Elyria is a place of firsts, a great American rail city known for its innovators, collaborators and committed community members. Its rich history is showcased this year as the city turns 200 and celebrates its bicentennial, themed “Making history then and NOW.” 
“A 200th birthday is a significant milestone for any city, and we are using this as an opportunity to really celebrate,” says Mayor Holly C. Brinda, relating that 100 volunteers on the bicentennial committee are responsible for crafting a year of education, recreation and cultural events that honor the past, celebrate the present and shape the future. 
Elyria is the founding place of the Easter Seal Society. Its inventors conceived the first sewing machine, modern-day bicycle seat, rubber heel — and more. Elyria is home to three-time Olympic track and field gold medalist Tianna Bartoletta. Discount Drug Mart, originated in Elyria, is a generous sponsor of bicentennial souvenirs available in stores that will support the rebuilding of Ely Square’s fountain. 
The Ely Square fountain project involved community consensus concerning the design, and will include a capital campaign to raise about $800,000, with a goal to complete it by the July bicentennial celebration. The fountain design combines historic features, such as a central water plume, and modern aesthetics like three tiers with infinity platforms. 
“We want an attraction that will bring families to downtown Elyria, and the fountain really does that,” Brinda says. Ely Square is “our living room,” she adds. “It’s the place where we have gathered for 200 years.”
This project is one of several downtown improvements coinciding with the bicentennial. The city also commissioned the Elyria Arts Council to create six historic murals downtown depicting its 200-year history. These will be positioned in an area dubbed Pioneer Plaza. The plaza will feature outdoor markets, craft shows, cultural events and other gatherings. “A permanent structure in the middle of the space with glass doors will make the facility usable at least nine months out of the year,” Brinda says. 
Other projects surrounding the 200th birthday include transforming some of the city’s most challenging buildings, which were purchased by a developer. Streetscape projects will feature new lighting in downtown Elyria, along with crosswalks and other improvements, Brinda says. 
Bicentennial events kick off in January and February, with street banners announcing the birthday and the start of a monthly speaker series and Chronicle Telegram newspaper column. An oral history project will record Elyrians’ experiences, and a traveling exhibit will begin making rounds to schools. 
A concentrated bicentennial celebration in July and August includes a special edition of Elyria’s Great American Picnic and Fireworks Show at West Park, followed by historical programs and tours throughout the summer months. On Aug. 5, the city will hold its Grand Bicentennial Parade and beard-judging contest for those who have been staying away from the barber since January.
Meanwhile, the city is creating a 30-minute documentary that shares how Elyria has made history then and now. It will be released at a March 18 Founder’s Day event at Hoke Theater at Lorain County Community College. 
“The bicentennial is such a positive time to bring people together for activities,” Brinda says. “It’s important for the community to really understand how we got where we are, and how that can inform where we go in the future.”