west, he returned to Cincinnati, then made his way up north, through Columbus, where he stayed the first night.
The following day, he arrived in Sandusky on Saturday, April 23, at 6:00 am, where he waited most of the day for the first boat out. He no sooner finished his dinner when the 400 ton steamship, the Constitution, arrived en route for Buffalo. It was a twenty four hour journey from Sandusky to Buffalo by steamship, and according to the book “The Life of Charles Dickens” by John Forster, he says; “We lay all Sunday night at a town (and a beautiful town too) called Cleveland; on Lake Erie”. He mentions people coming on board to meet him, but he never mentions getting off the steamship, until he reached Buffalo at 6:00 am on the 26th.
Sandusky is also claiming the story of the Porterhouse steak, as is Cleveland, Boston, and New York City.
Charles Dickens never stopped in Lorain, the Porter House Hotel was not in existence until some twenty years later, when Alexander’s brother James established it on the corner of what is now 9th Street & Broadway Ave. It was most likely an advertisement gimmick, but the story lives on to this day.
Alexander died on January 4, 1919, and is buried at Elmwood Cemetery. After he died, his wife Susan transferred the deed of the house to their niece, Kitty Porter Flewelling one of the children they had raised. Susan remained on in the house until her death in 1927. The house remained in the Porter family until 1945.
PART ONE OF THE PORTERS CAN BE FOUND HERE