Death and Taxes

Detail of 1837 Wellington Corporation tax record. Lawton Wadsworth's 1.5 acres of land in Lot 22 are valued at $11. Immediately below that, his two sons are listed owning a "House" valued at $1,000. I believe this is the first explicit recorded reference to what would become the American House in tax records.

Detail of 1837 Wellington Corporation tax record. Lawton Wadsworth’s 1.5 acres of land in Lot 22 are valued at $11. Immediately below that, his two sons are listed owning a “House” valued at $1,000. I believe this is the first explicit recorded reference in the tax records to what would become known as the American House.

I love tax records. Not my own, of course. But other people’s? Definitely. After my last post about the keepers of the American House, it occurred to me that a closer examination of village property taxes might clarify exactly who owned the hotel and its land, and who simply managed it as an employee. So I looked at all seventy years of records. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

I could trace ownership of the specific lot on which the hotel stood back to 1835, when Lawton Wadsworth first appears in the data. Since taxes are paid after they are accrued, that seems to confirm 1834 as the year the family purchased the land. However, the lot was valued at only $11 for its first three years, which suggests that it remained empty. Not until 1837 did Lawton’s sons, Oliver Sardine and Jabez Lorenzo Wadsworth, appear on the tax rolls with their father, for ownership of a “House” valued at $1,000. There are very few houses separately listed in the 1837 valuations, and I cannot find any valued higher than that of the Wadsworth brothers. My working hypothesis at present is that the structure was sizable and made of brick (to account for the high valuation), but was built a few years later than the date handed down to us. If that theory is correct, it might explain some of the contradictory accounts of which was the “first” brick building erected in the village.

By 1838, Jabez Wadsworth owned the lot formerly held by his father. He and brother Oliver co-owned the “House” for a few years, but by 1841 Jabez alone was the tax payer of record for both land and structure, a status he retained until 1863. There was a single interruption in that twenty-five year period. In 1852, he apparently sold the property to James and H. B. Nelson. In a rare burst of descriptiveness, the tax recorder added the phrase “Tavern stand” next to the parcel number. The Nelsons held the business for a year but by 1854 it belonged to Jabez once again. (At present, I do not know the connection between the Nelsons and J. M. Tuttle, who in 1852 advertised in The Wellington Journal that he had “recently purchased and refitted” the American House.)

Detail of 1852 Wellington Corporation tax record. Shows the transfer of J. L. Wadsworth's "Tavern stand" on lots 4,1 and 4,2 to James and H. B. Nelson. The property was valued at $1,963 at that time.

Detail of 1852 Wellington Corporation tax record. Shows the transfer of J. L. Wadsworth’s “Tavern stand” on lots 4,1 and 4,2 to James and H. B. Nelson. The properties were valued at $1,963 at that time.

In 1863, Wadsworth finally sold the enterprise for good, to N. A. Wood. I do not know the circumstances of the transfer. In 1869, Wadsworth committed suicide and the Lorain County News reported, “The cause of the rash act is supposed to be insanity, produced by financial troubles and loss of property” (9-29-1869, pg. 3). Wood held the hotel for only three or four years, selling it to Hiram Woodworth in 1866 or 1867.

I briefly mentioned Hiram Woodworth at the conclusion of my last post. Born in 1800, Woodworth had experience running a hotel in New York state when he was first married. He relocated his family to Ohio in 1831 and lived in Rochester township for more than thirty years. According to the obituary of his widow, Caroline L. Wales Woodworth, “They then [1863] sold the old homestead and moved on a farm north of the village of Wellington and there resided three years, when they bought and moved into the American hotel, at Wellington. After her husband’s death she made the hotel her home until she bought a home on Magyar street” (Wellington Enterprise, 10-31-1894, pg. 1). Hiram Woodworth died in October 1873. Mrs. Woodworth continued on at the hotel for at least a decade longer; an 1884 notice in the Enterprise announced, “Mr. and Mrs. W. F. Sawtell have taken the apartments lately occupied by Mrs. Woodworth at the American House…” (1-2-1884, pg. 5). Meanwhile, the property remained in Hiram Woodworth’s name for more than twenty years after his death; it was transferred only after Caroline’s passing in 1894.

Hiram Woodworth. "Commemorative Biographical Record of the Counties of Huron and Lorain, Ohio" (1894), pg. 685.

Hiram Woodworth. “Commemorative Biographical Record of the Counties of Huron and Lorain, Ohio” (1894), pg. 685.

Who obtained the assets from the Woodworth estate? At first I thought the list of names in the tax register represented some sort of business consortium. Then I read the following in Mrs. Woodward’s obituary: “Four daughters and one son were born to Mr. and Mrs. Woodworth, [namely] Mrs. D. L. Wadsworth of Wellington, Mrs. F. M. Sheldon of Hornellsville, N. Y., Mrs. S. E. Wilcox, and Warren Woodworth.” (The fifth daughter was already deceased.) The names of the individuals who paid taxes on the hotel and land after Caroline Woodworth’s death? Wilcox, Sheldon and Ordway.

Stanley Wilcox, so long associated with the operation, was Hiram and Caroline’s son-in-law. W. A. Woodworth, another noted landlord of the American House, was their son. And their eldest surviving daughter, Rosenia, was married to David Lawton Wadsworth, youngest brother of the hotel’s two original owners. I was positively giddy when these pieces all fell into place.

D. L. Wadsworth. "Commemorative Biographical Record of the Counties of Huron and Lorain, Ohio" (1894), pg. 705.

D. L. Wadsworth. “Commemorative Biographical Record of the Counties of Huron and Lorain, Ohio” (1894), pg. 705.

You may be wondering about the final name in the list, Ordway. David and Rosenia Wadsworth’s daughter, Georgie, married D.B. Ordway in 1885, and briefly lived in Hornellsville near her aunt, Mrs. Sheldon. So all of the American House’s final owners were related by blood or marriage. They eventually sold the property to soon-to-be Ohio governor Myron T. Herrick (elected in 1903), who demolished the hotel to make space for a public library, and first appeared in the tax records in that context in 1902.

David and Rosenia Wadsworth were married in 1850, long before her parents relocated to Wellington. Did David play a role in bringing them to the village? Did he want his new relatives to help him reclaim, in some fashion, the venerable old institution his pioneer family had built and managed for so long? The only certainties in life are death, taxes, and the endless yarn spinning of history lovers.

UPDATE: I found an interesting anecdote while perusing Robert Walden’s local history columns. In an article about the Stemple family (proprietors in the 1890s), Walden wrote: “For some years prior to 1902 the old tavern [of the American House] had been falling apart. It was infested with rats, mice and cockroaches. Mrs. Stemple had waged a successful campaign in a series of battles, including the inspection of every particle of food that came up from the kitchen to the dining room tables, but rats and mice accept no defeat. Besides all of these annoyances and others, the roof to the hotel leaked badly and no one had authority to repair it. During the years when Hiram Woodruf [sic] was the landlord there he had given a mortgage upon the building to Wm. Rininger and died without liquidating the debt. Since his estate had no money for the repair and Mr. Rininger refused to make the repairs himself or authorize them at his expence [sic], each succeeding season worsened the disrepair of the roof” (#A116).

Coincidentally, I also just ran across this notice in The Wellington Enterprise, which seems to corroborate Walden’s comments: “A new tin roof is being laid on the American House by Ranson & Wilbur. It is the first time in 33 years that the hotel has been vacant…” (1-12-1898, pg. 5).

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