Author Archives: Armchair Historian

“Sailing Under False Colors”

There are numerous examples on the Internet of images that purport to show nineteenth-century men and women cross-dressing in studio portraits. I cannot personally attest to the authenticity of these images as a whole, but this particular concoction is an imposition of young Thomas Edison’s head onto Clara Barton’s body.

“ARRESTED IN WOMAN’S CLOTHES.–A person in woman’s apparel came in this morning on the Toledo train, and going to the Pittsburgh Railroad ticket office, asked for a ticket to Wellington. The person’s voice was so unfeminine as to attract the attention of an officer standing by, and a very masculine face was discovered to belong with the masculine voice. Officer Warren took him into the Soldiers’ Aid Rooms, and he acknowledged that he was sailing under false colors. He had a black bag containing his suit of men’s attire. He had $2 in money in his pocket, and a piece of paper containing directions how to proceed from some point on the Milwaukee and Lacrosse Railroad to Wellington, Lorain county, Ohio. He was not disposed to be communicative at all. He said his name was Foot, and that he came from Wisconsin. He did not disclose his object in assuming female attire in which to travel through the country. His age, we should think, is about twenty-one years. Warren asked him if they dressed in Wisconsin in that way, and he replied rather dryly, ‘The women do, mostly.’ He was taken to the watch-house, and is most persistently silent. A gentleman who saw him, remarked that he desired no better evidence that he was not a woman, than his ability to hold his tongue afforded. It sounds like an aspersion on the sex. The young man might have belonged to the band of rioters in Oseaka [Ozaukee] county, Wisconsin, who recently resisted the draft with so much violence. If so, the female attire is a disguise which he assumed in order to make his escape. There is no law in Ohio as there is in New York, making it a punishable offense for either sex to don the other’s peculiar attire. The young man may be very much wanted in Wisconsin, from whose cherishing protection he was at so much pains to flee” (Cleveland Daily Leader, 11-15-1862, pg. 4).

I confess that when I first read the above notice, I suspected it was what we today call “fake news.” The most amusing and salacious tidbits that crept into nineteenth-century newspapers are often the most difficult to substantiate. I wrote once before about a humorous 1836 letter to the editor that seems to have been fabricated. But the more I dug into the details of this report, and a subsequent piece that appeared in the same newspaper two days later, the more I was able to corroborate. This incredible story seems to be true.

Andrew Jackson Foote was born June 21, 1842 in Tioga, New York. He appeared in the federal and New York state censuses in 1850 and 1855 living in the household of his parents, William Claybourne Foote (1803-1881) and Sarah Bromley Foote (d. 1867). By the federal census of 1860, the family had relocated to Westfield, Wisconsin and it appears that all of Andrew’s siblings had moved away or died, leaving him the sole of six children still at home.

In 1862, Andrew would have been twenty years old, very close to the estimation of “about twenty-one years” made by the Cleveland Daily Leader reporter. But in a follow up story, it was noted that Andrew “claims to be but sixteen years of age.” This may be an important detail.

“THE MASQUERADER.–The young man who was caught at the depot masquerading in women’s clothes, is still at the Station House. He says his name is Andrew Foot, and that his home is in the town of Oxford, Marquette county, Wisconsin. He claims to be but sixteen years of age. He wished to leave home and come to Wellington in this State, and learn the harness makers trade with a brother who resides there, but his parents opposed it, so in order to get away he [line of text missing] -ing a description of the direction necessary for him to take started. Having his own clothing in a carpetbag he intended to change his suit after getting started on the route, but found no opportunity. He has written a letter to his brother in Wellington, making known his situation and beseaching [sic] him to come and release him from dusance [durance] vile. He don’t like [look?] like a dangerous character and is evidently an inexperienced boy caught in a very foolish adventure. He will have to remain where he is over Sunday, doubtless” (pg. 4).

Andrew was telling the truth about having a brother living in Wellington. The 1860 federal census includes Frank D. Foote, then twenty-five, a New York-born carpenter living in the household of James and Mary Griffith. There was also a Mary Foote listed in the same house. The census data for the Griffiths was collected on July 9th; Frank Dunlery Foote had married Mary A. Caughlin in Wellington on June 19th, just three weeks earlier. Frank was still in the village in June 1863, when he was listed as a twenty-eight-year-old married carpenter in Union Army draft records.

Advertisement for the G.D. Foote Livery Stable. “The Wellington Enterprise,” 10-19-1881, pg. 1.

Wellington has counted members of the extended Foote family among its residents since its earliest days. Many emigrated from western Massachusetts; some went on to settle Wisconsin. A significant number chose to stay and pursue trade in Wellington, and at least two dozen find their final repose in Greenwood Cemetery. Andrew’s stated intention to “learn the harness makers trade” may have been something of a family tradition. One of the livery stables in Oberlin in the 1870s was run by Foote & Ream, while Wellington’s most prominent livery operation in the 1880s and 1890s was G.D. Foote & Co.

George Dellraine Foote, known as “Dell” or “Uncle Del,” operated a wood-frame livery stable on the south side of Liberty Street at least as early as 1879. He owned three lots corresponding to the present-day location of an imposing brick building (on what is now called West Herrick Avenue) that has the words “WELLINGTON STABLES” in raised stone letters on its pediment. Dell Foote sold his lots to C.W. Horr in 1888, but advertisements for Foote’s Livery Stable appear in The Wellington Enterprise through at least 1899. (Foote died in January 1904.) I can find no extant images of the stable from the nineteenth century. In the absence of further evidence, my working theory is that wealthy businessman Horr probably erected the brick building that still stands today, but the operation continued under its former name. Dell may have remained involved in some capacity, but he also went on to open the Hotel de Foote on South Main Street, which I will discuss at greater length in my next post.

Wellington Stables building, 139 West Herrick Avenue, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

All of that was in the future, however, as Andrew Foote steamed southward toward his date with infamy. Was he telling authorities the truth when he explained why he had run away from home? We know he lied about his age. Why would a twenty-year-old man need to go to such extremes to escape the nest? I wonder if Andrew concocted the story of overbearing parents to cover a darker motivation for fleeing Wisconsin. My first thought when I began to read the initial story was to wonder if the young man was running from a Civil War draft in Wisconsin. The Cleveland Daily Leader reporter clearly wondered the same thing, as the piece notes the Ozaukee County, Wisconsin draft riots of November 12, 1862–just three days before Foote was intercepted in Cleveland. Westfield, Wisconsin is less than one hundred miles from Port Washington, site of the famous riots. It could be a complete coincidence, but the fact that Andrew Foote took the trouble both to dress in women’s clothing and to lie about his age is curious. All northern males citizens from age 20 to 45 were at risk of being drafted, and single men were taken before married men. Even if he was not directly involved in the riots, Andrew Foote may have been fleeing the prospect of military conscription.

Sadly, we do not know the rest of Andrew’s story. One can only imagine the mortification of his family once the articles began appearing in a major metropolitan newspaper. Did news of his misadventures reach Wellington? Did he? Perhaps his brother Frank traveled up to Cleveland, secured Andrew’s release, then put him on the first train back to Wisconsin. He returned at some point, because he died there on January 3, 1865, just two years later. I do not know if Andrew ever served in the Union Army, or if his death was due to natural causes. (His older brother, James Foote, served and died in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1863.) Andrew Jackson Foote is buried in the Oxford, Wisconsin cemetery with his parents, his older brother William, and a dozen more members of the extended Foote family.

Headstone of Andrew Jackson Foote (1842-1865) in the Oxford, Wisconsin village cemetery. Image used courtesy of Foote family descendant Kelli Rodriguez.

Whatever Happened to the Old Free Church?

Old Free Church 8-28-1901 p. 2

“The Old Free Church, Built in 1852.” Engraving featured in “The Wellington Enterprise,” 8-28-1901, pg. 2.

If you have followed this blog since the beginning, you are probably aware of my ongoing battle to untangle the histories of both Wellington’s Town Halls and its Congregational Churches. Numerous buildings have served as each–and a few have served as both. As evidence has surfaced over the years, I have gone back and amended earlier writings to clarify the timelines. Every time I think I have it all sorted out, some new document comes along and remuddies the waters.

One of the unresolved mysteries is the fate of the building known as the Old Free Church. This wooden structure was erected on South Main Street, approximately where today’s Congregational Church stands, in 1852. I have pieced together an outline of what happened to it over the decades that followed, though its ultimate fate is still unclear. I am hoping that perhaps someone reading this might be able to shed some light on the answer. Here is what I know:

1852-Built on South Main Street.
“[T]he Free Church received two hundred dollars’ assistance in building its house” (Barton, History of the First Congregational Church of Wellington, Ohio, pg. 20).
“[1852] Steps were taken to secure a pastor, and a committee was appointed to secure a site for a building” (Ibid, pg. 22).

1857-Archibald Willard painted Village of Wellington and depicted the Free Church.

Detail of old free church

Detail of the Free Church in “Village of Wellington” (1857) by Archibald Willard. Original painting owned by Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

1860-The two split factions of Wellington’s Congregational Church reunited (Ibid, pg. 24).

1863-Free Church became the Town Hall.
“An exchange has been effected by the Board of Education, so that the building known as the ‘Free Church’ has now become the Town Hall…” (Lorain County News, 9-9-1863, pg. 3).

1874-Building was recorded on map of the village as “Town Hall.”

1874 Town Hall

Detail of Wellington Village map showing a structure labelled “Town Hall” on the west side of South Main Street. From “Atlas of Lorain County, Ohio. 1874.” Pg. 61. Photo by author.

1879-Conjectural date at which Free Church stopped serving as Town Hall; at some point it was sold and relocated to make way for a brick church on the same South Main Street site–which burned to the ground in 1895.

1892-Free Church was in use as a wagon shop.
“The Free Church built the large structure which is now used by Christie & Bennett as a wagon shop” (Barton, pg. 25).

WE 2-19-1890, pg. 1

Advertisement for Christie & Bennett. “The Wellington Enterprise,” 2-19-1890, pg. 1.

1894-Christie & Bennett dissolved their partnership; Bennett continued the business alone (The Wellington Enterprise, 8-22-1894, pg. 8).

1901-Image of the Free Church used in Homecoming Week special publication (above) noted “now used as a wagon shop.” (Ibid, 8-28-1901, pg. 2).

1902-“The Old Congregational Church Now a Wagon Shop.”
“The old wagon shop that fronts the railroad track south of West Main street and now occupied by Mr. Harry Bennett, was once the Congregational church of this place…The old belfry has been removed but the wide panel corner boards and cornice are still in evidence and the building bears the appearance of better days” (Ibid, 8-16-1902, pg. 1).

And that is where the mystery stood until very recently. I began to dig into Harry Bennett’s taxes, bearing in mind the clue from the above story that the wagon shop “fronts the railroad track south of West Main street,” i.e. today’s West Herrick Avenue. Bennett did indeed own two lots of land on the diagonally-oriented Rail Road Street, though an 1896 map indicates no buildings on either of his holdings. I then took a look at Sanborn fire maps for the period, and found that a structure labelled “Wagon Shop” did stand on that corner of Rail Road and West Main (also called Liberty Street) on maps for 1889, 1899, and 1904.

Sanborn June 1904

Sanborn Fire Insurance map for Wellington, Ohio dated July, 1904 showing the intersection of Rail Road Street and West Main (or Liberty) Streets. Wagon shop is circled. OhioLINK Digital Resource Commons. Accessed 3-22-2017.

The same structure remained on block 1, lot 73 for at least three more decades. It appeared on Sanborn maps in 1911, 1922, and 1933; each time it was labelled “Agricultural Implements” or “Farm Implements.”

Harry Bennett did not own the lot nor the building on it. In the 1902 Enterprise story cited above, he was said to occupy the wagon shop but was not named its owner. The two lots that Bennett did own were the empty space just southwest of the wagon shop on the Sanborn map above. Perhaps he rented the building for his business, then bought nearby land as a place to park the carriages, wagons and sleighs his shop serviced.

In a rather remarkable coincidence, just yesterday Mr. Alan Leiby, the creator and moderator of the Memory Lane Wellington Facebook page, sent me two historic photographs of West Herrick Avenue, for a completely unrelated topic I was researching. When I looked at the Sanborn maps and realized the area of town in which the Free Church might have been relocated, I quickly reexamined those images.

west liberty st post-1904

Post-1904 image of West Main or Liberty Street, at its intersection with Rail Road Street. Is the wood-frame building at the far right the Old Free Church? Photo courtesy of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, “The Spirit of ’76” Museum.

Is the wood-frame structure that appears in this photograph the wagon shop that was once the Old Free Church? It seems to be the correct dimensions and bears a strong resemblance to the engraving at the top of the post. “The wide panel corner boards and cornice” noted in the 1902 Enterprise article are found in the image, as well.

So, dear readers, I am putting the question to all of you. This building was still standing in Wellington as late as 1933, perhaps far longer. Does anyone remember this structure? Was it demolished or relocated yet again? How marvelous if we could locate it during the Bicentennial commemorations, perhaps hiding in plain sight and serving as someone’s home. Please comment if you can shed any more light on the mystery.

UPDATE: Mr. Leiby comes through again! After reading my post on the Old Free Church, he located another image–spectacular all by itself–that shows a bit more of the building. My guess is that this photograph is earlier than the post-1904 image above, though it is difficult to date the clothing styles as most of the subjects are in costume. The building clearly said “CARRIAGES” at some point, and the window appears to read in part, “CARRIAGES, BUGGIES AND WAGONS.”

Old Free Church as Wagon Shop

Undated image of the buildings situated at the junction of Liberty Street (now West Herrick Avenue) and Rail Road Street (now Depot Street). Photograph courtesy of Mr. Alan L. Leiby.

Program Announcement III

Quarrying the Stone

Masonic tracing board painted by Archibald Willard in the late nineteenth century, entitled “Quarrying the Stone.” Held in the collection of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, “The Spirit of ’76” Museum. Photo by author.

“To Devise Artistic Designs” | Archibald Willard and His Masonic Masterworks
Wellington Town Hall
Sunday, May 14th, 2-4PM

Archibald Willard is best known for his iconic painting, “The Spirit of ’76.” A prolific artist, Willard left behind an extensive body of work, including murals, portraits, comedic scenes and even decorated furniture. But when Wellington Masonic Lodge #127 discovered the existence of three enormous Masonic tracing boards signed by the artist, it began an historical investigation that shed light on a little known part of Willard’s life–his decades of membership in, and artistic contributions to, the Freemasons of Ohio. As Wellington prepares to celebrate 2018 as both the village’s Bicentennial and also the centennial of Archibald Willard’s death, please join us to learn more about this fascinating man and the spectacular artistic legacy he entrusted to our care.

All three panels will be on display during the event, and paintings conservator Heather Galloway will be on hand to address technical queries about the objects. The talk will begin ca. 3PM and be followed by a question and answer session.

About the speaker:

Nicole M. Hayes is an independent researcher who has lived in Wellington, Ohio since 2005. A native of Massachusetts, Nicole holds a master’s degree in American history from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. She has worked at cultural institutions including the National Museum of Ireland, Plimoth Plantation, Colonial Williamsburg, and Harvard University. Her blog “Nineteenth-Century Wellington” has had more than 40,000 visits from around the world since 2013.

“Novelties in Art”

Trade card for Hoyt & Peters, Wellington, Ohio. Possibly ca. 1886. Author’s collection.

I have written on several occasions of my love of nineteenth-century trade cards. These small, paper advertisements were distributed by businesses of the time, and were often brightly colored and sometimes humorous. As a result, they were collected by consumers, and a large number of them have survived. I once worked in a special collections department at Harvard that had a magnificent collection of trade cards.

Over the years, I have amassed a very small batch of Wellington-related trade cards, and I thought it would be fun to share them in a single post. The image above is a card promoting Pioneer Prepared Paints, sold in the village by business partners Norton G. Hoyt and David J. Peters. I explained in a post in 2014 why I believe this card to date sometime around 1886.

In 2015, I relayed the life story of Freeman Battle (1850-1897). He was a merchant who sold sewing machines, and coincidentally worked in Hoyt & Peters building on Mechanics Street–now East Herrick Avenue–which still stands today. While Hoyt & Peters went to the expense of having their business name professionally printed on their trade cards, Freeman Battle merely ink-stamped his information on the reverse of a card likely printed in Cleveland.

Another local merchant about whom I have written rather extensively is John Watson Wilbur (1839-1936). Originally from Canada, Wilbur settled in the village as a young man and operated a hardware store, both with partners and alone, for thirty years. Wilbur had his trade card for stoves, tinware and dairy apparatus professionally printed, and the slapstick roller skating scene from this  particular example is copyrighted 1883.

JWWilbur

Trade card for J.W. Wilbur, Wellington, Ohio. Post-1883. Author’s collection.

Just steps away, on Liberty Street (today West Herrick Avenue) William Vischer had his piano and organ selling business. If one looks very carefully at the tallest brick building on the south side of the street–129 West Herrick–the ghostly remnants of the painted words, “Vischer & Sons Pianos” are still visible on the mansard roof today. At some point in the late nineteenth century, Vischer was the local agent for McCammon piano fortes, imported from Albany. He had his name printed on their cheerful card.

WmVischerFrontVischerBack

On the ground level of that same Liberty Street building, Erwin Wright Adams operated a pharmacy for more than thirty years. In addition to pills, powders and tonics of all sorts, Adams also served as the ticket vendor for the nearby Opera House, after it opened in 1886. Adams ink-stamped his authorization to serve as “sole agent” for a medicine called Cas-Car-Ria on this trade card. I presume Cas-Car-Ria is a concoction made from cascara, the bark of a tree native to the Pacific coastal region still used in supplement form today as a mild laxative.

The final card I would like to share with you is a bit of a cheat, in that it is not for a Wellington business. It is a beautiful printed business card for James Fitzallan Ryder (1826-1904), a photographer in Cleveland who served as Archibald Willard’s business partner. It was Ryder who made Willard famous in the city by featuring some of Willard’s early work in his gallery windows and selling inexpensive chromolithograph versions for sale. It was Ryder who encouraged Willard to paint a large work for the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, which we have come to know as “The Spirit of ’76.”

Interestingly, this card is stamped “Mastai Collection” in very tiny letters on the lower left corner of the obverse. I did some research and determined that the card must once have belonged to Boleslaw Mastai and his wife Marie-Louise d’Otrange Mastai, famous connoisseurs of Americana from New York. The Mastais spent more than forty years collecting and researching, eventually amassing one of the most highly regarded groupings of early American flags ever gathered, and publishing a 1973 reference book still considered a classic in the field. The bulk of their “Patriotic Materials” estate seems to have been auctioned off by Sotheby’s in 2002. How this lovely little item traveled from Cleveland, to New York, and now back to Ohio, is a wonderful mystery.

Happy Birthday, Dear House

326 So Main Date Unknown

Undated real photo postcard (addressed but apparently never mailed) showing 326 South Main Street shortly after its completion. Author’s collection.

This month marks the one-hundredth anniversary of my house being occupied. The little brick bungalow was constructed by Fergus and Julia Camp, originally of Homer, Ohio. I detailed the story of their move to Wellington, and the building of their “modern home,” in a post back in 2014. The couple first relocated to the village in 1906, and purchased the adjacent Victorian still standing at 318 South Main Street. After nine years, they sold that house and temporarily rented a property across the road, while planning and erecting their final home. The overall process took nearly two years, with the Camps only able to move into the bungalow in February 1917. Finish work on the interior and exterior continued on through the summer of that year.

Fergus & Julia Camp in front of porch 1923

Four generations of the Camp family in June 1923. Fergus and Julia Camp are in the center. Their daughter, Ruth Camp King, stands to their left. Their granddaughter, Mary King Robinson, stands to their right. Great-grandson David W. Robinson is the child in arms. Author’s collection.

My family has now lived in the house for five years. Remarkably, we are only the fourth owners of the property in a century. The Camps, Schwellers, and Ashbaughs preceded us, and I still hear the house regularly referred to by the two most recent of those names.

Wellington is rich in history, and in addition to our small and personal centennial, a host of significant anniversaries are on the horizon. This year (2017) marks the 150th anniversaries–or sesquicentennials–of The Wellington Enterprise, and the construction of both the First United Methodist Church and the Union School, sadly demolished nearly one year ago. Next year (2018) is the one-hundredth anniversary of the death of painter Archibald Willard (just before the end of World War I), the 150th anniversary of author and activist Frederick Douglass speaking in Wellington, and of course, the bicentennial of the settling of the village by those of European descent. It promises to be an exciting year filled with celebrations.

julia-camp-1926

“Grandma” Julia Camp (visible through the window) photographer with her great-grandchildren, Thanksgiving 1926. Julia Camp would die a decade later in the house, aged 90; her husband of sixty-eight years died just twelve weeks after. Author’s collection.

My blogging time has been limited of late, but that should be changing fairly soon. In addition, I have been asked to contribute an article to Ohio Genealogy News; to offer a public talk this spring about the three Masonic tracing boards painted by Archibald Willard; to give some remarks on Wellington women of the 19th century at an upcoming “Coffee with the Mayor”; and to participate in the bicentennial commemorations. In the meantime, if you have not seen the new feature I added to the blog on the photography of William Sawtell, please check it out. I will post dates and locations for the aforementioned talks as they become available.

 

“3 Paintings for Use of Lodge Room”

signature-detail

The signature “A.M. Willard” as it appears on the lower right corner of the masonic tracing board referred to as “Quarrying the Stone.” Photograph courtesy of Galloway Art Conservation.

Back in October, I wrote about the painter Archibald Willard and his relationship to Wellington’s Masonic Lodge #127. Willard was a member from 1867 until 1891 (more than a dozen years after he moved away from the village) and began his tenure there by decoratively painting the interior of their new hall on South Main Street, sadly no longer standing. I undertook this research nearly a year ago, at the request of the lodge, when they came into possession of three enormous painted panels, full of Masonic symbology and with at least one panel signed by Willard.

I have continued to research the provenance of these extraordinary objects. In the museum world, “provenance” is the term indicating the unbroken record of ownership of an object, which can be used to authenticate its origins (i.e. prove that it was created by a particular person, or in a particular region or time period) and that, in turn, may affect its value. It’s rather like a chain-of-deed on a house. In establishing an object’s provenance, the researcher builds a record of ownership with supporting evidence like bills of sale, letters, photographs, etc. The goal is to move backward in time, from the present day to the theoretical day the object was created. And it can be just as challenging as it sounds.

I debated how to construct this post. Would it be easier for readers to follow the thread of the narrative moving forward or backward in time? I decided that since the flow of the research progressed from present to past, that is how I would lay out the story. I hope that this structure will illuminate not only the timeline, but also the research process itself.

quarrying-the-stone

The Masonic tracing board referred to as “Quarrying the Stone,” the panel signed by Archibald Willard in its lower right corner. The photograph has been rotated to enable easier viewing of the scene. Photograph courtesy of Galloway Art Conservation.

2016
Our journey backward in time begins in early 2016. Wellington Lodge #127 took physical custody of three oversized paintings on canvas, rolled together on one tube, from the Ohio Masonic Home in Springfield, Ohio. Staff at the OMH knew that they had held the three objects for some time, but the Wellington Lodge was not immediately able to connect to anyone with first-hand knowledge of how long the panels had been in Springfield, nor where they had come from previously. The Wellington lodge reached out to me to ask if I would assist them in conducting historical research to try and answer those questions.

Over a process of many months, we were eventually able to speak with several past and present staff members of OMH, and learned that there was a folder of information somewhere within their offices, which was thought to hold the key to solving the mystery. The folder was eventually located, and though it did not contain everything we had hoped for, it did hold the clue that took us one step further back in time: thank you letters to members of a now-defunct lodge, West Mansfield #588, for donating “these absolutely beautiful, historical murals” to the Ohio Masonic Home. The letters were dated June 2004.

2004
In chasing down information about the now-defunct West Mansfield Lodge, I reached out to Knowlton Library in Logan County, in the hopes that they had a local history room. They forwarded my query to the Logan County Historical Society, which was incredibly fortuitous for me. Ms. Beth Marshall, the Archivist/Assistant Curator of the society, has been invaluable in her assistance and generous in the donation of her time. The LCHS not only maintains a local newspaper collection, but also holds a collection of local Masonic materials. And incredibly, one of Ms. Marshall’s most dedicated volunteers is a man named Donald Corwin, who was both a member of West Mansfield Lodge #588, and remembered the panels personally. Mr. Corwin provided a wealth of oral history leads to follow.

1996
West Mansfield Lodge #588 merged in 1996 with East Liberty Lodge #247. Mr. Corwin informed me that in the interim period, between the 1996 merger and the 2004 donation of the panels to the Ohio Masonic Home in Springfield, the panels “adorned [the] Harriet Chapter OES.” OES is the Order of the Eastern Star, a Masonic-style organization open to men who are Master Masons and female relatives, spouses, and descendants of Master Masons. Mr. Corwin was kind enough to send a few snapshots showing the panels hanging on the walls of the hall.

order-of-the-eastern-star-1

Image showing the panel referred to as “The Temple of Solomon” on display in the Harriet Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star. Date unknown. Photograph courtesy of Mr. Donald Corwin.

1906
We now take our biggest leap backward in time. Mr. Corwin recalled that the oral history of the panels within the West Mansfield Lodge was that they had been on display for “nearly a century” and had been given to West Mansfield by a lodge in nearby Bellefontaine. The transfer of the panels was accomplished using a horse and carriage, so the story said. Bellefontaine no longer needed the panels because they had supposedly acquired a state-of-art magic lantern for projecting images.

logan-county-map

Map showing the relationship between Bellefontaine, West Mansfield and East Liberty, Ohio. Bellefontaine Lodge #209 donated “scenery” to West Mansfield Lodge #588 in 1906, and ninety years later West Mansfield merged with East Liberty Lodge #247. Approximately fifteen miles separate Bellefontaine from West Mansfield; approximately ten miles separate it from East Liberty.

In order to establish the provenance of the panels, we must try to back up each assertion with documentary evidence. Mr. Corwin was able to gain access to the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century meeting minutes for Bellefontaine Lodge #209, and found several entries that seem to substantiate the particulars of the story.

An undated entry from 1904 reads, “On motion, the Trustees of the Lodge were appointed as a committee to conf[er] with the Chapter, as to the purchase of the Stereopticon and views, and report to the Lodge.” (Stereopticon is another period term for a magic lantern.) And then on January 16, 1906, this: “Also moved + seconded that we present (with our compliments) such scenes of ours as would not [be] need[ed] in new lodge rooms to West Mansfield Lodge #588, West Mansfield, O” (pg. 274). One day later, a follow-up notice reads: “Transfer of scenery to West Mansfield 588 With compliments of the Lodge members” (Minutes of the Bellefontaine Lodge, 1897-1911, pg. 275).

screen-shot-2017-01-16-at-9-07-30-am

In the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries, stereopticons or “magic lanterns” were the state-of-the art in electric projection. Sets of Masonic slides were available for commercial purchase, some manufactured in Ohio.

1875/76
The astute reader will note that we have not yet connected Archibald Willard to this narrative, nor have we definitively connected our written record to our physical objects. Though the 1906 entries I have just noted, coupled with the oral history of a lodge member, provide a strong circumstantial case, there is still work to be done to strengthen the chain of ownership.

Mr. Corwin was able to locate earlier entries within the Bellefontaine Lodge #209 minutes that also appear relevant to our story. On December 21, 1875, the lodge voted to donate “Twenty Five Dollars, towards buying 3 paintings for use of Lodge Room” (Minutes of the Bellefontaine Lodge, 1897-1911, unnumbered page). The following year, in April 1876, this note appears: “Broth[er] Elmer was granted an order on the Treas. for 5.00 for amount he had paid Mr. W.B. Soudare [sic] for work done on paintings” (ibid.). W.B. Soudaire was apparently a decorative painter and paperer who died in Toledo shortly after this entry was recorded.

What was Soudaire’s relationship to Bellefontaine’s interior decoration project? Did he know Archibald Willard? Were they working together, or at least during the same time frame, Willard on the panels (probably in his Cleveland studio; more on that below) and Soudaire on-site in the Bellefontaine lodge room? Was Soudaire doing the finish work on the rest of the room? Or was he in fact originally hired to paint the three massive panels, and his death left an unfinished commission that Archibald Willard eventually completed? At present, we do not know.


What we do know about Archibald Willard is that 1875/76 was a crucial moment in his career. Since at least 1873, he had been working with a Cleveland photographer called James Fitzallan Ryder (1826-1904). When Willard painted his “Pluck” works that year, Ryder caused a public stir by displaying them in the newly-installed plate glass windows of his studio, and offering inexpensive chromolithograph versions for sale. Ryder encouraged Willard to create a work for the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, to be marketed on the same model, and the iconic “Spirit of ’76” was the result. This is what Willard was working on during the period the panels were first commissioned.

Ryder’s studio was located at 239 Superior Avenue in Cleveland. Willard appears in the 1875 Cleveland City Directory, listed as a “Fresco Painter,” with a studio at nearby 205 Superior Avenue. By the following year he had relocated even closer to Ryder, into the second-floor commercial spaces of Cleveland’s City Hall, then located at 233 Superior Avenue (present-day location of the Cleveland Public Library main branch).

case-hall-233-superior-avenue-old-cleveland-city-hall

The Case Block, which was serving as Cleveland’s City Hall in 1876, when Archibald Willard rented studio space there. The building was demolished in the early twentieth-century and that block is now the location of the main branch of the Cleveland Public Library.

Also operating nearby on Superior Avenue that same year was a man called Max R. Cooks. He was part of several “fresco painting” firms before settling into a family business called Cooks Brothers. By 1883, his company had relocated one street over, to Euclid Avenue, which in that era was known as “Millionaires’ Row.” Cleveland was home to many of the nation’s most wealthy and powerful industrialists (including John D. Rockefeller), sustaining multiple interior design firms in operation in the city.

In his book, The Spirit of ’76…An American Portrait (1976), Willard F. Gordon–a descendant of the artist–asserted that Max Cooks was a close friend of Archibald Willard and considered him a “genius.” He employed Willard, presumably as a sub-contractor for the Cooks Brothers firm, to “paint frescos and stucco reliefs in many northern Ohio churches, homes of prominent citizens, and public buildings” (56). Gordon cites the painting of the New Cleveland Opera House and the creation of three murals in Washington Court House, Ohio in 1882 as specific examples of their professional partnership.

I was not able to learn much about Max Cooks, nor substantiate the business connection to Willard through other primary sources. In 1947, Cooks’ widow, Clara, was on a bus tour which passed through Washington Court House and asked to see the murals painted by Archibald Willard under her late husband’s employment. No one apparently remembered that Willard had created the murals, and the story proved so popular that it was periodically featured in The Plain Dealer over the following decades (for example, 2-24-1957, pg. 9 and 11-21-1976, pg. 38). Mrs. Cooks’ obituary noted her membership in the Alice Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star.

Was Max Cooks a mason? Was he the conduit through which Willard obtained the commission to paint three enormous Masonic teaching boards? Did Willard execute the commission in his Cleveland City Hall Studio? How long did it take to complete? Were the enormous paintings shipped back down to Bellefontaine via train or wagon, or both? For every question that seems answered, five more crop up to take its place.

Summary
The three Masonic tracing boards currently housed at the Spirit of ’76 Museum in Wellington were apparently created at the request of Bellefontaine Lodge #209, sometime after 1875. We do not know how Archibald Willard came to be connected to the project; at present, only his signature on one of the three panels provides evidence of his authorship. Willard was operating out of studios in Cleveland from this time until the end of his life, so it seems most likely he painted the panels there, in the absence of any evidence of a protracted stay in Logan County. Given the evidence of the Bellefontaine Lodge minutes, I presume the “3 paintings” they ordered are the same three objects now housed 140 years later in Wellington. The work was therefore completed prior to 1906, when Bellefontaine donated them to West Mansfield Lodge #588. Archibald Willard died in Cleveland in 1918.

Ta Da! New Blog Feature!

17b

The verso of a William F. Sawtell photograph. Author’s collection.

I have recently added a new feature to the blog that I have been putting together for quite some time. Regular readers may recognize the name William F. Sawtell as a local photographer and painter who lived in Wellington in the nineteenth century. He took portraits of people not only from the village, but also from all the surrounding communities.

Over the years, I have gathered a small collection of representative images shot by Sawtell. I often find them in the “miscellaneous photos” bins of local antique stores. Since I have begun publishing this blog, several kind people have made gifts of images they owned. Most of the portraits are neither identified nor dated, but I have long wanted to make them available for viewing in a single location.

Today, I have launched a new page on this site. Under the main menu you will now see three tabs, namely Home, About, and “William Sawtell, Photographer.” I have scanned all of the Sawtell images in my possession, and included all the information I know about each one. If you happen to recognize any of the unnamed subjects, or if you happen to be related to any of the identified individuals, please leave a comment and share your story.