Setting the Scene

"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. Original painting owned by Herrick Memorial Library. Permission
to display generously granted by the library.

This is my favorite depiction of Wellington, Ohio. It was painted just before the Civil War, by local artist Archibald Willard. You may be more familiar with Willard’s famous work, now called The Spirit of ’76, of which multiple iterations exist around the country. Willard’s life and career are well-documented (here is a brief overview) and The Spirit of ’76 has been endlessly reproduced on all manner of souvenirs, collectibles, and advertisements. I have to confess–and this is probably sacrilegious of me to write, as a town resident–that I have never been overly fond of that painting. But I love Village of Wellington. I am not an art critic, but something about the vibrant color and composition, the folk-art quality of this piece, speaks to me.

Willard is said to have created the work on the front porch of a house that still exists today, the George Couch House located at 200 South Main Street. The white house visible on the far-right of the painting, the A.G. Couch House at 147 South Main Street, also survives, as does the Benedict House two doors to its left. When I walk down South Main Street toward the town center, in my mind’s eye I see this artwork, like a transparency laid over another page in a book.

As I begin this blog, I am keenly aware of the limits of my own knowledge. I am not an expert in the entire history of this town. What I hope to share is what I have learned about some of the people and structures that shaped Wellington in a specific period of time. I called the blog, “19th-Century Wellington.” It may have been more accurate, though less pithy, to have called it, “The Last Thirty or Forty Years of the 19th Century in Wellington (and Huntington and Oberlin).” The village was first settled in 1818, though not officially incorporated until 1855. Much of what I have learned pertains to the so-called “Cheese Boom” that solidified Wellington’s fortunes in the years from the Civil War until roughly the end of the century. I will discuss individuals who emigrated to the town as early as the 1810s, and some who lived well into the 20th century, but the heart of the narrative pertains to the forty years after the war began.

I promised in my first post that I would periodically highlight resources I have consulted, to assist anyone else who wants to study this area. There are three histories of the period that are helpful and easily accessible. History of Lorain County, Ohio (1879), Commemorative Biographical Record of the Counties of Huron and Lorain, Ohio (1894), and A Standard History of Lorain County, Ohio (1916) by G. Frederick Wright, are all good jumping-off points when looking for specific individuals living in Wellington in the 1800s. They are all available free of charge through either the Herrick Memorial Library in downtown Wellington or, perhaps even more conveniently, keyword searchable via GoogleBooks.

Bear in mind, however, that even period documents are not infallible. One of the more amusing things I found in my research was an editorial published in The Wellington Enterprise in 1879 about History of Lorain County, Ohio. Today we might call it a scathing book review. A small excerpt will suffice to convey the overall sentiment: “That the work is far from complete, every township and every intelligent reader must feel, but the disappointment might have been foreseen. A book so hastily prepared and with so little care as to its sources of information, could not present other than a one-sided and imperfect array of facts. It is a collection of pioneer recollections and biographical sketches mostly well-paid for by anyone who chose to spend money in that way” (5-15-1879, pg. 2). As someone who had been consulting the book on a regular basis, I found this contemporary scorn pretty eye-opening!

Studying the past often feels as hopeless as staring at a vast, impenetrable fog. No matter how hard you try, you may never find the person or the object or the answer you are seeking. But when I look at an image like Village of Wellington or I read a startling and thought-provoking document from the time, I have the sudden mental image of a tiny window opening in the fog. Perhaps not a window as large nor as clear as I would wish. But it’s there, if I have the willingness and patience to try to understand what I’m seeing.

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