“3 Paintings for Use of Lodge Room”

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The signature “A.M. Willard” as it appears on the lower right corner of the masonic tracing board referred to as “Quarrying the Stone.” Photograph courtesy of Galloway Art Conservation.

Back in October, I wrote about the painter Archibald Willard and his relationship to Wellington’s Masonic Lodge #127. Willard was a member from 1867 until 1891 (more than a dozen years after he moved away from the village) and began his tenure there by decoratively painting the interior of their new hall on South Main Street, sadly no longer standing. I undertook this research nearly a year ago, at the request of the lodge, when they came into possession of three enormous painted panels, full of Masonic symbology and with at least one panel signed by Willard.

I have continued to research the provenance of these extraordinary objects. In the museum world, “provenance” is the term indicating the unbroken record of ownership of an object, which can be used to authenticate its origins (i.e. prove that it was created by a particular person, or in a particular region or time period) and that, in turn, may affect its value. It’s rather like a chain-of-deed on a house. In establishing an object’s provenance, the researcher builds a record of ownership with supporting evidence like bills of sale, letters, photographs, etc. The goal is to move backward in time, from the present day to the theoretical day the object was created. And it can be just as challenging as it sounds.

I debated how to construct this post. Would it be easier for readers to follow the thread of the narrative moving forward or backward in time? I decided that since the flow of the research progressed from present to past, that is how I would lay out the story. I hope that this structure will illuminate not only the timeline, but also the research process itself.

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The Masonic tracing board referred to as “Quarrying the Stone,” the panel signed by Archibald Willard in its lower right corner. The photograph has been rotated to enable easier viewing of the scene. Photograph courtesy of Galloway Art Conservation.

2016
Our journey backward in time begins in early 2016. Wellington Lodge #127 took physical custody of three oversized paintings on canvas, rolled together on one tube, from the Ohio Masonic Home in Springfield, Ohio. Staff at the OMH knew that they had held the three objects for some time, but the Wellington Lodge was not immediately able to connect to anyone with first-hand knowledge of how long the panels had been in Springfield, nor where they had come from previously. The Wellington lodge reached out to me to ask if I would assist them in conducting historical research to try and answer those questions.

Over a process of many months, we were eventually able to speak with several past and present staff members of OMH, and learned that there was a folder of information somewhere within their offices, which was thought to hold the key to solving the mystery. The folder was eventually located, and though it did not contain everything we had hoped for, it did hold the clue that took us one step further back in time: thank you letters to members of a now-defunct lodge, West Mansfield #588, for donating “these absolutely beautiful, historical murals” to the Ohio Masonic Home. The letters were dated June 2004.

2004
In chasing down information about the now-defunct West Mansfield Lodge, I reached out to Knowlton Library in Logan County, in the hopes that they had a local history room. They forwarded my query to the Logan County Historical Society, which was incredibly fortuitous for me. Ms. Beth Marshall, the Archivist/Assistant Curator of the society, has been invaluable in her assistance and generous in the donation of her time. The LCHS not only maintains a local newspaper collection, but also holds a collection of local Masonic materials. And incredibly, one of Ms. Marshall’s most dedicated volunteers is a man named Donald Corwin, who was both a member of West Mansfield Lodge #588, and remembered the panels personally. Mr. Corwin provided a wealth of oral history leads to follow.

1996
West Mansfield Lodge #588 merged in 1996 with East Liberty Lodge #247. Mr. Corwin informed me that in the interim period, between the 1996 merger and the 2004 donation of the panels to the Ohio Masonic Home in Springfield, the panels “adorned [the] Harriet Chapter OES.” OES is the Order of the Eastern Star, a Masonic-style organization open to men who are Master Masons and female relatives, spouses, and descendants of Master Masons. Mr. Corwin was kind enough to send a few snapshots showing the panels hanging on the walls of the hall.

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Image showing the panel referred to as “The Temple of Solomon” on display in the Harriet Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star. Date unknown. Photograph courtesy of Mr. Donald Corwin.

1906
We now take our biggest leap backward in time. Mr. Corwin recalled that the oral history of the panels within the West Mansfield Lodge was that they had been on display for “nearly a century” and had been given to West Mansfield by a lodge in nearby Bellefontaine. The transfer of the panels was accomplished using a horse and carriage, so the story said. Bellefontaine no longer needed the panels because they had supposedly acquired a state-of-art magic lantern for projecting images.

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Map showing the relationship between Bellefontaine, West Mansfield and East Liberty, Ohio. Bellefontaine Lodge #209 donated “scenery” to West Mansfield Lodge #588 in 1906, and ninety years later West Mansfield merged with East Liberty Lodge #247. Approximately fifteen miles separate Bellefontaine from West Mansfield; approximately ten miles separate it from East Liberty.

In order to establish the provenance of the panels, we must try to back up each assertion with documentary evidence. Mr. Corwin was able to gain access to the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century meeting minutes for Bellefontaine Lodge #209, and found several entries that seem to substantiate the particulars of the story.

An undated entry from 1904 reads, “On motion, the Trustees of the Lodge were appointed as a committee to conf[er] with the Chapter, as to the purchase of the Stereopticon and views, and report to the Lodge.” (Stereopticon is another period term for a magic lantern.) And then on January 16, 1906, this: “Also moved + seconded that we present (with our compliments) such scenes of ours as would not [be] need[ed] in new lodge rooms to West Mansfield Lodge #588, West Mansfield, O” (pg. 274). One day later, a follow-up notice reads: “Transfer of scenery to West Mansfield 588 With compliments of the Lodge members” (Minutes of the Bellefontaine Lodge, 1897-1911, pg. 275).

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In the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries, stereopticons or “magic lanterns” were the state-of-the art in electric projection. Sets of Masonic slides were available for commercial purchase, some manufactured in Ohio.

1875/76
The astute reader will note that we have not yet connected Archibald Willard to this narrative, nor have we definitively connected our written record to our physical objects. Though the 1906 entries I have just noted, coupled with the oral history of a lodge member, provide a strong circumstantial case, there is still work to be done to strengthen the chain of ownership.

Mr. Corwin was able to locate earlier entries within the Bellefontaine Lodge #209 minutes that also appear relevant to our story. On December 21, 1875, the lodge voted to donate “Twenty Five Dollars, towards buying 3 paintings for use of Lodge Room” (Minutes of the Bellefontaine Lodge, 1897-1911, unnumbered page). The following year, in April 1876, this note appears: “Broth[er] Elmer was granted an order on the Treas. for 5.00 for amount he had paid Mr. W.B. Soudare [sic] for work done on paintings” (ibid.). W.B. Soudaire was apparently a decorative painter and paperer who died in Toledo shortly after this entry was recorded.

What was Soudaire’s relationship to Bellefontaine’s interior decoration project? Did he know Archibald Willard? Were they working together, or at least during the same time frame, Willard on the panels (probably in his Cleveland studio; more on that below) and Soudaire on-site in the Bellefontaine lodge room? Was Soudaire doing the finish work on the rest of the room? Or was he in fact originally hired to paint the three massive panels, and his death left an unfinished commission that Archibald Willard eventually completed? At present, we do not know.


What we do know about Archibald Willard is that 1875/76 was a crucial moment in his career. Since at least 1873, he had been working with a Cleveland photographer called James Fitzallan Ryder (1826-1904). When Willard painted his “Pluck” works that year, Ryder caused a public stir by displaying them in the newly-installed plate glass windows of his studio, and offering inexpensive chromolithograph versions for sale. Ryder encouraged Willard to create a work for the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, to be marketed on the same model, and the iconic “Spirit of ’76” was the result. This is what Willard was working on during the period the panels were first commissioned.

Ryder’s studio was located at 239 Superior Avenue in Cleveland. Willard appears in the 1875 Cleveland City Directory, listed as a “Fresco Painter,” with a studio at nearby 205 Superior Avenue. By the following year he had relocated even closer to Ryder, into the second-floor commercial spaces of Cleveland’s City Hall, then located at 233 Superior Avenue (present-day location of the Cleveland Public Library main branch).

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The Case Block, which was serving as Cleveland’s City Hall in 1876, when Archibald Willard rented studio space there. The building was demolished in the early twentieth-century and that block is now the location of the main branch of the Cleveland Public Library.

Also operating nearby on Superior Avenue that same year was a man called Max R. Cooks. He was part of several “fresco painting” firms before settling into a family business called Cooks Brothers. By 1883, his company had relocated one street over, to Euclid Avenue, which in that era was known as “Millionaires’ Row.” Cleveland was home to many of the nation’s most wealthy and powerful industrialists (including John D. Rockefeller), sustaining multiple interior design firms in operation in the city.

In his book, The Spirit of ’76…An American Portrait (1976), Willard F. Gordon–a descendant of the artist–asserted that Max Cooks was a close friend of Archibald Willard and considered him a “genius.” He employed Willard, presumably as a sub-contractor for the Cooks Brothers firm, to “paint frescos and stucco reliefs in many northern Ohio churches, homes of prominent citizens, and public buildings” (56). Gordon cites the painting of the New Cleveland Opera House and the creation of three murals in Washington Court House, Ohio in 1882 as specific examples of their professional partnership.

I was not able to learn much about Max Cooks, nor substantiate the business connection to Willard through other primary sources. In 1947, Cooks’ widow, Clara, was on a bus tour which passed through Washington Court House and asked to see the murals painted by Archibald Willard under her late husband’s employment. No one apparently remembered that Willard had created the murals, and the story proved so popular that it was periodically featured in The Plain Dealer over the following decades (for example, 2-24-1957, pg. 9 and 11-21-1976, pg. 38). Mrs. Cooks’ obituary noted her membership in the Alice Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star.

Was Max Cooks a mason? Was he the conduit through which Willard obtained the commission to paint three enormous Masonic teaching boards? Did Willard execute the commission in his Cleveland City Hall Studio? How long did it take to complete? Were the enormous paintings shipped back down to Bellefontaine via train or wagon, or both? For every question that seems answered, five more crop up to take its place.

Summary
The three Masonic tracing boards currently housed at the Spirit of ’76 Museum in Wellington were apparently created at the request of Bellefontaine Lodge #209, sometime after 1875. We do not know how Archibald Willard came to be connected to the project; at present, only his signature on one of the three panels provides evidence of his authorship. Willard was operating out of studios in Cleveland from this time until the end of his life, so it seems most likely he painted the panels there, in the absence of any evidence of a protracted stay in Logan County. Given the evidence of the Bellefontaine Lodge minutes, I presume the “3 paintings” they ordered are the same three objects now housed 140 years later in Wellington. The work was therefore completed prior to 1906, when Bellefontaine donated them to West Mansfield Lodge #588. Archibald Willard died in Cleveland in 1918.

Ta Da! New Blog Feature!

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The verso of a William F. Sawtell photograph. Author’s collection.

I have recently added a new feature to the blog that I have been putting together for quite some time. Regular readers may recognize the name William F. Sawtell as a local photographer and painter who lived in Wellington in the nineteenth century. He took portraits of people not only from the village, but also from all the surrounding communities.

Over the years, I have gathered a small collection of representative images shot by Sawtell. I often find them in the “miscellaneous photos” bins of local antique stores. Since I have begun publishing this blog, several kind people have made gifts of images they owned. Most of the portraits are neither identified nor dated, but I have long wanted to make them available for viewing in a single location.

Today, I have launched a new page on this site. Under the main menu you will now see three tabs, namely Home, About, and “William Sawtell, Photographer.” I have scanned all of the Sawtell images in my possession, and included all the information I know about each one. If you happen to recognize any of the unnamed subjects, or if you happen to be related to any of the identified individuals, please leave a comment and share your story.

Archibald Willard and Wellington Masonic Lodge #127

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Self-portrait by Archibald Willard, completed circa 1876. Original work held in the collection of the Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, OH.

When I began writing this blog three years ago, I made two promises to myself. 1) I would never stray outside of the nineteenth century. 2) I would never write about Myron T. Herrick or Archibald Willard. The reason for this second promise was simply that Herrick and Willard are, by far, the best known figures from Wellington’s past, and both have had articles and books aplenty published about their lives. I did not feel that I could contribute anything new to either story, so I vowed to steer clear.

I can cheerfully report that I have since broken both of those promises, wandering back into the eighteenth century and forward into the twentieth…and beyond. I have even written about topics that brushed gently against the lives of both Herrick and Willard. But today I offer up something unprecedented: a post dedicated to the life of Archibald Willard and, I believe, on an aspect of his biography that has never before been documented.

Regular readers of the blog will recall that for some months past, I have made reference to an ongoing research project of a larger scale than that for my standard posts. Early in 2016, I was contacted by members of Wellington’s Masonic Lodge #127. They were about to come into possession of something wonderful: three enormous and previously unknown paintings by Archibald Willard. They wondered if I could assist them in researching the history of the pieces, and in having them “restored.” As it happens, I worked for a number of years at a regional art conservation center based in Cleveland. I put the lodge in contact with a talented, AIC-accredited paintings conservator and in March of this year we all came together to study these unusual objects.

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Paintings conservator Heather Galloway of Galloway Art Conservation examines one of three oversized Masonic tracing boards painted by Archibald Willard. Photo by author, taken March 3, 2016.

Wellington Lodge #127 has always known that Archibald Willard was once its member. They have beautiful, leather-bound ledger volumes from the nineteenth century that record his joining, and faithfully paying dues even years after he moved away from the village. But there is even more to be told about Willard’s connection with the Wellington Masons. And since October 11th is the 98th anniversary of his death, now seemed a perfect time to share that story.

The first meeting of a potential Masonic lodge in Wellington occurred in a garret under the eaves of the Wellington House–later called the American House–in 1844. It would be eleven more years before young Arch Willard, then aged nineteen, moved to the village with his family. The teenager had some nascent artistic talent, and got a job at Tripp’s Carriage Depot, where he was soon employed doing decorative painting on the vehicles. (He was also later employed by the Couch furniture company for the same purpose.)

September 13, 1858 is a day that is remembered in local and national history as the day of the Oberlin-Wellington Slave Rescue. What is less well remembered is the fact that so many people were present on the village green and able to participate in the famous rescue, because they were already there observing a large fire as it swept through the business block on the west side of South Main Street. Most of the buildings were completely destroyed, including the large brick building on the corner, owned by Dr. Eli Boies. By 1858, the Masons had relocated their meeting hall into Boies’ building, and consequently lost everything in the fire. It was to be the first of several such devastating fire events for the Wellington lodge.

Dr. John Rust also lost his wood-frame building in the September 13th fire. Masonic records indicate that in October, the lodge discussed the fact that “Do. J. Rust was about to rebuild his Drug Store and had offered the Lodge the priviledge [sic] of putting on the thrice Story he putting on the roof and the Lodge paying him One Hundred and fifty Dollars ground rent” (Wellington Masonic ledger, vol. 1, 10-26-1858 entry). The group voted to accept the offer, and began raising funds to pay for the third-floor addition.

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Image of the building erected in 1859 by Dr. John Rust, and later owned by Dr. John W. Houghton. This building housed Houghton’s Drug Store for a half-century, and the second floor was home to “The Wellington Enterprise” for decades while Houghton and his wife, Mary, were its co-editors. Wellington Masonic Lodge #127 occupied its third floor for forty-three years (note the Masonic symbol displayed on the third-floor facade). The building was demolished in the 1960s for what is now the Farm & Home parking lot. Photo 970885 of “Wellington Family Album” Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

The building was erected in 1859 and its third-floor Masonic Hall was dedicated and celebrated with a special event at the Congregational Church on January 17, 1860. The nation, meanwhile, was careening toward four years of war, during which time Archibald Willard would serve two tours of duty in the Union army, marry local girl Nellie Challacombe, and see the first of their five children born.

By 1866, the war had ended and Wellington’s Masons were already having problems with their facilities. The chief issue seems to have been inadequate space, and a committee was formed in June to determine “what a new Hall will cost, what we can sell our present Hall for~” (Masonic ledger, vol. 1, undated pre-6-30-1866 entry). Instead, less than a month later, the committee reported that conditions for building were “unfavorable” but “propositions have been made to enlarge our own Hall by extending to the west” (7-24-1866 entry). The lodge voted to agree to the extension proposal, and once again commenced fundraising to pay for the work.

On September 12, 1866, The Lorain County News reported that “the Masons are enlarging their hall by putting on twenty-one feet to the length and raising the roof, adding a Reading and Reception Room, which will make it a very fine Hall” (pg. 3). And then, for the first time, Archibald Willard makes an appearance in the records of the lodge, petitioning for membership on February 2, 1867. The committee formed to review his petition reported favorably, and he was elected into the lodge in March, when he was thirty years old.

One day after Willard’s election, the following notice appeared in The Lorain County News:

“Masonic Hall. The new Hall just finished by the Free Masons is one of the best in the State. The furniture, carpets, chandeliers &c., are all new and of a splendid quality. The walls and ceiling are frescoed in the finest manner. Four large paintings decorate the walls. The one in the east represents the rising sun reflecting its rays upon the ruins of castles on the distant hills. The one in the south represents midday with the trees and plants of the tropics. The north represents icebergs with a frail ship dashing among them and overtopping all is the Aurora Borealis sending up its glare to the blue sky above. The west represents rocky hills and extension [sic] plains, with wild scenes almost to the setting sun. The ceiling overhead represents the blue sky interspersed with clouds with twinkling stars glistening beautifully in the light of the splendid chandelier. Several miles of striping around the pannels [sic] on the walls and ceiling add greatly to the beauty of the whole—This work was done by our young townsman, Mr. A. Willard, and reflects great credit to him as an artist. The plans and designs of the hall and all its fixtures were mostly by Mr. L. Bowman who has been indefatigable in his labors to have every thing well done and in good taste. It will repay any one to visit this beautiful Hall” (3-20-1867, pg. 3).

The “Mr. L. Bowman” mentioned as being responsible for heading up the expansion and redecoration was Levi Bowman, a Jewish businessman born in Germany who was treasurer of the lodge. He and his wife raised eight children in Wellington, and Levi owned a clothing shop in the building immediately adjacent to Houghton’s. (Lepha Sherman Houghton was employed in Bowman’s shop when she moved from Massachusetts to Wellington; it was there she met married tailor Jack Brown and became pregnant with his child. She later died from a botched abortion attempt.) Bowman was a member of Lodge #127 for more than forty years, until he moved to Dayton just before the end of his life in 1900.

It is Levi Bowman’s name that is listed in Masonic records as the person who recommended Willard for membership in the lodge, and Willard’s profession is noted not as “mechanic,” as might be expected for someone working in a carriage shop in the period, but as “painter.” Masonic rituals and symbology were closely-held information in the mid-nineteenth century, and I am tempted to wonder if Willard in some sense had to become a Mason in order to secure the lucrative job of decorating their hall. He progressed through the three degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and finally Master Mason, finishing on May 21, 1867. On July 16th, a list of bills presented to the lodge for compensation included “One by A.M. Willard $75” (Wellington Masonic ledger, vol. 2, pg. 28). This was presumably the bill for painting services. But then on September 10th, this curious entry appears: “It was then moved, sec’d + carried by vote of Lodge that the fees for conferring the Degrees of E.A. F.C. + M.M. be remited [sic] to Bro. A.M. Willard” (pg. 33). I examined thirty years worth of Masonic records and this is the only instance I found of any member having his initiation fees returned by the lodge.

Willard paid annual dues to Lodge #127 until he withdrew in December of 1891, thirteen years after he left the village and moved his family to Cleveland. If he was an active member of the group during his residence in town, it is not reflected in existing records. I can find no mention of him ever serving as an officer–except for one day in 1872, when he stood in for an absent member. The only committee I found any reference to him serving on was also formed in 1872, to assess “the condition of the hall” (pg. 194). The building was experiencing water leaks, and it makes sense that the artist who painted the space was asked to inspect the impact on his work.

The Masons endured the water leaks, and another fire in 1881 that damaged, but did not destroy, the Houghton building. In 1900, a massive fire leveled the three-story brick building on the corner of Main Street and what is now West Herrick Avenue. A group of Masons decided to pool their resources and build a “splendid business house…The third floor is to be finished off into one large room, and would be ideal quarters for the Masonic fraternity, the members of which have hoped to secure it for the blue lodge and Chapter” (Wellington Enterprise, 3-26-1902, pg. 1). Ironically, as this modern edifice was being erected, the Masons’ first home in Wellington, the American House, was being demolished to make way for a new public library, a gift to the community from none other than Myron T. Herrick.

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Postcard image showing the relationship between the Houghton Building (far left) and the Reserve Building (far right). The Houghton building was demolished in the 1960s; the Reserve Building is still standing–and still home to Lodge #127–today. Postmarked January 1909. Author’s collection.

The Reserve Building was erected over the course of 1901 and 1902. In December 1902, The Wellington Enterprise reported that “the contract for finishing off the third floor of the new Reserve building will be let soon, and before spring the new Masonic quarters will be in readiness for the fraternity. When these rooms are finished Wellington Lodge F. & A.M. [i.e. Free and Accepted Masons] will be as comfortably quartered as any society in Lorain county” (12-24-1902, pg. 1) Unfortunately, there is a gap in the surviving copies of the Enterprise, so we know only that the Lodge was comfortably settled by the spring of 1904.

What, then, of the enormous paintings acquired by Lodge #127 this year? They have been donated by the lodge to the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, also known as the ‘Spirit of ’76’ Museum; the two groups are now working together to secure conservation funding. We know the panels were painted by Willard, as one of the three is signed by him. They appear to be Masonic tracing boards, teaching objects produced in groups of three and used for instruction within a lodge. The precise provenance of the panels has not yet been established; we can say only that they were painted by Willard and so must date within the span of his artistic career, ca. 1860 to 1918. My research is ongoing and will hopefully be the topic of a future post.

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“A meeting of Freemasons for the reception of apprentices: the junior warden introducing the candidate to be initiated and entered apprentice. Lithograph published 1st March 1812, by Thomas Palser, Surry Side, Westminster Bridge.” Early nineteenth-century depiction of an English Masonic initiation, showing a tracing board in use.

The Silent Bell

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Bell manufactured by Meneely’s Foundry, West Troy, New York. Undated object held in the collection of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

A few months ago, I published a lengthy post on the Seminary, a school first founded in 1849 for the young women of Wellington. While conducting research for that essay, I ran across the following quote: “[Miss Eliza Hamilton] sold the building to the village which moved it to 112 Adams Street where it was converted into a residence…The school bell was removed and placed in the union school building on South Main Street built in 1867-68. Years later it was given to the ‘Spirit of ’76’ Museum” (Henes, Historic Wellington Then and Now, pg. 11-12).

This little anecdote about a bell that allegedly came from the Seminary remained in the back of my mind. Yesterday, I had occasion to visit the ‘Spirit of ’76’ Museum. They have recently put together a nice exhibition related to Wellington’s schools, commemorating the demolition of McCormick Middle School–formerly the Union School mentioned in the quote above. And there, prominently displayed, is a lovely bronze bell.

The bowl of the bell is encircled with the words “Meneely’s Foundry, West Troy, N.Y.” There is no date indicated. The overall object is about 31″ high (to the top of the metal wheel) and the mouth of the bell is 18″ in diameter. The entire apparatus is mounted on a wooden frame that appears to be original, though with a few replacement nuts and bolts.

As it happens, Meneely is a very well-known name in the world of bell manufacturing. The company was founded in 1826 by Andrew Meneely in West Troy, New York (today called Watervliet). It is likely no accident that Meneely chose to start such a business in a town that sat on the newly opened Erie Canal; bells can be extremely heavy objects and the convenience of moving them by water and then rail is mentioned in Meneely catalogs late into the nineteenth-century. The Meneely Foundry is sometimes referred to as the first or oldest bell manufacturer in the United States, but it would be more accurate to say that it was the oldest continuously-operating bell foundry when it closed its doors in 1951.

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“A View of the Erie Canal at West Troy.”

Andrew Meneely ran the foundry until his death in 1851. His two oldest sons took over the business and operated it as Andrew Meneely’s Sons until 1863, when they felt confident enough of their own reputations to change the name once again to E.A. & G.R. Meneely. A younger brother founded his own competing bell foundry in adjacent Troy, New York, and the two older brothers sued to block his use of the family name. Their efforts were not ultimately successful, but left some very interesting reading in the form of court proceedings. Both Meneely bell companies remained in family hands and the two are said to have produced more than 65,000 bells over the course of their operations. Meneely catalogs can still be found in special collections departments, particularly in New York libraries. I was fortunate to find one from 1876 digitized.

In the court proceedings of “Meneely v. Meneely,” it is noted that plaintiffs E.A. & G.R. Meneely “have cast upon the bells manufactured by them…’Meneelys[‘], West Troy, N.Y.'” (New York Supreme Court Reports, 1874, Vol 3. pg. 544). Illustrations from the 1876 catalog confirm the same specific wording, which grammatically indicates more than one Meneely in the business. Remember, though, that the bell in the museum reads, “Meneely’s Foundry,” which grammatically indicates a single owner. Anecdotal evidence, in the form of a small sample of dated bells across the country, suggests that the museum’s singular wording was most commonly used on bells dating ca. 1850.

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Illustration from “Meneely & company, bell-founders, West Troy, N.Y….” (1876) pg. 9. This type of bell is described as ideal for academies, i.e. schools. It not only has a rope over the wheel for easier ringing, but also a “Rotary Yoke, which permits the bell to be turned in a moment so as to cause the clapper to strike in a new place when desired” and not wear out the bell metal too quickly.

It is worth noting that this was not the only Meneely bell in Wellington. In 1879, when the Congregational Church was dedicated, The Wellington Enterprise ran a detailed budget of its construction expenses. Included in the account was “Bell-Menerly & Kimberly, Troy, N.Y.” The bell was grouped in a line item with the organ and unspecified “furnishing” totaling $4,150 (4/10/1879, pg. 2). This bell was produced by the rival manufacturing firm of Meneely & Kimberly, founded in 1870 by younger brother Clinton Meneely, defendant in the 1874-75 litigation mentioned above. The 1876 Congregational Church burned down just two decades later; I do not know the fate of the bell. If it survived the fire, it is quite possibly hanging on South Main Street to this day.

So what do we know? The Seminary was founded in 1849. It was sold by Eliza Hamilton to the village in 1864, but remained in use as a public primary school until it was sold (and ultimately became a private residence) in 1876. That would seem the logical point at which a school bell might have transferred to the relatively new Union School, completed in late 1867. Unfortunately, we have no known documentary evidence nor any photographs of Eliza Hamilton’s school that might confirm the presence of the bell on its grounds. The object itself has no date, though preliminary anecdotal evidence suggests it was manufactured ca. 1850. For now, at least, the bell remains tantalizingly silent.

To see twentieth-century film footage of Meneely bell production, visit: part one and part two.

UPDATE: Apparently Wellington is chock full of Meneely bells! As I was driving by the Town Hall this morning, I suddenly had an “Ah ha!” moment. Sure enough, upon closer inspection I discovered that the large bell mounted in front of that building is also a Meneely bell…and it is dated! Around the bowl is cast the inscription, “Meneelys Bell Foundry West Troy, N.Y. 1847.” I wonder how many more we might discover if we peeked into the belfries of some local churches?

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1847 Meneely bell mounted in front of Wellington’s Town Hall. Photo by author.

 

Three Cheers!

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Interior view of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Lexington, Massachusetts. Photo by author.

Though I have not been able to post as regularly of late as once I did, I could not let this occasion pass without comment. Three years ago today I began this little blog. What an extraordinary experience it has been, with more than 35,000 folks visiting these pages to read about life in a rural Ohio village more than a century ago.

My posts may be more infrequent, but that does not mean the research has ended. On the contrary, I have been working on several larger, more in-depth projects over the past few months. For example, I have spent over fifty hours to date investigating painter Archibald Willard‘s connections to the Freemasons, and hope to write up my findings on that topic in the next few weeks. (As part of that research, I visited archives and museums on a recent trip to Massachusetts, including the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in Lexington, pictured above.) The Southern Lorain County Historical Society is planning to have three large-scale Masonic panels painted by Willard conserved and put on display, hopefully in time to commemorate the centennial of his death in 2018.

I am also in the early stages of putting together two print publications. I am cautiously optimistic that both will be available to the public by Wellington’s bicentennial celebrations, also in 2018. I will provide additional information via this blog as it becomes available.

One of the most wonderful effects of publishing on the Internet has been the wide reach of the posts. I have been contacted by readers from across the country, often descendants of the people profiled in these essays. It has been my pleasure to provide some of them with additional assistance in tracking down ancestral homes, and even providing photographs of what the properties look like in the present time. I am very pleased to report that at least three different individuals I have spoken with are planning a first or return visit to Wellington, inspired to pursue their own genealogy by the stories they encountered here. That is deeply rewarding.

I hope you all continue to enjoy reading this blog as much as I enjoy writing it. Here’s to many more years of discovery to come!

Yankee Doodle Killjoy

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“July 4th. The Day We Celebrate.” Undated (early twentieth-century) postcard.

On July 3, 1879 (one hundred and thirty-seven years ago today, for those keeping track) The Wellington Enterprise had some things to say about the celebration of Independence Day. The author of the piece was most likely publisher and editor Dr. John Houghton, though it might also have been his co-editor and spouse, journalist Mary Hayes Houghton. Dr. Houghton was a fervent booster of the village and promoter of its economic growth,  so the reader would be forgiven for expecting him to favor community-wide celebrations. But Houghton was also adamant that the town needed a dedicated fire department. He owned a wood-frame three-story building on the west side of South Main Street that housed his own drug and stationery shop on the ground floor, the publishing operation of the Enterprise on the second floor, and the local Masonic Hall on the top floor. The structure had been-and would be again-damaged in more than one conflagration. From that perspective, the 4th of July was a nightmarish experience. It would be January 1881 before Wellington formed its first volunteer fire company, so Houghton must have been crossing his fingers and praying for an uneventful holiday when he penned the following.

The Fourth of July. The day is dreaded by every town property holder as much as it is anticipated by the small boy with his promise of fire-crackers and a toy gun. We trust that in according all suitable liberty to celebrators proper forethought may be used and due care for the safety of an unprotected village exposed to the accident of fire. We remember that last year a great bonfire was permitted on our little public square, a dangerous proceeding whatever the condition of the atmosphere, and twice during the evening burning material was carried by the current to the high roof of our office building, igniting the pine shingles so that a comfortable blaze was started, and but for the forethought of two citizens who climbed to the roof and discovered it in its beginning, thousands of dollars worth of property would have soon been in ashes.

Wellington has no means of promptly putting out fires that start on the roof of a three story building. Our Mayor [A.W. Palmer] has the authority to restrain such recklessness, and the people will expect him to forbid any such foolish demonstration as that of last year. The hooting and yelling about the bonfire, even a long way off, sounded as though the whole Indian reservation had emptied its noisy hordes who were having a war dance in our midst. And the firing of that old cannon to the destruction of costly church windows and frail private property in the stores is another outrage that we hope will not again be allowed within the corporation. We give voice to the feelings of hundreds of our citizens in mentioning this, and for the comfort and security of all who have homes or business interests at stake, and not from any desire to criticize any private citizen or public officer.

It is not the real patriots who care to express their loyalty to and appreciation of the government by dangerous and ear-splitting exhibitions and the burning of barrels and dry goods boxes saturated with coal tar. There is always a painful reaction from the hilarity of the 4th when the returns begin to come in and we must consider how many hearts must always ache with the remembrance of the day, because of lives lost, friends maimed or property burned. Let not all reflection be too late for profit” (pg. 3).

And on that uplifting note, Happy 4th of July! May it be a safe and joyous occasion for everyone.

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J. W. Houghton’s drug, book and stationery store, formerly located on the west side of South Main Street. The building was demolished in the 1960s and the site is today part of the Farm & Home Hardware parking lot. Photo 970885 of “Wellington Family Album” Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

 

Causes for Celebration

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July 4, 1887 celebration featuring Wellington’s oldest female residents: Mrs. Ruel Lang, Mrs. Isaac Bennett, Mrs. Edward Tripp and Mrs. Chauncey Warner. Photo 970193 of “Wellington Family Album” Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

It recently struck me that next year, 2017, will be the one-hundredth anniversary of the construction of our house. The little brick bungalow was a work-in-progress for many months, but the newspaper notice announcing that Fergus and Julia Camp had finally been able to take residence was printed in The Wellington Enterprise in February 1917.

That got me thinking about all the other significant anniversaries in the history of the village that will be happening in the very near future. I began to sketch out a list and was a bit stunned by how many I was able to compile. I am sharing this to enable you all to get your party hats and favors stockpiled early!

2017

  • 150th Anniversary of the First Printing of The Wellington Enterprise: September 19, 1867 was the first issue ever released of our hometown newspaper. I have written about the history of the Enterprise here, here and here.
  • 150th Anniversary of the Construction of the Wellington Methodist Church and the Union School (Dec): In the fall and winter of 1867, the Lorain County News was filled with updates on the progress in construction of both the “new” Methodist Church and the state-of-the-art Union School. Sadly, the school missed its sesquicentennial by months; it was demolished April 5, 2016.

2018

  • 100th Anniversary of Archibald Willard’s Death: The painter–whose most famous work was inspired by events he witnessed in Wellington–passed away on October 11, 1918, exactly one month before Armistice Day ended World War I.
  • 150th Anniversary of Frederick Douglass’ Visit to Wellington: On March 29, 1868, one of the most famous orators and social reformers of the century visited at the invitation of the Wellington Reading Room Association. The Lorain County News reported that his lecture was “well attended” and spoken of with “the highest praise.” (To see a list of other famous folks who passed through the village in the 19th-century, click here.)
  • 200th Anniversary of Wellington’s Settling By Those of European Descent: And the biggest celebration of all…the bicentennial of Wellington’s settling in 1818.

I have added a condensed version of this list to the blog sidebar for easy reference. If any commemorative events are planned in Wellington over the coming months, I will report on them here for the benefit of out-of-town readers.