Changes Afoot

Detail of a Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for Wellington, Ohio dated February, 1933. Shows the house at 600 North Main Street, and its northern and eastern adjacent neighbors. OhioLINK Digital Resource Commons. Accessed 1-26-2014.

Detail of a Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for Wellington, Ohio dated February, 1933. Shows the house at 600 North Main Street, and its northern and eastern adjacent neighbors. OhioLINK Digital Resource Commons. Accessed 1-26-2014.

I am violating my self-imposed ban on writing about anything in the twentieth century, so that I can offer a concluding chapter on the evolution of the Italianate at 600 North Main Street. I mentioned several months ago that I toured the house with an architectural historian and that many of the alterations he observed in the building occurred after Noah Huckins and Sereno Bacon owned it. This is the story of those changes.

When Sereno’s widow, Mary Bacon, died in 1909, her two living children sold the Italianate to an elderly widow and her youngest daughter. Aura and Edna Perkins took possession of the house, barn, and two lots of land. According to 1910 corporation tax records, the house was then valued at $540 and the barn at $90.

I know very little about Aura Perkins, except that she was a writer who published at least five poems I have found in The Wellington Enterprise. One seems particularly appropriate to this post. It was entitled, ” Beautiful Home,” and read in part: “O the beautiful homes of earth!/Our hearts are filled with pride/As we travel on thro’ the noonday heat,/Or pause at the even tide./The mansion that stately stands–/The cot by the dusty road–/All bear the print of the loving hands/That set up this best abode…” (9-16-1880, pg. 3). Like all of her poems, this one ultimately had a religious theme.

Daughter Edna never married. She spent her working life as a clerk or manager of local shops. In 1916, Rogers and Bill advertised: “We have arranged to leave our store in charge of Miss Edna B. Perkins as manager” (10-11-1916, pg. 5). When she died, her obituary noted that she was “for many years an employee of the E. E. Watters dry goods store” (2-16-1942, pg. 1).

In 1915, Aura and Edna sold off the lot and barn east of the house, fronting Lincoln Street. I do not know if this was due to financial difficulties, but in April of that same year they placed an advertisement in the newspaper offering furnished rooms in exchange for light housekeeping. And it is at just this historical moment that changes begin to appear inside the house.

The modifications suggest an intentional transformation of the residence into two separate living spaces. During the period from about 1910 to 1915, the kitchen was modernized; the back porch and washroom were enclosed and transformed into a downstairs bathroom; a built-in linen closet and chest of drawers (added inside a closet) were installed on the second floor. A second bathroom was created inside a small bedroom closet upstairs, and a tiny second-floor room shows evidence of plumbing work associated with a kitchenette. Most tellingly, an awkward back door was installed in place of a window, with direct and separate access to the second floor.

Undated image of Owen Prosser at work in his shop on North Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo 970603 of "Wellington Family Album" Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

Undated image of Owen Prosser at work in his barbershop on North Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo 970603 of “Wellington Family Album” Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

I noted in a previous post that I conducted an oral history with Mrs. Pat Markel, whose grandmother and step-grandfather, Owen Prosser, lived in the house in the late 1940s. In fact, federal census records show the Prossers sharing the house at 600 North Main Street with Edna Perkins (Aura died in 1922) as early as 1935. At the time of the 1940 census, Edna Perkins was 70 years old; Owen Prosser was 63 and his wife, Minnie, was 58. Also living in the house was Owen’s son, Harold–known throughout the village as “Shorty”–then 35 years old. The Prossers paid $36 per month in rent.

Mrs. Markel vividly remembered that “Mr. Prosser” (as she always called him) slept alone upstairs, while her grandmother slept in a large room downstairs, between the parlor and kitchen. She recalled a couple called the Newlins living in the “upstairs apartment,” which was essentially created by closing a single door between the back part of house and an upstairs landing. The Newlins, she remembered, did not share her grandmother’s kitchen, and always exited out the back door.

I assumed that after Edna Perkins’ death in February 1942, the Prossers (who, remember, had already been tenants in the house for at least seven years by then) relocated into the more spacious section of the home. But I was wrong. I found Edna Perkins’ probate documents and the inventory of her possessions clearly states: “Household furnishings of three room apartment.” So even though she was the owner of the property, Perkins was living in three small rooms upstairs while another family occupied the majority of the building. The inventory is rather remarkable in that, while occupying only three rooms, Perkins somehow fit fifteen chairs!

Headstone of the Perkins family at Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Edna Perkins' name is listed on one side of the monument with three siblings; her parents are listed on the other. Photo by author.

Headstone of the Perkins family at Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Edna Perkins’ name is listed on one side of the monument with three siblings; her parents are listed on the other. Photo by author.

Edna Perkins left the Italianate at 600 North Main Street to her niece, Hazel Perkins White, of Willard, Ohio. According to the 1910 federal census, Hazel had lived there with Aura and Edna when she was a teenager. She sold the house immediately, and the new owner apparently wanted to use the property for rental income, as he allowed the Prossers to remain for a number of years. The 1950 federal census is not yet available to check, but Mrs. Markel thinks it might have been as late as 1948 before they moved. Owen Prosser died in 1953.

While I might uncover more details about the life of Noah Huckins, this will be my last post about 600 North Main Street. Part of the reason for my recent absence from working on this blog is that my husband and I sold the house about two weeks ago. Out of respect for the privacy of the new owners, I will now be turning my attention elsewhere. The good news is that we still live in Wellington; the “bad” news is that our new house was built in the early twentieth century. But it does have a history strongly rooted in the previous century, and I will begin writing that story in the weeks to come.

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