Freeman Battle (1850-1897)

Trade card for Standard Sewing Machine Co., Cleveland, Ohio. Stamped

Trade card for Standard Sewing Machine Co., Cleveland, Ohio. Stamped “FREE BATTLE, AGENT, WELLINGTON, O.” on reverse. Though the background of the image appears grey, it is a metallic silver that reflects light as the card is turned. Author’s collection.

Regular readers of the blog will know of my affection for both trade cards and objects that lead to stories. This lovely polychromatic trade card, which measures approximately three by five-and-one-quarter inches, represents a sewing machine company from Cleveland, Ohio. But the reverse of the card is stamped on the diagonal, “FREE BATTLE, AGENT, WELLINGTON, O.,” and that leads us to a little story.

Freeman Battle was born on September 2, 1850 in Brighton. His grandfather, Ithiel Battle, was an early settler of Wellington township; his name was recorded in an 1827 census of the white male inhabitants of Lorain County. On November 6, 1880, Freeman married Alice E. Sage. She was the daughter of Samuel L. Sage, a grocer on North Main Street in Wellington. In 1890, when Sage was fatally shot by his own shop clerk, it was to his son-in-law’s house on Mechanics Street that he was carried, dying there three hours later.

Advertisement for

Advertisement for “The Domestic” sewing machine, sold locally by Free Battle. “The Wellington Enterprise,” 3-18-1891, pg. 4.

Battle was employed as a retail agent selling sewing machines. According to his advertisements, his office was in the building erected in 1890 by Hoyt & Peters, also on Mechanics Street and still standing today. When his father died in September 1896, Freeman rented out his house and moved his family back to Brighton to care for his aging stepmother. He was apparently already in ill health himself; as early as 1885, reports in The Wellington Enterprise described him as “sick with congestion of the liver,” (2-11-1885, pg. 5). Even so, he continued on in business and promotions for his Wellington operation appeared in the newspaper for several months after he no longer resided in the village.

Freeman Battle died in Brighton on October 18, 1897. His obituary reported that he was “in the hope of going to some climate which would prove beneficial to his already failing health, but the disease which had so firm a hold upon him developed so rapidly that he was obliged to abandon the trip toward which he had looked forward with so much hope. His illness was protracted and painful, alternating with hope and fear, but when he at last realized that although he was just in the prime of life, the summons had come to him to come up higher he said to his faithful wife, the Lords [sic] will, not mine be done” (Enterprise, 11-3-1897, pg. 5).

Battle was just forty-seven years old when he died. His widow, Alice, survived him by four decades, dying in 1936 at the age of eighty-five. Both are interred in Greenwood Cemetery, though for unknown reasons, Alice’s name is not recorded on the stone. If the couple had any children, I have found no record of them. Only the little girl on the card remains.

Headstone of Freeman Battle, Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Headstone of Freeman Battle, Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Christmas in July

“The Wellington Enterprise,” 12-21-1898, pg. 1. Original object held in the collections of the Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio. Photo by author.

On this day devoted to outdoor celebrations in sunshine and heat, I decided to celebrate something a bit different. I’ve written at some length about the history of The Wellington Enterprise over the course of the nineteenth century. (Posts can be found here, here and here.) A few months ago, when I made a research visit to the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, one of my purposes was to look at a specific issue of that newspaper dated December 21, 1898. I believe it is the first issue of the Enterprise ever to use color printing.

The December 14th edition announced the special publication: “Our Christmas Number. Next week’s number of the The Enterprise will be the Christmas, and will be issued next Monday. It will consist of eight pages, including a specially designed cover, printed in colors. This as well as the inside pages will be of good quality of book paper, all stitched together on our wire stitcher, and will be by far the handsomest holiday paper ever put out in the city. It will not be a conglomerated mass of advertising daubed on paper, but a neat, distinctive, attractive portrayal of great bargains. Such work as this office takes pride in producing…” (pg. 4).

The owners of the paper at that time, brothers operating under the name French Printing Company, had only run the business since 1897 but had very soon gone into financial receivership. They tried a number of schemes to increase circulation, including reducing the paper from eight pages to four but printing it twice per week. This experimentation with color seems to be have been another such attempt to increase advertising dollars and make the company solvent. The plan failed and the newspaper was sold to a small stock company formed expressly to save it, just after the turn of the century.

Enjoy the sunshine and warmth of this Independence Day, dear readers. Do not give a thought to the cold and snows that will be here before we know it.

“The Wellington Enterprise,” 12-21-1898, pg. 7. Original object held in the collections of the Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio. Photo by author.

By the Numbers

Cabinet card image of unidentified woman, taken by William Sawtell. Author's collection.

Cabinet card image of unidentified woman, taken by William Sawtell. (One of thirty such Sawtell images acquired during the researching and writing of this blog.) Author’s collection.

As I approach the second anniversary of this project, I have been considering how best to proceed moving forward. Should I continue to post ongoing research? Should I further develop the body of work on topics of particular interest to me? Perhaps I should stop posting regularly and instead focus on publishing a traditional, hardbound book? While I ponder these questions, I have been doing a great deal of behind-the-scenes work on the blog, structural and copy editing improvements that have almost certainly been invisible to the public.

In the course of that process, I have assembled some statistics and “fun facts” about the blog. I am the sort of person who loves a stats list–yes, please, do tell me precisely how many times my DNA would stretch around the equator if it were all unraveled! If that sort of exercise is not to your taste, dear reader, you may wish to give this post a pass.

This is my 120th post in just twenty-two months. By my calculations, I have already written over 101,000 words on the history of Wellington in the 1800s, excluding captions and comments. When that text is put into manuscript form–sans illustrations–it is just shy of 200 pages (in 12 pt font). Adding in the illustrations would extend the page count considerably, as I’ve used more than 430 of them.

Of the 101,000 words, more than 20% were written about just five subjects. They are as follows, in ascending order: William F. Sawtell (photographer and painter); Wah Sing (Chinese proprietor of a laundry business); Dean (emancipated female slave and one of the very first settlers of the village); Noah Huckins (Canadian entrepreneur who built a house my family once owned); and The Wellington Enterprise. I have written multiple posts on each of these topics, tallying in total 4,000 to 5,500 words each.

And you, the audience, have been more than generous in your support of this little endeavor. More than one hundred of you are subscribers to 19th-Century Wellington. Visitors to this page–and there have been upwards of 23,000–have come from 84 countries around the globe. (Top five countries in descending order: United States; Canada; United Kingdom; New Zealand; France.) You have offered more than one hundred comments, all of them kind, encouraging, and expressing a level of interest in the topic that continues to surprise and delight me.

Many thanks, as always, for your time and attention. If you have comments to make, or suggestions to offer, you can do so at any time by clicking, “Leave a reply,” under any post title.

“Painted by W. F. Sawtell”

Oil painting on canvas by William F. Sawtell. Before treatment photograph by John T. Seyfried, on behalf of Galloway Art Conservation LLC. Object in author's collection.

Oil painting on canvas by William F. Sawtell. Before treatment photograph by John T. Seyfried, on behalf of Galloway Art Conservation LLC. Object in author’s collection.

A few months ago, I acquired a small oil painting created by William Sawtell in 1892. I have written about Sawtell’s photography studio and his lesser-known artistic talents before, but I had never handled one of his pieces until this little study came into my hands. It is about twenty inches high and ten inches wide, painted on a canvas that Sawtell apparently fabricated himself. The canvas was brittle, with small splits and holes, and a few of the wooden keys (used to keep the canvas appropriately tensioned over the wooden stretcher) were missing. The image had darkened with time and there were several areas of loss where the paint had been damaged over the years.

It just so happens that I know an excellent paintings conservator, Heather Galloway of Oberlin, Ohio. I took this little oil painting to her for an assessment and treatment proposal. She determined that the painting was in good condition and that its appearance could be improved by the removal of a varnish layer she did not believe was original. The varnish had been applied over “a significant deposit of dirt” and the way in which it was applied suggested that the painting was already in a frame at the time. We agreed that she would remove the later varnish, repair breaks in the canvas, and fill the areas of paint loss.

Oil painting on canvas by William F. Sawtell. During treatment photograph by John T. Seyfried, on behalf of Galloway Art Conservation LLC. Object in author's collection.

Oil painting on canvas by William F. Sawtell. During treatment photograph by John T. Seyfried, on behalf of Galloway Art Conservation LLC. Object in author’s collection.

The image above is a “during treatment” photograph that shows the difference made in the appearance of the painting by a partial removal of the darkened varnish and dirt layer underneath it. Once the varnish was totally removed, Heather could fill the areas of paint loss.

Verso of oil painting on canvas by William F. Sawtell. After treatment photograph by John T. Seyfried, on behalf of Galloway Art Conservation LLC. Object in author's collection.

Verso of oil painting on canvas by William F. Sawtell. After treatment photograph by John T. Seyfried, on behalf of Galloway Art Conservation LLC. Object in author’s collection.

The verso, or back, of the painting features a prominent black signature, “PAINTED BY W. F. SAWTELL.” (There are also small red initials painted in the lower, right-hand corner of the landscape.) Heather created new wooden keys for the stretcher, visible in the upper right. She fashioned a backing board with a window cut through it, so the signature would remain visible even while the verso of the painting was protected. What is difficult to see with the naked eye, but shows up nicely in conservation photography, is an additional inscription painted on the left side of the stretcher, shown below.

Detail of inscription on verso of oil painting by William F. Sawtell. After treatment photograph by John T. Seyfried, on behalf of Galloway Art Conservation LLC. Object in author's collection.

Detail of inscription on verso of oil painting by William F. Sawtell. After treatment photograph by John T. Seyfried, on behalf of Galloway Art Conservation LLC. Object in author’s collection.

The inscription reads, “Painted For Mrs. E. F. Webster. 1892.” William Sawtell was lifelong friends with Edward Webster, a founding partner of Horr, Warner & Co. The two men served in the Civil War and it was Webster who handled Sawtell’s financial affairs when the photographer began to suffer from mental illness in later life. Identified as Sawtell’s guardian in his probate documents, Edward Webster served as administrator of the estate and paid for expenses including “getting body of Wm. Sawtell home from Cleveland” and clothing it in a new shirt for burial. This little oil painting was apparently crafted as a gift for Edward’s wife, Flora Ladd Webster (1846-1917).

1870 wedding portrait of Flora Ladd and Edward Webster, taken in Wellington, Ohio. Photo 970674 of

1870 wedding portrait of Flora Ladd and Edward Webster, taken in Wellington, Ohio. Photo 970674 of “Wellington Family Album” Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

After the conservation treatment was completed, Heather assisted me in the selection of a modern frame, the original frame being lost. We chose one that had a period feel to it, gold toned and slightly ornate. Heather lined the new frame with felt to prevent abrasion, and secured the painting in place with modern metal mending plates. I am very pleased with the results.

Oil painting on canvas by William F. Sawtell.  Photograph by Heather Galloway. Object in author's collection.

Oil painting on canvas by William F. Sawtell. Photograph by Heather Galloway. Object in author’s collection.

It makes me happy to think that this little jewel is back hanging in a Wellington home. If you have local history treasures that you believe should be preserved, post a comment or send me a message. I can put you in touch with a terrific conservator!

UPDATE: Per an exchange in the comments below, here is a candid shot of the back of the object. The outermost, cream-colored rectangle is the modern frame. The dark rectangle nestled inside that is the original canvas on its stretcher. The white, central rectangle is a backing board made of a conservation material called Coroplast; this protects the fragile back of the canvas and does not give off any chemicals that might harm the painting over time. You can see that Heather cut a window through the Coroplast (covered with transparent Mylar) so that the signature remains visible. She also attached the metal mending plates to the new frame, so that they neither touch nor damage the original wooden stretcher of the painting.Back of Sawtell

Recent Acquisitions

Postcard image showing the Edward Tripp house, formerly located at 161 East Herrick Avenue. Card is postmarked September 24, 1906. Author's collection.

Postcard image showing the Edward Tripp house, formerly located at 161 East Herrick Avenue. Postmarked September 24, 1906. Author’s collection.

Since I began writing this blog nearly two years ago, I have started a small collection of images and documents relating to individuals I have profiled. I thought it might be fun to write a short post featuring some of my recent acquisitions. The image above of the Edward Tripp house is from an RPPC (real photo postcard), a personal photographic image printed directly on postcard stock, which became immensely popular at the turn of the twentieth century. This card was mailed to Marion, Ohio, in the fall of 1906. The house is no longer standing, having been demolished in the 1970s.

Receipt from Huckins & Wilbur, stove and tinware merchants, to John Whiton. Issued November 21, 1870. Author's collection.

Receipt from Huckins & Wilbur, stove and tinware merchants, to John Whiton. Issued November 21, 1870. Author’s collection.

Anyone who has read this blog from the beginning knows that Noah Huckins has always been a primary focus of my research. He built the Italianate house that my family owned for a decade. I was tickled to find this receipt from his partnership with John W. Wilbur. The two men ran a hardware store on Mechanics Street (now East Herrick Avenue) for seven years, from 1868 to 1875. Huckins later went on to found his own company–a cheese box manufacturing facility–with Charles Horr, while Wilbur continued on at the hardware store until his retirement and relocation to California in 1895.

Undated image of Mary Ethel Sutliff, taken by William Sawtelle. Author's collection.

Undated image of Mary Ethel Sutliff, taken by William Sawtell. Author’s collection.

This charming image of a little girl, hand-labelled “Mary Ethel Sutliff” on the reverse, is one of a number of photographs I have amassed taken by William Sawtell. I find Sawtell to be one of the most interesting people I have researched in Wellington’s history. His skill as a photographer is evident in all of his portraits, examples of which can be found here and here. Less well known is the fact that the man was also a talented artist. A few months ago, I came into possession of a small signed and dated oil painting that Sawtell apparently created as a gift. I am having it professionally conserved and framed, and will write a post about that process when it is finished.

Receipt for meat, written by J. M. Crabtree to J. W. Wilbur. Dated September 13, 1882. Author's collection.

Receipt for meat, written by J. M. Crabtree to J. W. Wilbur. Dated September 13, 1882. Author’s collection.

John Wilbur appears a second time, in this instance paying $18.41 to local butcher John Crabtree. Just a few weeks after I started this blog, I stumbled first across Crabtree’s meat market, and then shortly thereafter, the tragic story of his family. Crabtree lost two children and his wife in just a few weeks, during the summer of 1877. After that calamity, the butcher left Wellington for a year, but returned to resume business and remained in the village until his death in 1901.

Foote & Barnard

Advertisement of the new firm Foote & Barnard.

Detail of advertisement for new firm Foote & Barnard. “Lorain County News,” 5-3-1865, pg. 3. Photo by author.

Being an entrepreneur in the nineteenth century was no easier than it is today. An oft-quoted modern statistic is that only about half of all small businesses survive their first five years. The dry goods store known as Foote & Barnard lasted barely eight months over the course of the year 1865, before catastrophe closed its doors forever.

I came across this story while I was conducting research in the Lorain County News on another topic. The Oberlin College Archives holds three ledger volumes once belonging to Wellington and Pittsfield merchants called Foote & Locke, composed between 1837 and 1846, so the name caught my attention. The short and unfortunate history of Foote & Barnard unfolded across just ten short notices and advertisements.

In March 1865, the dry goods firm Clarke & Foote announced its formal dissolution. C. S. Foote,  junior partner in the operation, published his intention to continue on “at the old stand” and became the senior partner in his new venture by bringing in one William Barnard, Esq. Less than two months later, the News reported, “We are sorry to hear that our friends and patrons, Messrs. Foote and Barnard, Merchants, were burned out last Thursday night, losing their entire stock of goods, and but partially insured, supposed the work of incendiaries” (5-10-1865, pg. 2).

A much longer description of the blaze appeared in the Wellington section of the following week’s paper. Fire was first discovered near “the butter room” and was believed to have been started by arsonists. Despite the lack of wind on the night of the fire, “the buildings being of wood and the contents so combustible, the fire rushed through it with great rapidity.” Adjacent structures were also in danger of being consumed. The stove and tinware shop owned by Orrin Sage, and the hardware store of Ethel Benedict, were both “greatly periled,” which provides strong evidence that Foote & Barnard operated out of the business block at the intersection of the village, the northeast corner of what is today Main Street and Herrick Avenue.

Formal dissolution of partnership notice for Foote & Barnard.

Formal dissolution of partnership notice for Foote & Barnard. “Lorain County News,” 1-24-1866, pg. 3. Photo by author.

Foote & Barnard’s overall financial loss was estimated to be as much as twenty-five thousand dollars, on which they had approximately seventeen thousand dollars insurance. In the immediate aftermath of the fire, the two men moved first to the basement of Benedict’s hardware store, just across Main Street, but soon after relocated to “the large building lately occupied by Belding & Harris as a shoe and grocery store.” (I believe this was on the north side of what is now West Herrick Avenue.) So much of their stock had been destroyed that they pleaded for time to “visit the eastern cities for more goods” so they could resume operations (5-17-1865, pg. 3).

But circumstances continued to worsen. The reconstruction of Foote & Barnard’s store had to be abandoned for the year because “brick for the purpose could not be obtained” (7-12-1865, pg. 3). By late October, the men began to weekly promote a going-out-of-business sale, noting in the advertisement that their old stock had burned and they had “determined to close” (11-22-1865, pg. 3). A formal dissolution of partnership was published in January, 1866, printed over a card of thanks from C. S. Foote to his former customers. He was retiring from business after more than twenty-five years.

Announcement of new firm, Rininger & Barnard.

Detail of announcement of new firm Rininger & Barnard. “Lorain County News,” 1-24-1866, pg. 3). Photo by author.

Mr. Foote had one more role to play in the history of Wellington. Upon retiring, he sold both his “fine residence” and his interest in the defunct dry goods store to William Rininger of Attica, Ohio. I have written about Rininger before. One of the village’s wealthiest and most irascible residents, he eventually owned the massive brick Italianate block erected on the site of Foote & Barnard’s burned wooden shop, selling it in 1882. But brick ultimately proved no more impervious to fire than wood. A half-century after Foote & Barnard lost everything in a single spring night, the so-called Rininger block also burned to the ground in 1915.

Artless

Detail of mural, attributed to Mr. Lesley Tripp, in the basement of 326 South Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Detail of twentieth-century mural in the basement of 326 South Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

When my family first moved into our home on South Main Street a few years ago, we were constantly asked about the Archibald Willard murals in the house. Some folks had only heard about the murals and wanted to confirm whether they actually existed. Some claimed to have seen the paintings with their own eyes and wanted reassurance that they survived unscathed. The one constant in all these narratives was the attribution: everyone called them “the Willard murals.” It is completely understandable why this should be so. Archibald Willard was, after all, a nationally-known artist with a connection to the town. But while the commonly-held belief may be understandable, it is almost certainly incorrect.

Archibald Willard died in Cleveland in 1918, aged 82, following nearly a decade of ill health. Our bungalow was completed barely a year prior to his passing. Numerous notices in The Wellington Enterprise explicitly named the decorator, interior house painter, even the man who laid the stone walkway from the house to the street in the summer of 1917. Nowhere is there a mention of a famous painter visiting the construction site, let alone executing a massive and time-consuming mural commission.

Detail of mural, attributed to Mr. Lesley Tripp, in the basement of 326 South Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Detail of twentieth-century mural in the basement of 326 South Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Beyond this evidence “by omission” is a stronger clue that Willard was not the responsible party. In 2013, we were paid an impromptu visit by a member of the Schweller family, who occupied the house from the mid-1930s to the mid-1980s. Mr. Robert Schweller informed us that his father, Florian, hired a man called Leslie Tripp from Rochester, Ohio, to beautify three areas of the bungalow: the dining room; another small room on the ground floor; and a basement space that runs the width of the house. (Schweller, Sr. reportedly liked Tripp’s work well enough that he also retained him to decorate two of the family’s downtown businesses.) The dining room frieze of ducks in flight, and the four seasons encircling the walls of another ground-floor room, are now covered over by contemporary paint and wallpaper. Only the basement mural remains. If there is any signature on the work, we have not yet found it.

Does Mr. Schweller’s telling of this story prove that it is absolutely correct? With every respect to the man, it does not. Human memory, of both the short- and long-term varieties, is demonstrably unreliable. But weighing all the evidence currently in hand–Willard’s advanced age and ill health; no timely press coverage of such a notable project; and a first-person account fleshed out with numerous detailed anecdotes–the most reasonable working hypothesis is that local artist Leslie Tripp is our man. The next logical step would be in-depth research to disprove or substantiate that claim.

Why am I relating this story? The Wellington Enterprise recently published a full-page, heavily illustrated feature in which it reported that “the village’s oldest house” at 308 East Herrick Avenue is now for sale, and quite possibly contains three original vignettes by Archibald Willard. I was not intending to offer any public comment on the matter, but I have since been asked on several separate occasions for my opinion of the article’s accuracy, so I decided to write this post in response.

Let me begin by saying that I am not an art historian. I can only assess the available evidence as I understand it. Nineteen-year-old Archibald Willard moved to Wellington with his family in 1855. By 1857, he was capable of producing work that looked like this:

"Village of Wellington" (1857) by Archibald Willard. Original painting owned by Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

“Village of Wellington” (1857) by Archibald Willard. Signed and dated by the artist. Original painting owned by Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

When the house at 308 East Herrick Avenue first became available for sale, I made an appointment with the realtor and went to see it. It is known in local lore as the “Alanson Howk House” and I was very interested to look at some of the architectural details up close. I took snapshots of the small paintings at that time. Here is an example of one of the panels in question:

Panel in west front room of 308 East Herrick Avenue, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Undated, unsigned panel in west front room of 308 East Herrick Avenue, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

If we stipulate that Willard came to Wellington in 1855, and we acknowledge that he was a painter of some technical and aesthetic accomplishment by 1857, then it seems to me that we are left with two possible conclusions about the East Herrick panels. The first is that Archibald Willard painted them after he arrived in town, but before he (rapidly?) developed the talents evident when he painted Village of Wellington. Remember though that Willard did not begin to enjoy commercial success or a measure of renown until fifteen years later, with his Pluck paintings and lithographs. His earlier work is not likely to have been so prized, and therefore protected, prior to that time. The second possible conclusion is that Archibald Willard did not paint the East Herrick panels. They were created by someone with less sophisticated artistic abilities and later incorrectly attributed to the town’s most famous citizen. In the absence of further documentary evidence, I favor the second theory.

Panel in east front room of 308 East Herrick Avenue, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Undated, unsigned panel in east front room of 308 East Herrick Avenue, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Regarding the claim that 308 East Herrick Avenue is the village’s oldest house, I can only say that it was not built in 1815, as the article asserts. Alanson Howk is popularly credited as the builder of that house. He was among the first white settlers to arrive in the area we now call Wellington in late 1818, but he continued to live in his older brother’s household until at least 1826. This is shown by census documents and corporation tax records. Howk married Theadocia Clifford in October 1828; it is not improbable that a house was constructed to shelter the new family. Again, until further research can be conducted, I would only be comfortable stating that–if Alanson Howk was indeed the builder–the house was erected prior to his death in 1850. An architectural historian might have been able to offer a significantly tighter date range, but the Enterprise article indicates that major changes have recently been made to the interior of the structure.

Did Archibald Willard paint the three small works inside 308 East Herrick Avenue? Connoisseurship and artistic authentication are not my fields of expertise. But if you are asking for my best guess, I have my doubts.