Wading through cold water in high-top boots, George H. Lodge stumbled over a strange object buried in the muck.
It didn’t feel like a rock. It felt like … well, he wasn’t sure.
Lodge dug his toes into the silt, sloshed around and moved the mysterious mass ever so slightly. Reaching into the water with both hands, he pried up a 100-pound slab and pulled it to the surface.
A pocked, blackened ingot, obviously submerged for decades, dripped in the March sunlight. Lodge broke off a corner and gaped at white metal beneath the corrosion.
Normally, Silver Lake wasn’t that shallow, but it had been lowered more than 2 feet in 1905 so Silver Lake Park could build an artificial island as a port for summer rowboats. The construction temporarily exposed a 15-foot ring of lake bottom along the shoreline.
Lodge, 29, was a son of Ralph H. Lodge (1830-1907), who founded the amusement park in 1876. During the 1880s and 1890s, the 600-acre summer resort — nicknamed “The Coney Island of the West” — welcomed more than 10,000 daily visitors by train.
After making the odd discovery off the southern shore, George Lodge lugged the ingot home, grabbed a few tools and hastened back to the lake.
Lodge “immediately got a pointed steel rod which he used as a prod and by means of this and a pair of tongs and shovel, he soon located other billets four, six and eight inches under the sand of the lake bottom,” the Beacon Journal reported March 21, 1905.
Excitedly, Lodge rushed to enlist his brothers William, Louis and Ralph to help remove the heavy ingots. The corroded metal resembled pig iron, but Lodge was nearly certain that he had found a hidden cache of silver bars.
Origin of name
The discovery cast a new light on the origin of Silver Lake’s name.
In the 19th century, the body of water was known as Wetmore’s Pond, named for Judge William Wetmore (1771-1827), an agent for the Connecticut Land Co. His cousin was surveyor Joshua Stow, founder of the town that bears his name.
A native of Connecticut, Wetmore moved his family to Ohio in 1804. The family built a house on present-day Kent Road near the lake.
More than 500 Seneca Indians lived in a village along the southern shore. When the War of 1812 erupted, the tribe abandoned the village without warning and never returned.
According to William R. Lodge in his memoir, An Historical Anthology of Silver Lake, the pond was renamed after two young couples admired it in the moonlight during a horse-drawn carriage ride about 1855. The glimmering lake enchanted them as they returned to Cuyahoga Falls from a concert at Western Reserve College in Hudson.
“Whoa, whoa!” the driver commented. “What bit of paradise is this?”
“It is Stow Lake, or Wetmore’s Pond,” his pal replied.
“Henceforth and forevermore, it shall be called ‘Silver Lake,’ ” the driver announced.
The nickname stuck.
When Ralph Lodge bought the lake in 1874, he officially christened it Silver Lake.
The Lodge boys spent more than an hour sifting through the muck in 1905. They discovered ingot after ingot, each weighing about 100 pounds.
At the end of the day, the brothers had hauled 26 billets — more than a ton of metal — to the lake’s edge. They loaded the bars onto a wagon and rolled it to the family home.
As news of the sensational find spread across the nation, local authorities tried to determine how the ingots got in the water. One popular theory was that the Seneca tribe concealed its silver in the lake when it abandoned its village nearly 100 years before. As a matter of fact, the Lodge family found thousands of relics on shore over the decades.
“Indian Treasure Unearthed at Silver Lake,” the Akron Press reported.
“It is thought that at the breaking out of the Battle of Tippecanoe, the Indians were called to war and in their haste they may have dumped their bullion into the lake for safekeeping, and that most of the Indians being exterminated never returned,” the Akron Press reported. “It may yet be proven that silver is the proper name of the little lake.”
Former Kent official John R. Burns advanced another theory. He recalled how thieves broke into a freight car on the Atlantic & Great Western Railroad and escaped with a large quantity of silver ingots in the 1870s. He suspected that Kent rail workers were accomplices but marshals never recovered the loot. Perhaps the bandits hid the precious metal in the lake but suffered misfortune before they could retrieve it.
Another possibility was that the metal had belonged to Portage County counterfeiters who operated an “underground coinery” in the 1830s at an old barn in Ravenna. When their ringleader went on trial, gang members supposedly hid the metal. Once again, there was no explanation of why the scoundrels didn’t return.
Just to be sure, the Lodges sent samples of the metal to the Morgan Engineering Co. in Alliance for chemical analysis.
The brothers were said to be “anxiously awaiting the result,” which was expected “within a few days.”
Days passed. Then weeks.
The news blackout seemed mighty peculiar.
If the Lodges owned a ton of silver, they kept it to themselves. Maybe they were too embarrassed to announce the chemists’ findings. Maybe the corroded bars were actually nickel or some lesser metal.
Or maybe, just maybe, the Lodges were too busy sloshing around in the water, recovering dozens of ingots while keeping claim jumpers at bay.
In April 1905, the Akron Press casually mentioned that “100 bars of silver” had been pulled from the lake.
One hundred bars of silver?!?!? The total rose by 74 ingots in a few weeks.
Such a fortune would have been valued at tens of thousands of dollars in the early 20th century. Depending on purity, a 100-pound bar might be worth $40,000 today. Multiply that times 100 and it’s $4 million.
George H. Lodge was only 37 when he “died of apoplexy” March 17, 1913, leaving behind a wife, Florence, and 5-year-old daughter, Lucille.
Silver Lake Park closed in 1917 after rail service was discontinued during World War I. “The Coney Island of the West” turned into a camp for the Ohio National Guard.
Eventually, the amusement park was demolished so the land could be parceled out for housing.
The surface of Silver Lake still glimmers in the moonlight. More than a century later, one can only wonder: Does it still glimmer below?
Beacon Journal copy editor Mark J. Price is the author of The Rest Is History: True Tales From Akron’s Vibrant Past, a book to be published March 23 by the University of Akron Press. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.