Memorable Events

Bratenahl's Gas Street Lights

Aaron Williams, Bratenahl, Ohio Resident
Colonel Aaron Williams

In 1905, A resolution was presented to the council declaring it necessary to light all streets within the Village. Council signed a contract with Canton, Ohio’s Sun Vapor Light Company to furnish and maintain not less than 121 gas Weisbach Street Lights.

The green lamp and clear glass lanterns were owned by the Weisbach Gas Mantle Co of Philadelphia. The company supplied the gas mantles and rented the streetlights. An assessment of property owners covered the costs of the standards, globes, and installation. Street lamps were placed 150 feet apart throughout the village. To make sure full value was received, the council added a nightly inspection of the gas lights to Marshal Newkirk’s duties.

Colonel Aaron Williams, an old Indian scout who worked with Buffalo Bill, was born on February 11, 1847. He traveled the village with his faithful horse Molly and a wagon, with “Lamplighter” printed on the rear, tended to the gas lights on village streets and private gas lights on the driveways of some of the estates.

Every Bratenahl child knew him and named him Santa Claus for his long white hair and beard. The children who followed him on his rounds were amazed that he never singed his beard with the flame from the naphtha torches he carried from lamp to lamp.

When Williams began work in what was known as Glenville on the Lake, he had fifty lamps to take care of. He received $1 per lamp. By the next spring, the number of lamps increased to 200. Williams made two rounds of his 200 lamps per day, starting at 4:00 in the morning.

"Tending lamps isn't such a monotonous occupation as it sounds. I've narrowly escaped death several times in runaways and in automobile crashes." But even while recovering from injuries received in these accidents, Williams was faithful to his trust and never missed more than two or three days at best.

Lamplighter in Bratenahl, Ohio
Aaron Williams and his Model T Ford

Molly knew every lamp along the boulevard. She crisscrossed without a “giddap” or “whoa.” Molly was replaced by a Model T Ford which couldn’t go about its business as independently as the little horse did. Williams pensioned faithful old Molly. "I wouldn't part with her for the world," he said, "not even if all the folks out there chipped in and bought me a $5,000 machine. Molly deserves a good rest in her old age and she's going to have it."

Aaron Williams was a red-cheeked, ever-cheerful, warm-hearted lighter of lamps. No matter what the weather he was on the job always cheery in returning greetings. He retired in 1922 at over 70 years of age after serving over 20 years. He died April 2, 1929, at his 687 East 123rd Street home. He is buried at Knollwood Cemetery in Mayfield Heights.

His manual work was replaced by six-day clockworks used for Cleveland Streetlamps to turn the gas on and off. The mantles still had to be replaced and the clock wound. By custom, the old mantles were given to the first child to ask for them.

As a lasting reminder of the gaslights, Roberta Bole presented to the Village a painting of “The Lamplighter” by Cora Holden. Cora was an instructor at the Cleveland School of Art and a relation of Liberty Holden. It was displayed at the May Show at the Cleveland Museum of Art. At the suggestion of Mrs. Bole, the council adopted a resolution that in the event of a merger with Cleveland, the painting should be returned to Cora Holden rather than sold or disposed of in some other matter.

In 1948, The Village announced that 153 gas street lights, which had given Bratenahl part of its character since 1905, would be replaced with 123 modern electric street lights.  Surveys by lighting engineers showed that the amount of illumination by the old gas lamps was not sufficient at the pavement level to register on a light meter. The gas lights, owned by the Weisbach Gas Mantle Co. of Philadelphia, were sent to Philadelphia, which still used gas lamps.