The Museum is Growing Old Gladly and Gracefully!

The Transporter:  The Ashtabula Maritime & Surface Transportation Newsletter

P.O. Box 1546, Ashtabula, Ohio  44005-1546

Volume 3, Issue 2, covering 1984-2016

Extra! Extra! Extra! Museum is 33 years Old!


By Bob Frisbie and many of our Museum friends

Can you believe that we will be at over thirty-three (33) years in existence June 2nd this year? Well, it is true!!!! What a wild and wonderful ride our museum has had! All the volunteers have made this museum a success over the years. It has been very easy because of them. The museum started out as the Great Lakes Marine & Coast Guard Memorial Museum. (Ashtabula Marine Museum) in 1984. A few years ago the museum’s name was changed to Ashtabula Maritime & Surface Transportation Museum (Ashtabula Maritime Museum). We had several railroads in the harbor and they played a big role in our harbor too. Our museum now features not only maritime history, but includes the railroads and the large part they play in our economy.

Paul and Josephine Petros were two of our museum’s great founders. Their son Ray was very active in the museum after they passed their torch of interest to him.

Duff and Jane Brace were two more of our museum’s great founders. Their son-in-law Don Orqvist, CPA, is still very active in the museum after they passed their torch of interest on to him.

These two founders along with their loving wives were the two driving forces that once they had the museum started they gave so many more the reason to keep it going.

Written by Paul and Josephine Petros’ daughter Froncell Petros Dobos and Bob Frisbie

My young son Justin would go every afternoon with his grandfather to sit with him while they sorted through different pieces donated to the new museum. He was so excited that every day he got to push the button on a mechanical piece that would make all the men move. That was a special time that he has never forgotten.

Duff and Jane Brace were two more of our museum’s great founders. Their son-in-law Don Orqvist , CPA,  is still very active in the museum after they passed their torch of interest on to him.

 This mechanical piece was a special piece that the museum acquired which was built by Warner Pearson.

The museum volunteer staff still dazzles our visitors with this machine which sits on the desk in the museum’s gift shop. The staff operates it on many of the days we are open for our ‘adult’ children as well as sometimes even for their children.

(Before the museum was open to the public)

My brother Raymond told me about stopping into the museum one day to see how things were going and when he walked in he saw these four (4) old men painting the whole place. They were my dad (Paul Petros), Duff Brace, Clint Ekensten and Ned Sherry. This was UNBELIEVABLE  DEDICATION!  Ray also told Bob Frisbie that each night at home his dad (Paul) was practically in tears with the pain from his knees after working at these painting jobs. Ray said he had to paint the top part since they could not reach up like that. His sister said Ray was a terrible painter and was always asking her to paint for him at home!  Wouldn’t you say he was a ‘dedicated son’?

The unsung heroes were the two founder’s wives. They were involved in lots of ways. To name just a few, who can decorate a place with drapes better than a woman?

The following part of the article was written by Duff Brace’s daughters Bridget Orqvist and her sisters, Patricia Van Allen and Stephany Benson. Several additions were added by Bob Frisbie.

My father took u s down to the harbor area to see the inside of the old light keeper’s house before anything was done. We saw a mess and a lot of work, but in his mind (Duff) saw a vision.  He saw a beautiful museum.

The day they got the anchor for the front display was probably one of the most exciting days for everyone that worked so hard to get this museum going. I know my dad came home and that was all he talked about. Every accomplishment made them so proud to do this for Ashtabula.

The one thing I remember more than anything that every day there were so many phone calls from people finding things in their attics or basements and wanting to donate them to the museum. It was a really exciting time for my parents and everyone else involved.

Our father began his love for the lakes listening to the stories that he heard from his uncle or possibly a second cousin. This is the same uncle/cousin who would take him aboard an unknown and unnamed tugboat in Boston, Massachusetts, harbor and allowed him to have those experiences first hand.

His full name was Duff Gordon Brace. But Duff was known by his family at home as Gordon because his father’s name was also Duff.  In the service during World War II and after he left his parent’s home he was called Duff by his friends but his family continued to call him Gordon.  Young Duff began to collect postcards and pictures he himself took of boats in the Conneaut harbor at age fourteen.

He loved to research the history of boats and to learn about the cargoes they carried. Later, he would actually sail on those boats, a dream come true.  When he was drafted into the service, his days of sailing were over. When he returned from the war, he continued collecting pictures and memorabilia about the Great Lakes. He corresponded with many other people who had the same hobby, including priests, ministers, writers, and other eccentrics!  They were from all over the United States and Canada and became life-long friends.

Local scuba divers came often to the house and hung out in the boat room. They spent so many hours there that my mother would end up inviting them to dinner.

Duff is shown in his maritime library that he and his family affectionately called “The Boat Room.” He had a giant personal collection of homemade boat books on almost, if not all nautical subjects!

He belonged to many organizations and once was named historian of the y ear of the Detroit Marine Historical Society. From the time we were small children, our family vacations were to the Welland. (A vacation for Duff, and I am sure it was the same for Paul in other instances. But as for the children and for the wife…it was not a vacation cared for every year.

He (Duff) often said that the best time of his life was after he retired from Sanborn Motor Parts & Repair Shop & Store, and he and Paul Petros, owner and operator of Paul’s Bar, worked together to begin the museum with many others.  Those who visited the museum in those early days were regaled with the many stories about the boats he would tell them.

These two worked the crowds that would attend their slide shows about harbors, boats, and historic local places. You could hear them kidding with each other and answering each other’s questions almost before the other one would ask them! Many of their slide shows were recorded by Paul’s son Ray.  The biggest problem with some of Ray’s video recordings was that sometimes while he was recording the blower motor on the slide projector was so loud that it covered their voices. Many of the pictures they used during their fund raising talks have possibly been lost over time, because we haven’t seen them in the museum collections. Recently, 2013 and 2014, we had one of our members copy those videos so we now have some of these archived onto DVD’s.

What a fortunate man to spend the last years of his life immersed in what had been his passion from the time he was a teenager…never bored and always with a purpose! We are all proud of what he accomplished and are glad the museum continues with such devoted volunteers.

By the Brace Family daughters

The following experience of going to this older but nice clean four and half star rated motel, if you have missed this – it is a boat lover’s dream come true! This motel is located in Thorold, Canada and overlooks as the name states, “The Welland Canal Lock #7.”

It is also located near a crossing into Canada near Buffalo, New York. When the locks are open during the summer, you have a choice of sitting out on the lawn on lawn chairs that are provided, sitting out on y0our room’s balcony, again on provided chairs, or even sitting in the comfort of your room to watch the many ships going up or down the canal and through the locks.

You are close enough to also travel down the local road located along the back of the motel between you and the Lock #7. It also runs along side of the canal! But don’t miss the view at the top of the canal road hill where on a clear day you can see all the locks at the same time.  That is, all but Lock #8 locked up the hill behind you!

After many years spending your summer vacations here, can you imagine how bored kids would get with this small place? Somehow they, I am sure, were able to find things to entertain themselves and/or mom found it for them!

Memories of my grandparents, paul and josephine petros

Written by Granddaughter Raena Petros Sidbeck      

My siblings and I have so many wonderful memories of our grandparents, Paul and Josephine Petros, it’s hard to narrow them down!

However, when it comes to memories specific to the Marine Museum, we all agreed that the memory that takes precedent over all others, is the amount of time/ work they put into making the Marine Museum a reality. They truly did this work as a team, one supporting the other.

The museum began as a dream of my grandfather, but my grandmother was always by his side. I remember my grandmother sitting by her sewing machine creating the curtains for the museum.  Money was tight and every penny counted! If she could make them for less, that’s what was going to happen.

I also remember her working countless hours in the gift shop. She was an extremely good cook.  On long days when my grandfather and others would work ten to twelve hours a day painting, scraping, and organizing, my grandmother would often deliver the meals that kept them going. Although the museum and the history it displays was not initially my grandmother’s passion, it quickly became hers too.

And now to the true reason the museum is alive today, my grandfather, Paul Petros, or as we called him Bumpa. My grandfather truly had a photographic memory. I remember riding in the car with him. He would drive up and down Bridge Street, pointing to each building and reciting the year it was built and every business that had ever been in it. He could do the same with great ships that entered the docks. It was honestly astounding!

He loved Ashtabula, especially the harbor. When we would ask him to tell us stories of the harbor, he never failed to say that “even the drunks tipped their hats to the ladies.” Heaven forbid anyone say anything negative about “his” harbor!”

My grandfather’s attic and basement were a treasure trove of artifacts that are now on display in the museum. He collected everything – photographs, replicas, miniatures, you name it, he had it. We always played in the basement at y grandparents and his things were strictly off limits.  Years before the museum became a reality, he would talk about eventually wanting to share his collections with others. I don’t know if he ever thought he would be founding a museum, but the wheels were turning.

I don’t remember all of the details about how the building was acquired, but I know my grandfather endured many setbacks. I don’t think he was ever going to give up, but I know that for a while he felt that the city he loved did not support his efforts. It was road block, after road block, after road block- quite heartbreaking for him.

Finally, all was a go. I remember my grandfather and others, all well into their 70s, painting and repairing, doing all they could do to get the building ready. I remember a good friend of his named Clint, who was in his mid 80s, showing up daily to help. These people were determined to make the community a better place and give it something to draw tourists from all over.

I remember being at my grandfather’s house when exciting news came – an anchor being donated, the Hulett being donated, the miniature collection being donated by his friend. One of my most cherished memories was the ribbon cutting and the pride on my grandfather’s face that his dream was finally a reality.

I remember visiting him while he gave tours and never seeing him happier.

Raena Petros Sidbeck

more museum lore – ray petros remembers

Sometime prior to 2002, The Great Lakes Marine & Coast Guard Memorial Museum under the guidance of Ashtabula County Juvenile Judge Charles Hague created a new society within the City of Ashtabula.  The Ashtabula Area Museum & Historical Society included the Marine Museum and Hubbard House & Underground Railroad. In later years they brought into this Society the Finnish American Historical Society & Museum. Judge Charles Hague was president.

For many years Paul Petros’ son, Ray, as I said before, was very active in the museum business. Not only was he there for most all the Ashtabula Area Museum & Historical Society meetings, he was the president of the organization for most years. Next, I have included several messages he wrote showing his deep feelings toward his father and their beloved museum and its historic work.

A note from the President of the then Ashtabula Area Museum & Historical Society (in 2008)

A look outside tells us spring is coming and that means our museums will soon be open. I can’t help but think back when Paul Petros, Duff Brace, Clint Ekensten, and Tim Hubbard would sit and talk about opening day. Those were exciting times for the founders of each museum. I don’t think any of them realized what a major operation this would become. I am sure all of them are looking down at us and feeling very proud of what they started.

All of the people who volunteered should be just as proud of their part in helping to keep everything going throughout the summer. It certainly takes a lot of time and definitely dedication.

As the spring cleanup begins and we prepare to open, I must thank Bob and Anne Frisbie and the crew at the Marine Museum for all the work done.

Thanks to Char Lehto and her crew of volunteers for the work done at the Hubbard House.

Now that everything is ready, let’s open the doors and show the visitors what great museums we have in Ashtabula.

Ray Petros, President

On Fathers Day 2007 Ray Petros Remembers Dad (23 Years later) & Wrote

To start the new season for the museums and the cultural center, I thought a little trivia might be in order. I am proud to say that my father, Paul Petros, was one of the founders of the Great Lakes Marine & Coast Guard Memorial Museum, also known as Ashtabula Marine Museum, in 1984. It is hard to believe that on June 2nd of this year that will be 23 years ago.

Sometimes it’s fun just to walk into the seven (7) different rooms of the Marine Museum  and think about what the old timers talked about during and after they spent many a day swapping tales, remodeling, painting, or making a display. There were plenty of old takes as each one had his own story to tell. Many of you never met my father or the other old timers I am speaking about. Some of you never had the honor to hear all of those volunteers who were there from the beginning talking to or kidding each other as good friends always do when they get together. That museum was a way of life for those good friends and provided a way of spreading the history they had lived or learned on to others.

On your walk or tour have you ever noticed a very small model of a private war ship in the museum? Ever wonder about the GREAT history behind it?

As you enter one of the rooms you will find an old fighting ship. Actually, it’s a very small row boat. This ship actually has armament mounted on its deck. It also has a sign near it stating the many battles it fought in.

Now to get the true story of this “mighty fighting ship.” I have to tell you, as Paul Harvey used to say, “The rest of the story.” My father had always bragged about how he fought for the Lebanese Navy. The truth is, he had never been in the old country of his forefathers. He always talked about this battle and that battle and how bad those battles were.

Well, the boys- Museum friends- got sick of hearing all these war stories, so they came up with the fighting ship. Dick Coburn, a fine wood worker, began the construction of a war ship fittingly built to be awarded to Paul.

So in a private ceremony, his friends presented him with a fitting model. The armament I talked about was a sling shot mounted on the bow of this row boat. The sign I referred to is a sign that reads: Battles 0  Victories 0   Losses  0

So now you know the story of the Great Lebanese ship.

This also shows a little of the humor dad and son shared!