“One by one, these resourceful neighbors left their Huntington homes and built larger and varied Wellington homes. Practically all of these New England transplants were located on both sides of South Main Street in the southerly section of Wellington” (Frank Chapman Van Cleef, Ninety-Nine Bottles: Recollections and Episodes since 1896 Originating in Lorain County, Ohio, pg. 19.)
Several months back, I made my last post about our former home at 600 North Main Street. I mentioned that my family had purchased a new house, also in Wellington, and that I would eventually tell its story. Before I can do that, I must start by relating the tale of the house next door.
When we moved into our new place, we were told that the same person–a man by the name of Camp–had first built the large Victorian one lot north, then later built our house as a “retirement” property. A bit of research revealed that the truth is both more complicated, and also much more illustrative of the late-nineteenth-century history of the village.
In 1878, Abel Dewey Perkins was a fifty-three-year-old Lorain County Commissioner living in Huntington. That winter, he sold his farm and determined to join the ongoing migration of Huntington residents to Wellington. But, The Wellington Enterprise reported, he was undecided as to whether he ought to build a new house or buy an existing one (2-28-1878, pg. 3). Perkins apparently opted to build, but must have secured interim accommodations for his family because he took his time about it.
Nearly two years later, the Wellington Board of Education auctioned off the South Primary school building and its land, located on the west side of South Main Street. Perkins purchased the property for $800, a figure later reported in the budget for the new addition to the Union School a few blocks north (the older school apparently being sold to finance expansion of the newer). At the same time, several of the lots surrounding the primary school were purchased by a man named O. P. Chapman. Chapman was an early partner in Horr, Warner & Co., a highly successful businessman, and also happened to be Abel Perkins’ only son-in-law. Oren and wife Ella were planning to relocate from Huntington as soon as the new family seat was completed.
“Hiram Allyn, builder, finished the house he has been building for A. D. Perkins on South Main street. It is said to be one of the finest specimens of gothic architecture in town,” the Enterprise proclaimed in the spring of 1881. The very next issue informed readers that, “Mr. O. P. Chapman will move into Mr. A. Perkins’ house April 1st, the two families occupying it in common” (3-14-1883, pg. 3).
While the house was under construction, Chapman commissioned an enormous carriage house on his adjoining land. It was finished in May 1883. “O. P. Chapman has the best arranged and finest finished horse and stock barn on his place on South Main St. we ever saw. It will pay any admirer of good things to call and see it. He has also some very fine blooded stock, and is giving special attention to their growth and improvement” (Enterprise, 5-9-1883, pg. 3). The newspaper was not just being polite; the carriage house was so beautifully crafted and elaborately decorated that it had the same tax evaluation as Perkins’ three-story residence, namely $1,205. Even today, passers-by often mistake it for a Victorian home, though it still retains its original horse and cattle stalls.
In 1892, Abel Dewey Perkins died in his home of “apoplexy,” very likely what we would today term a stroke. Just five years later, his daughter Ella tragically drowned in a holiday boating accident; she was only forty-six. Abel’s widow, Mary, died in 1901. It is not hard to imagine how empty such a large house must have seemed in the face of so much personal loss. By 1906, Chapman was ready to move on, albeit not very far away. His nephew, Frank Chapman Van Cleef, later wrote, “After Uncle Oren’s tragic loss of Aunt Ella by drowning in his arms when their row boat capsized on a Lake Erie fishing trip, Grandma [Isobel Lindsey Chapman] and my parents spared no effort trying to alleviate his loneliness. When he sold his residential property, he made his headquarters in the second floor apartment Grandma had built directly over her own apartment. As housekeeping became more arduous for her, both she and Uncle Oren eventually prevailed upon my parents [Edward Anson and Josephine Esther Chapman Van Cleef] to move into the large upstairs bedroom” (Ninety-Nine Bottles, pgs. 32-33).
The house Van Cleef describes in that passage, in which he spent part of his own childhood, is a gorgeous brick Italianate that still stands today. It was erected by his maternal grandfather–yet another Huntington émigré–in 1876 and in his honor is still known as the John Austin Chapman house. So Oren Chapman moved from living communally with his wife’s family to living so with his own, by relocating just a hundred yards south.
March 14, 1906, an Enterprise front-page headline announced, “The O. P. Chapman Place Sold.” The three-paragraph article noted that Chapman had lived in “his handsome home on South Main street” for “some 23 years.” It described the house as “one of the best properties in town, and has a large and convenient barn, besides two or three acres of land.” F. M. Camp of Homer, Ohio was named as the purchaser, and a “well to do man.” The piece ended, “Rumor says [Chapman] got $9,000 for the property. It is cheap at that price and is the largest amount ever paid for residence property in this city.”
So, local legend notwithstanding, Fergus and Julia Camp did not move to Wellington until 1906, by which time the house at 318 South Main Street was already a quarter-century old. The adjacent carriage house had stood just as long, and was built by Oren Chapman, not by Camp for his racehorses, another myth. In my next post, I will write more about the Camps and about the house they actually did build, a lovely little Craftsman-style bungalow nestled amongst older and grander neighbors.