The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Currents

April 1, 2012

A princess with Conneaut connections

Clara Ward, Princesse de Caraman-Chimay, spent childhood summers on Main Street in Conneaut

The atmosphere in the Cafe Falillard reeked of illicit romance.

It was, after all, Paris in the late 1890s, reason enough to give eyes and heart opportunity to roam. In a dim corner of the cafe, a young, beautiful, rich and married woman who had spent her childhood summers in Conneaut swooned to the Magyar melodies of Rigó Jancsi, a Hungarian violinist with eyes dark enough to charm a princess.

And the Princesse de Caraman-Chimay was in a mood to be charmed. Better known to the folks back in Conneaut as Clara Ward, she was the daughter of Capt. Eber Brock Ward, “The King of the Lakes” and at one time the wealthiest man in Michigan.

Her connection to Conneaut was established with several threads, beginning with Eber’s brother, Samuel Ward, who moved to Conneaut in 1816 and built his Salem packet on Conneaut Creek. The Salem is believed to be the first Great Lakes boat to be built at Conneaut, and it would launch a shipbuilding career for Sam that extended to Detroit, where he and brother Eber began building their Michigan dynasty in 1819.

Eber Ward, at his death in 1875, reportedly held more than $3 million in real estate. His shipping interests spanned the Great Lakes and he had a hand in establishing glass and steel industries. He built railroads, ships, developed silver mines, founded Detroit’s largest bank, owned Detroit’s Republican newspaper and was an abolitionist who put thousands of dollars into John Brown’s Free-Kansas movement.

His money enabled him to marry well — his second wife was Catherine Lyons of Conneaut, who was 30 years younger than Eber. Catherine was the niece of Senator Benjamin Wade of Jefferson and one of four Lyons children who were raised on Main Street in Conneaut, where the Conneaut Savings Bank building stands today.

Eber B. Ward died just two years after Clara was born, providing her with a sizable bankroll that Clara would devote her life to exhausting. Catherine remarried to Alexander Cameron, a Canadian lawyer she met in New York City. They relocated to Toronto, but the tradition of spending summers at Grandma Lyons’ home in Conneaut continued for Clara and her mother until 1888.

That was the year Clara went to London to attend school; actually a series of schools because Clara had a penchant for expulsion as a result of her “unconventional deportment” for a proper Victorian lady. London being too restrictive for Clara, she returned to New York at the age of 17. Her conduct was too raunchy for even New York, and her mother decided that her attractive daughter needed a noble husband to channel her naughtiness into monogamy.

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