By Cynthia Schuster Eakin
The families of a band of brothers that formed more than 160 years ago are still holding annual reunions in Sheffield Lake, OH.
The members of the 103rd O.V.I. Memorial Foundation are the lineal descendants of the men from Northeast Ohio who fought in the Civil War.
In 1861, the war was not going well for the Union Army. So, in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln put out a call for volunteers to serve. At the time, Ohio was the third most populated state. More than 300,000 Ohioans served in the Union Army. A total of 1,078 men and some boys from Lorain County, Cuyahoga County and Medina answered the call. This unit became known as the 103rd Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry. The members of the 103rd went to Camp Cleveland for three weeks to train and then went to battle in southern Ohio, where they defeated Morgan’s Raiders.
They spent the next three years together, fighting in several of the most historic battles of the Civil War. As infantrymen, they were on foot. They fought as far south as Atlanta, GA, and as far east as the Carolinas. They formed tight bonds and when they returned to Cleveland in 1865, they did not want to go their separate ways. They held their first reunion in Cleveland in 1867. Their next reunion was held in Elyria. In 1907, the 103rd O.V.I. Association incorporated and purchased five acres of land along the lakefront for $3,000. This property became the permanent home of the corporation. The veterans and their descendants have held an annual reunion every year since 1867.
They built a mess tent on the land, then a dance hall and a two-story barracks. There are now 27 homes and cottages on the property, with 25 of them being remodeled over the years. The barracks was empty, so the members of the corporation decided to restore the building as a museum in the 1970s. The first floor is dedicated to events that took place during the Civil War. The second floor covers events that transpired after the war. History is passed on in honor of those Civil War veterans. Their descendants live all over the country and reunite for one week each summer. The reunion camp week includes three meals a day, prepared by hired Amish cooks, a daily children’s hour, activities like swimming and card games, evening programs and a dance to the music of the Big City Swing Band. The bugle blows every morning and before events. Bald eagles are sometimes spotted flying along the coastline. There is a daily flag-lowering ceremony, and a solemn memorial service takes place on Thursday of reunion week.
One of the main functions of the 103rd O.V.I. Memorial Foundation is to house, preserve and display the Civil War relics and artifacts which have been inherited, collected by or donated to the descendants of the men in the 103rd Regiment. The Civil War Museum is open the third Sunday of every month, June through Sept., from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. or by appointment. The 103rd O.V.I. has four fund-raising pancake breakfasts annually, staffed entirely by volunteers, and featuring all-you-can-eat, made-from-scratch buttermilk pancakes and real maple syrup made on the grounds. The next pancake breakfasts are scheduled for Sept. 10 and Oct. 8. The 103rd O.V. I. is at 5501 E. Lake Rd. in Sheffield Lake. Phone 440.949.2790 to schedule a tour, or visit www.103ovi.com for more information.
“The 103rd O.V.I. is unique. It is the only organization like it in the world,” O.V.I. Memorial Association President Cliff Riedel noted. “The O.V.I. has a history of honoring every veteran and celebrating the freedoms that we enjoy.”
The 103rd O.V.I. Memorial Foundation is a bridge to history
By Cynthia Schuster Eakin