The Tale, Tragedy, and Timelessness of Tyler’s Trough, Conneaut Ohio

The Tale…

By1870, Civil War Veteran John B. Tyler had moved to Conneaut from his native New York, bringing his wife Emma Jane, their children and his driver skills with him. They settled on a farm near the Old Main Hill Road leading through the gorge that Conneaut Creek had carved with centuries of swiftly running water. John set to work farming, driving teams for himself and his neighbors while Emma Jane kept house and helped John make their farm prosper. The couple’s children included Richard, Mary, Hal, Edna, and August.

 After a sojourn in Chicago during the 1880s, John B. and his family returned to the farm in Conneaut. Even in the 1880s, Chicago had acquired the characteristics of a big city with tall buildings, and John B. and his family may have compared the height of Chicago buildings with the depth of the Conneaut Creek gorge snaking through the Old Main Hill Road.

As John worked through his farming days, he often interrupted his duties to help water the teams of horses that toiled up and down the Old Main Hill Road. A spring of sparkling, fresh water bubbled near the road and their drivers stopped to let the tired horses enjoy a drink of fresh water. Their destinations were a mixture of local trips and long-distance hauls to Buffalo or Chicago, because Old Main Road was a connecting thoroughfare between the two cities.

In 1896, John B., possibly with the help of his neighbors and thirsty teamsters, built wooden troughs to collect the spring water for horses and people passing up and down the steep hill. He began his plan of piping the spring water to the wooden troughs at the top of the hill by drilling eight feet into the ground, where he struck a bubbling spring branch. Then he laid a three-inch pipe to a well near his home just a stone’s throw away. He and his helpers built a wooden water trough measuring about four feet high and six feet wide, and then they piped water from the Tyler well to the wooden troughs.

It did not take John long to realize that that wooden troughs fell short of his expectations. Horse and wagon traffic and large lumber wagons rolling down the hillside jarred or bumped into the troughs and soon they showed signs of location damage. One day, a wagon hit a trough and it crashed into the gorge. John B. made up his mind to build a permanent water trough that could withstand wagons and people. He eyed a six by eight-foot boulder lying at the bottom of the hill and decided that would solve his problem.

An October 20, 1937, story in the Conneaut News Herald detailed John B’s next move. He hired West Springfield, Pennsylvania, builder Adele Hubbard to help him wrestle the rock the approximately sixty-five feet to the top of the hill. The two men borrowed two capstans and a hydraulic jack from Conneaut Harbor and after placing a jacket around the rock and using skids, they attempted to pull the boulder to the top of the hill. Their first two attempts came within a stone’s throw of success, but just as it reached the top of the hill, the boulder wobbled and then thundered back down the hill. On their third try, the men successfully settled the boulder at the top of the hill.

Then John B. Tyler’s son Richard (Dick) hired Charles Ferson Patterson, a stonecutter, to hollow out a basin in the rock for a water trough. Charles Patterson could not use dynamite because it would shatter the rock, so he decided to use chisels. After days and days of tedious, often back bending labor, he stood surveying a hollowed-out basin capable of holding enough spring water to satisfy thirsty horses and people. Charles Patterson and his wife Mary Adella and their children lived in Conneaut, and with many other visitors, they often stopped to enjoy his stone cutting handiwork at Tyler’s Trough. Many people finger- traced the letters that Charles Patterson had chiseled into the side of his creation:  J.B. Tyler 1896.

The caption under this picture stated that the Tyler’s Trough located on the eastern bank of the Gulf had once been a popular stopping place for people and horses to enjoy refreshing spring water. Time and re-routing had made the Old Main Route obsolete, but the trough was a community landmark and a fitting memorial to hard working citizens who helped built Conneaut. [1] 

For the next two decades or more, people and horses made traditional stops at Tyler’s Trough, and it became a loved landmark for Conneaut and Ashtabula County residents. Time flows like the spring water in Tyler’s Trough. As the horse and buggy jogged through the first decades of the Twentieth Century to meet the speeding automobile, Tyler’s Trough became olden times instead of an oasis. By 1924, the new Route 20 viaduct allowed traffic to bypass the stretch of Old Main Road where Tyler’s Trough had rested for so many years and it became less visible or remembered to passersby. Less visibility and the rising popularity of the automobile left Tyler’s Trough a solitary sentinel landmark on the hill, marked by graffiti, hidden in weeds and buried in memories. A great granddaughter of Charles Patterson, Mary Jane Jarvi and her daughter routinely weeded and watched over Tyler’s Trough and its now quiet neighborhood.

Time continued to flow like the spring water in Tyler’s Trough. Charles Ferson Patterson died in 1905 and he and Mary Adella are buried in Glenwood Cemetery in Conneaut. John B. Tyler died in 1911 and is buried in East Conneaut Cemetery. Dick Tyler died in 1952 and is buried in Glenwood Cemetery in Conneaut.

Eventually, new owners acquired the Tyler farm, and with it, Tyler’s Trough. In 2002, the new owners sold Tyler’s Trough to someone who moved it from the spot where John B. Tyler, Dick Tyler, Adele Hubbard, Charles Patterson, and probably helpers whose names have been swallowed up in history worked so hard to homestead it.[2]

Another great granddaughter of Charles F. Patterson, Kathy Grice Horwood, added more details to the story of Tyler’s Trough in a speech at the Conneaut Area Historical Society in the 1990s. The Society’s newsletter, Remembering, printed her story that she called “The Tyler Watering Trough.” Kathy’s version of the story has it that George A. Hubbard, a builder from West Springfield, told John B. Tyler about a huge stone that he had seen that would make a perfect trough for thirsty horses. The stone weighed twenty tons and measured nine ½ x 8x 5 ½ feet, so it presented an equally enormous challenge.

John B. Tyler hired George Hubbard to move the stone, a task that included lifting the stone sixty feet out of the gorge and settling it firmly on the roadside. John B. and George Hubbard had to obtain heavy timbers to make a track and use tackle blocks. John B. had to put in three loads of cobbles, three loads of boulders, and a dressed stone surface for the foundation so the stone would fit snugly into its berth and not roll down the hill. An opening large enough for someone to get under the stone and connect all of the pipes had to be left in the center of the foundation so the pipes could be hooked up to a spring to provide fresh cool water. John B. Tyler hired a Mr. Allyn to properly connect the pipes to the spring.

Next, John B. Tyler hired Charles Ferson Patterson, a mason, to create a trough from the huge boulder. Charles Patterson spent weeks chiseling the stone until he had scoured a basin four feet, five inches by five feet nine inches by two feet six inches to form the trough. Charles Patterson built a small shanty over the stone, working over ten weeks including all winter to create his trough. He completed the job and J.B. Tyler paid him $125.00. As a bonus and a good will gesture, Charles Patterson carved “J.B. Tyler 1896” into the side of his new creation.

 Fran Blickensderfer of Conneaut, a long time Historical Society member, drew this picture of Tyler’s Trough in 1991 for note cards that the Society sold at the Depot Museum.[3]

The final chapters of the Tyler’s Trough story continue the tradition of differing details and ultimately sad events with an ending that John B. Tyler and Charles F. Patterson might not have imagined.

The Tragedy…

Two stories in the Ashtabula Star Beacon detailed the fate of Tyler’s Trough in the first decade of the Twenty First Century. In the March 2002 Star Beacon story, Staff Writer Mark Todd wrote that neighbors reported that on Sunday afternoon Tyler’s Trough had been hauled away from the hillside it overlooked since 1896. A neighbor who checked on the trough, located on Old Main Road, Conneaut, every day since the sale confirmed that a crew took the boulder Sunday afternoon. The crew toiled an hour to remove the trough, estimated to weigh more than twenty tons.

Last week, Conneaut resident Cheryl Taylor, owner of the land where the trough rests, confirmed that she had sold the rock to an unnamed Ashtabula County resident who planned to use it as a memorial to his ailing wife.

Ed Wharton, president of the Conneaut Area Historical Society, said that everyone was upset. “There is now a big hole in our history. More than one hundred years of our history is gone,” he said. President Wharton and other Historical Society members were upset because the previous owner did not give them a chance to buy the trough or make other arrangements to keep it in town. “We’re disheartened the move couldn’t be put on hold for a few days,” he said.

President Wharton added that local officials, including State Representative George Distel, Democrat, Conneaut, had been asked to help. Ward Councilman Richard Showalter, whose jurisdiction includes the land where Tyler’s Trough rested, remarked that “it was taken out with no consideration for our community.” He said that he had contacted state officials and agencies when he learned that the trough had been moved. “I was disappointed not more had been done to stop the move until we had our ducks in a row,” he said. Council President James Lauer said he visited the spot where the trough had rested and had discovered no damage to the road or right of way. “You could go by and not realize any heavy equipment had been there,” he said.[4]

In a follow up story in the Ashtabula Star Beacon of May 31, 2002, Staff Writer Mark Todd pinpointed the whereabouts of Tyler’s Trough. According to Staff Writer Todd, local historians discovered Tyler’s Trough a few dozen miles south of Conneaut. It had been sold and relocated in March 2002, and now resided on private property around Garrettsville and West Farmington. They located a relative of one of the men hired to move the massive stone and eventually found it.

  Ed Wharton, president of the Conneaut Area Historical Society, said that the stone sat close to the road allowing Historical Society members to identify it without trespassing. “We have photos. The name and date etched into the stone is visible. It is the trough.”

Conneaut Area Historical Society members are planning to meet with the owner to see if they can negotiate the return of the stone. According to some reports, the new owner collects watering troughs and has a large display of them on his property. According to President Wharton, Historical society members learned the owner paid $5,000 for the trough and another $3,000 to have it relocated. Members will seek donations if they get a chance to buy back the stone. “We do not know if the person who has its knowns its historical value. He may not talk to us. Once it has left the area, it is going to be tough to get it back,” President Wharton said. [5]

Timelessness…

Conneaut Area Historical Society President Ed Wharton’s 2002 words proved to be prophetic. In 2022, Tyler’s Trough still has not returned to rest comfortably on the Old Main Hillside of its birth and its creators John B. Tyler and Charles Patterson would be astonished to read the latest chapters in its story. John B. Tyler conceivably would pause in his planning, just momentarily and Charles Patterson, would lay down his chisel, but not for long and inquire as to the nature of the Facebook chapters of the Tyler Trough story.

More than a decade after the sale of Tyler’s Trough some of the latest chapters in its story have been written on Facebook, a medium that would have astonished its creators. Or perhaps they would not have been astonished after all. In 1896, radio telegraphy had already been invented and telephone, telegraph and automobile technologies were improving as speedily as the newfangled typewriter keys could produce a word. By 2018, Tyler’s Trough had been discussed, dissected, and debated on Facebook and advocates had created the Historic Old Main Stone Trough campaign, to restore Tyler’s Trough to its original home.

Why has the story of Tyler’s Trough endured through the Nineteen, Twentieth and into the Twenty First century? Some of the important reasons for its timelessness are community, continuity and civic and historical pride.

John B. Tyler and Charles Patterson considered community important enough to reach outside of their private lives to contribute what they could to the betterment of their community and their fellow citizens. Tyler’s Trough as a Conneaut community asset provides continuity between generations of citizens transcending the differences of time and technology and creating a connective sense of pride for the contributions their community has made to history.

Every community, whether it is located in a small town, large city, or the wider world, has an icon that expresses pride in community, whether it is a ground hog like Punxsutawney Phil, a gigantic wooden chair outside a town that manufactures chairs, or a stone watering trough on the top of a steep hill. When people stop in their weary tracks before they reach the top of their individual hills, the image and actuality of a Tyler’s Trough provides hope and history in the guise of a long, refreshing drink of water.


[1] From a story in the Conneaut News Herald, October 20, 1937.

[2] Information taken from Federal Census Records and Cemetery Records.

[3] From a speech given by Kathy Grice Horwood at the Conneaut Area Historical Society several years ago.

[4] Ashtabula Star Beacon, March 12, 2002

[5] Ashtabula Star Beacon, May 31, 2002

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