In 1967, according to the legend, the steeplechase race began because of a disagreement between two friends over the price of a cup of coffee.
The disagreement was between Archie Martin and the late “Doc” Foster. The disagreement turned into a challenge that was to pit four men with two canoes and paddles against the “Great and Mighty” Silver Creek in a competitive race. The four competitors, Bob Schnell, George Joseph, Archie Martin, and “Doc” Foster were each given a nickname. Schnell was “Beer Baron,” and his partner Joseph was “The Arab.” The opposing team comprised of Martin “River Rodent” and Foster “Quack.”
The race started on the Silver Creek at the bottom of Carlisle Hill on the Carlisle Family Farm between Hiram and Garrettsville. The course took them past Little Mountain and into the village, said to be an 8 miles long race.
The creek was very much like a jungle then and one had to portage through, around and over the debris found along the way. Many of the areas of the creek were dry and the canoes were dragged through the low areas and hoisted over several natural-made bridges from fallen trees and beaver dams, some were as high as 15 feet tall. When the racers reached South Street Bridge, the firemen hosed them down from the bridge as they continued on the last leg of the race. The last leg of the race was over the dam, which had the racers pushing their canoes over the dam, then sliding down the dam on their backsides. In the end the racers decided they didn’t want to be challenged again so they agreed to cross the finish line together, creating a tie.
The race drew nearly 2,500 folks along the banks to watch the event, which was the beginning of the festival in the small village. The festival at that time was called the “Silver Creek Canoe Race and Steeplechase and Old Time Git Together”
The Silver Creek Canoe Club was formed and became in charge of the annual races. Canoe clubs came from as far as Vermillion and Painesville to participate in the races. By 1973, interest in the race declined but in 1978, the interest was renewed when it became a part of the annual festival called Silver Creek Festival later re-named Silver Creek Turkey Daze*.
SummerFest has continued the tradition for seven years and this year will be no different. The Steeplechase will run Saturday June 23, 2012 at 9:00am. Racers are to meet behind the Deluxe Cleaners on Elm Street along the creek bank at 8:30 am.
This is a race for experienced paddlers who are over 21 years old. The race will begin at the bottom Carlisle Hill and will run back to the cleaners. One will need to wear deck shoes or tennis shoes for the race. The steeplechase is not for the faint-of-heart or the weak; the race is really more of a paddle-and-drag-type race, so strength will be required. Contestants will be hoisting a canoe over natural barricades, maneuvering around shrubs, bushes, briars, logs, beaver dams etc., besides paddling. This is a two man/woman race that requires endurance and is only for the toughest competitors. Watch the You Tube video, 2010 Steeplechase Canoe for an idea of what the race entails.
Registration forms for the race can be found online at www.garrettsvillesummerfest.com. The registration fee is $25 per team and there are a limited number of entries being taken, so sign up early. Canoes, paddles and life preservers are provided by Camp Hi Canoe Livery.
*Early History Source The Visitor
The canoe races are sponsored by Therm-O-Link
This year’s SummerFest is sponsored by Garrettsville Area Chamber of Commerce, Geauga Vision, Ellerhorst-Russell Insurance Agency, Kepich Ford and the Weekly Villager. The festival is traditionally held the fourth full weekend in June at the corners of S.R.82 and S.R. 88 in downtown Garrettsville. More information can be found at www.garrettsvillesummerfest.com