April 1962 photograph of 226 South Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Image courtesy of owners Tim and Leslie Simonson.
There are few homes in Wellington today more readily recognizable than the gorgeous Italianate “painted lady” standing at 226 South Main Street. For nearly a century-and-a-half, the house gazed across the road at a bustling school campus. In 1867, the Union School had first been erected, and evolved over time into McCormick Middle School, which was sadly removed in 2016. By the mid-twentieth century, the once grand residence had fallen into a state of disrepair, and it is therefore fondly recalled by Wellington schoolchildren of that era as “the haunted house.”
The house may or may not be haunted, but its origins are somewhat mysterious, in the sense that they are obscured by the mists of time. The land on which 226 South Main stands is legally defined as block 1, lot 17. In 1852, early Wellington settler Loring Wadsworth first paid taxes on that lot. Wadsworth had been born in Becket, Massachusetts in 1800, emigrating to Ohio in 1821. In later life, he was one of the men charged in connection with the Oberlin-Wellington Slave Rescue of 1858, as he was believed to be an operator on the Underground Railroad. Wadsworth served twenty-one days in jail as a result, and was later elected mayor of Wellington, possibly in recognition of his principled actions. He served as mayor from April 1860 to April 1861, and died in 1862.
Loring Wadsworth (2nd from right), detail of April 1859 photograph depicting Rescuers outside the Cuyahoga County Jail in Cleveland, Ohio.
Wadsworth owned several lots adjacent to what is today 226 South Main. The 1857 Map of Lorain County, Ohio (which features a detailed inset of Wellington) shows that in that year, he owned block 1, lots 16, 17 and 90, with the family residence located on lot 16. The Greek Revival house that still stands today at 222 South Main is likely one of the older residences in town, erected by Wadsworth and his family as early as the 1830s.
Though Wadsworth died in 1862, his estate continued to be listed as the taxpayer of record on his former land holdings until well into the 1870s. This was not an uncommon practice; I have always assumed that it had something to do with settling the deceased’s estate, though in this instance, a much longer period of time passed than I have seen before. Whatever the financial or legal reasons, Loring Wadsworth was still listed on village tax rolls for block 1, lot 17 in 1871, when the value of the land suddenly jumped–after decades of remaining flat and unchanging–from $42 to $278. This strongly suggests that a house was first erected on the lot sometime in the period of 1870 to 1871.
Loring’s widow, Statira Kingsbury Wadsworth, died in 1871. Even then, the land and property formerly owned by her husband continued to appear in corporation tax records under his name. It was not until 1874–twelve years after Wadsworth died–that the property legally changed hands. In that year, block 1, lot 17, still valued at $278, passed into the ownership of Horace N. Wadsworth, William Gunn and local cheese dealer William D. Minor.
A real estate transfer published in the Oberlin Weekly News showed the sale of lot 17 was made by Benjamin Wadsworth to Horace Wadsworth and William Gunn for $667. Benjamin Wadsworth was the eldest son of Loring Wadsworth. By the end of the nineteenth century, he was known as “the largest landowner among the agriculturalists of Lorain County,” with over one thousand acres and a well-regarded sheep breeding operation. It has been suggested that Benjamin Wadsworth built 226 South Main as a “retirement home” for his own use. Wadsworth was forty-nine years old in 1870, the conjectured date of construction. Wellington tax records from the period show that he owned no property in the village; instead, he maintained a steady holding of 145 acres in lot 24, the southwestern corner of the township. The 1870 federal census shows Benjamin (49), his wife Maria (44), and children Elmer (18) and Jane (12) living in Huntington; in 1880, Benjamin (59) and Maria (54) were still in Huntington, living next door to Elmer and his wife, Mary, both aged 28. While Benjamin Wadsworth was somehow involved in the construction of the house on lot 17, he sold it soon after completion. The three men listed as taxpayers in the 1874 rolls were most likely conducting real estate transactions for profit, rather than purchasing the house for personal use.
Benjamin Wadsworth (1821-1912). Hand-drawn portrait by daughter Jane “Jennie” Wadsworth Eckles. Image from Ancestry.com.
In 1875, a small addition was put on the house, increasing its value slightly to $300. That same year, the property was sold again. From that point forward, the taxpayer of record was one Hattie McClaran. Harriet “Hattie” Lovett McClaran (ca. 1845-1889) was the wife of local physician Dr. Thomas M. McClaran. Harriet was born in Shreve, Ohio, approximately thirty miles southwest of Wellington. She and Thomas were married in Holmes County on March 20, 1866. Thomas had served as a private in the 4th Regiment, Co. E, Ohio Infantry of the Union Army. Wounded during his military service, he collected a disability pension later in life. After the war, Thomas decided to attend medical school, and graduated from the University of Wooster Medical Department in 1874. McClaran suffered from lifelong ill health and was frequently mentioned in the local newspapers as traveling to more beneficial climates, apparently without his family.
The 1880 federal census showed five adults and one child living together in the household: Thomas McClaran (37); Harriet McClaran (35); Lillian McClaran (11); servant Annie Spicer (24); and a young couple from Maine called Edward (24) and Lena (23) Everett. Edward was a druggist, perhaps boarding with the physician and his family during an apprenticeship, or while he attempted to establish his own business in the village. Maybe the McClarans found their quarters too cramped once they took in boarders. By 1881, they made major renovations to their home. The Wellington Enterprise commented on the ongoing work, and the tax-assessed value of the property skyrocketed from $300 to $1,890. This strongly suggests that the back wing of 226 South Main was added at that time.
“Wellington Enterprise,” April 28, 1881, page 3.
The McClarans’ tenure in the residence did not end happily. They sold the property to John Britton Smith, owner and editor of the Enterprise, in June 1888. They then traveled to Springfield, Missouri, for a visit with their only child, a married daughter. By October, Hattie McClaran was back in Ohio and committed to the Newburgh State Hospital, an asylum in Cleveland. Dr. McClaran briefly returned as well, moving into the American House hotel during his wife’s committal. Tragically, Hattie died by suicide on a home visit with her sister in Wooster, in January 1889. She was buried in Wooster and Dr. McClaran soon returned to Missouri to live with his daughter. He died June 21, 1890 and is buried in Springfield National Cemetery. When he passed, the Enterprise printed a four-sentence remembrance which noted, “He and his faithful wife toiled here for a number of years and as a result of their labors secured a beautiful place to reside on South Main street, expecting to spend the balance of their days here” (6-25-1890, pg. 5).
John Britton Smith occupied 226 South Main from 1888 until 1897. When the editor sold the Enterprise and left the village, the owner of the local boot and shoe shop, Hugh Comstock Harris, purchased the residence for himself and wife Ada Bacon Harris. The couple had no children, and when Hugh was elected to serve as Lorain County Treasurer, they also left Wellington, relocating to Elyria sometime after 1901.
John Britton Smith (1845-1924). A native of Cardington, Ohio, Smith is buried in Lakewood Park Cemetery, Rocky River, Ohio. Photo from Cardington-Ohio-Heritage.com.
As the twentieth century began, the house welcomed its second owner/editor of the Wellington Enterprise. Henry O. Fifield, recently arrived in the village, purchased the property sometime around 1902. Henry and his wife, Emma, lived with their widowed French Canadian daughter-in-law, Alice, and beloved granddaughter, Stella. Stella had been born in Canada and was a talented musician who went on to teach music herself. She was married in the house in 1920, and a front-page article in the Enterprise described the celebrations in great detail. The family home played a starring role: “[T]he bride…advanced through the library to the living room. At the same time the groom…advanced to the living room from the front of the house. The bridal party…then gathered in a bower of evergreens and palms in the large bay window in the living room. This bower was a beautiful creation and the work of Miss Laura Tissot a friend of the bride. After the impressive ceremony, the bridal party was seated in the dining room…They and the guests were served sumptuously by Caterer Gunn of Oberlin” (1-4-1921, pg. 1). Was Stella’s well-publicized nuptials the seed that blossomed into a popular story about 226 South Main being enlarged specifically to accommodate a bride descending the front curving staircase?
Proud Union Army veteran Henry O. Fifield on the front steps of his home at 226 South Main Street. Image courtesy of owners Tim and Leslie Simonson.
Henry Fifield lived to see his granddaughter engaged, but died nearly a year before the wedding. The Italianate at 226 South Main remained in the extended Fifield family for the first half of the century, belonging to Stella and her widowed mother, Alice, who later remarried and brought her second husband into the house.
By 1976, the year of America’s bicentennial celebrations, a young local couple who also happened to be deeply committed to preserving Wellington’s past decided that a grand old home that needed love (and a great deal of work!) was exactly where they wanted to spend their married life. Today, 226 South Main Street is haunted no more. Home for more than forty years to beloved residents Tim and Leslie Simonson, its vibrant wine-red color and flower-filled yard are often the backdrop for large gatherings of friends and family. The renovated carriage house at the rear of the property is well-known in the village as the Simonson Clock Shop.
226 South Main Street, Wellington, Ohio.