As you likely know by now, dear reader, 2018 is Wellington’s bicentennial year. There is a whole calendar of events planned in commemoration. One of the upcoming offerings is an historic house tour in the fall. My own 1883 carriage house will be one of the featured properties. Another home that will be on the tour is a white wood-frame beauty that sits at 139 Park Place, right at the center of town. It is owned by a dear friend of mine, Mrs. Linda Hatton, and she asked for my help in tracing its history. The Hatton family also owns the adjacent 135 Park Place–used as a rental property for decades–so we decided that I would research both homes. Mrs. Hatton has generously agreed that I might share with you the fascinating stories I uncovered.
I am often asked how one goes about researching the history of a house. First, start with what you know (or think you know). I asked Linda to provide me, to the best of her recollection, the year her family had acquired each property, and the name of the previous owner. She also told me all the stories she had heard about each house over the years. This creates a jumping off point for research, as you attempt to verify or disprove each story by looking at the existing documentary evidence.
I spent several days tracing each house backward in time via Wellington corporation tax records. The ledger volumes have been digitized and are publicly accessible, free of charge, via the Lorain County Records Retention Center. Depending on the specific locality you are investigating, the records go as far back as the early nineteenth century, and are available through the 1940s. You can look for the name of a specific person (the volumes are alphabetical by taxpayer) or, though it is more labor intensive, you can also search for the block and lot number of each taxable plot of land in the village.
I knew by looking at both contemporary records of the Lorain County Auditor’s office, as well as village maps dating from 1857 and 1874 (shown above, left and right respectively) that the Hatton residence at 139 Park Place sits on block 4, lot 13, while the rental property at 135 Park Place is on block 4, lot 12. The eagle-eyed among you will note that in the nineteenth century, lot 13 was subdivided and had two small buildings on it. Those structures predate the house that exists today, as we shall see.
I next visited the Lorain County Recorder’s office in Elyria, to compile what is called a “chain of deed” or “chain of title.” This is a process by which one traces a house backward in time through the official recording of property transactions. Using the information provided to me by the Hattons, the information I had compiled from tax records, and a few key biographical facts about some of the previous homeowners–principally their dates of death–I was able to craft a pretty clear timeline of ownership for each property.
The Hattons were uncertain when, or by whom, their residence had been constructed. Tax records clearly showed that block 4, lot 13 had been subdivided into two lots prior to 1910, each with a modest structure on it. (Those two structures are very likely the same two small brick buildings depicted on the right of Willard’s 1857 painting, shown at the top of this post.) Each half-lot and building was owned by a different individual. But in 1910, both lots were purchased by a single person, and in 1911, that person was shown as owning a single lot with a single structure, assessed for taxation at the impressive sum of $2,500. My working hypothesis, then, was that 1910 was the year of construction. In order to confirm that, I decided to look through the Wellington Enterprise for that period. Since the newspaper is not digitized after 1900, that meant checking individual issues on reels of microfilm.
I found what I was looking for in February 1910. “Mr. N. G. Hoyt Will Build. Mr. N. G. Hoyt has purchased the two brick houses and lot just south of Mr. George Robishaw’s home [135 Park Place], and will erect a new and modern residence upon the site, utilizing the brick from the two buildings in the foundation. This will add much to the appearance of the town” (2-2-1910, pg. 1). Eight additional notices over the course of the spring and summer charted the progress of construction, by local businessman Norton G. Hoyt and his second wife, Josephine. The final notice announced that the residence would be “ready for occupancy by the 1st of October” (9-14-1910, pg. 5).
The Hoyts occupied the house at 139 Park Place for twelve years. In 1922, they sold it to Lawrence G. Stemple. Stemple’s tenure is verified not only by deeds and tax records, but also by Wellington city directories and telephone directories that confirm the house as his family’s primary residence. After Lawrence died in 1961, his son Sidney D. Stemple purchased the house, and Sidney also lived in it until his death in 1992. The Hattons have resided at 139 Park Place ever since, only the fourth owners–and third family–to call it home in more than a century.
The history of the adjacent property is both longer and more complex. It has had at least ten recorded owners since the mid-nineteenth century, some of them not personally residing in the house but rather using it as a rental property–which it remains today. I will highlight just a few of the more interesting stories:
Blanche A. Sutliff was the young widow of local businessman George M. Sutliff, who died suddenly of typhoid fever in 1909. George seems to have left Blanche financially comfortable–he was described as “a man of affairs, a money maker” in one obituary–but also with two small daughters to raise, Marion (8) and Maxine (2). A third daughter, Mildred, died in infancy. Blanche purchased the house at 135 Park Place in 1911, does not appear to have ever remarried, and lived there until she died in 1942.
Ethel Benedict was the brother of Jerusha Benedict Reed, wife of local dry goods merchant John S. Reed. When John Reed drowned while bathing in the Black River in 1855, Ethel Benedict relocated from Connecticut to Wellington to assume responsibility for his sister’s financial affairs. He eventually erected the three-story brick business block at the center of town that bears his name to this day. The Benedict family lived in the house at 135 Park Place from 1872 until 1906, though Ethel himself died in 1893.
Dr. Charles Beach and his wife Ann, or Anna, lived in the house while Archibald Willard created Village of Wellington, 1857. Ann Jackson Beach was from Belleville, Ohio. The family moved to Wellington in 1846, purchasing what we now call 135 Park Place from Isaac Bennett in 1850. They lived in the house for nine years, spending their later life in Pittsfield. Both are buried in Greenwood Cemetery.
Just as with 139 Park, the final piece of the puzzle to lock into place was the name of the person who built the house, and the year in which it was built. Though Wellington tax records are available this far into the past, the block and lot numbers were not recorded so precisely prior to 1850, which forces us to make educated guesses using things like property values as tools. Using this method, I hypothesized that Dr. and Mrs. Beach had purchased the house from Isaac Bennett around 1850. One year Bennett owned one of the few houses in the southwest quadrant of the village valued at $546; the next year he did not, but the Beaches now owned a property in the correct location valued at $550. I guessed the properties were one-in-the-same.
On the trip to the Lorain County Recorder’s office, I was able to prove that theory correct, when I located an 1850 deed transferring ownership of the following lot, from Isaac Bennett to Anna Beach for $200: “…Bounded on the West by the Public Square on the South by John H. Wooley Lot [the northern half of block 4, lot 13] on the east by Land owned by Alanson Howk heirs on the north on land owned by me…Being part of Original Lot 22…” This is the correct location for 135 Park Place. The fact that the tax assessment of the property remains relatively unchanged over the entire course of Bennett’s ownership and that of the Beach family (i.e from at least 1847 until 1859), suggests that the Beaches purchased a lot on which a house was already constructed.
The house was certainly standing when Willard composed his painting of the village in 1857. A careful comparison of the architectural details of the house today with the white, wood-frame building in the painting (fourth structure from the right in the detail at the top of this post) shows them to be nearly identical. Looking at Isaac Bennett’s tax records, I believe he is the most likely person to have constructed the house, sometime around 1846/47.
Bennett was born in Guildford, Vermont on June 16, 1801. He married Esther Childs (1801/2-1891) of nearby Deerfield, Massachusetts. The couple moved to Wellington in February 1834. Bennett later asserted–in a reminiscence offered on his sixtieth wedding anniversary–that when the family arrived, “there were but eight frame houses in the whole township” (Wellington Enterprise, 12-26-1883, pg. 3). He also claimed to have manufactured the bricks for the first Methodist Church erected in Wellington. He served as township clerk from 1843 to 1845, and again from 1847 to 1849. Isaac and Esther Bennett are recorded as being interred at Greenwood Cemetery, but their graves are unmarked.
I do hope that all of you will attend the historic house tour on October 14th. All proceeds from the event will benefit Main Street Wellington, which keeps our downtown vibrant not only through beautification efforts, but also by promoting the growth of our local businesses. Many thanks to the Hatton family, both for volunteering their home for the tour and also for allowing me to share the histories of their properties with all of you.
Great history lesson!
Thanks for the history and also for giving me (and I’m sure others) some new places to look for historical records.
Enjoy the hunt, Francis! 🙂