In my previous post on nineteenth-century builder Hiram Allyn, I mentioned how fascinating I find his story and that I wish I knew more about his life and the architectural legacy he left Wellington. Ever since I learned about Allyn, I have been keeping a list of all the properties in town that he built or in some way renovated; I also identify properties that I suspect he built–based on construction elements that seem common to all his designs–in the hope that I will find corroborating written evidence in future.
A reader of the blog recently asked me if I could provide more detailed information on how I go about tracing the history of a building. Then over the weekend, I was able to confirm another house as having been substantially reworked by Hiram Allyn. It occurred to me that outlining that process in a post would also speak to the larger question of how one learns more about an older home.
While conducting research in The Wellington Enterprise, I found the following notice: “Hiram Allyn has designed a very fine improvement to Mrs. Hamlin’s home on Taylor street, adding a second story and attic and wing to the house as it now stands. He will commence work as soon as the weather will permit” (3-10-1881, pg. 3). I had no idea who “Mrs. Hamlin” was, but I had three critical pieces of information, namely her identity, the street on which the house was located, and a specific year for which she was presumably the owner of that house.
I next went to the website of the Lorain County Records Retention Center, which holds all the earliest tax records for Wellington Corporation. I looked up the volumes for 1881 and then located the entry for Mrs. Hamlin. In that particular year, she owned three lots in the “three” block of Wellington, numbered 31 to 33. The lot with the highest taxable value of $875–the lot where her residence most likely stood–was lot 31.
A consultation with the 1874 Atlas of Lorain County, Ohio confirms that block 3, lot 31 was located on the corner of Taylor Street and what is now Hale Street (it is unnamed in the atlas). The 1874 map also includes footprint drawings of all major buildings in existence at the time. Notice in the detail below that a structure is only shown standing on lot 31; 32 and 33 are shown empty. The fact that Mrs. Hamlin’s lot 32 was valued at $184 suggests that it was not empty five years later. It perhaps held a small barn or other outbuilding that had some taxable value.
Finally, I checked the Lorain County Auditor’s website to determine the modern street address associated with the old lot numbers. After pinpointing the three lots on the interactive map of the village, I was able to learn that the house standing on lot 31 today has the address 147 Taylor Street. There are images attached to each record that enable one to visually confirm the property in question.
And in fact, I already had a photograph of 147 Taylor Street that I had taken myself, because I believed it to be a house constructed by Hiram Allyn. That image is the one at the top of this post. So I now have a chain of evidence that links published content to tax and real estate records, and then back to a structure first visually identified through architectural clues. I hope writing about this process doesn’t make it seem terribly tedious. I find it very exciting to connect the dots. Each house is like a new mystery, begging to be solved.