Category Archives: Commercial buildings

The Bee Hive

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Verso of trade card, printed ca. 1880, for the Bee Hive, Wellington, Ohio. Author’s collection.

Greetings, dear readers! On this, the sixth anniversary weekend of the blog, I was determined to put up a post. Life has made research and writing more difficult of late, as the lack of activity this year clearly shows. But I recently acquired a charming trade card for a nineteenth-century Wellington business, so I wanted to share it and the history of the store that it promotes.

In April 1880, F. T. Smith advertised in the Wellington Enterprise that he was opening a new venture on the southwestern corner of Liberty Street, today called West Herrick Avenue. His premises was known as “the old Bakery Stand,” but he was taking a partner, Mr. Jordan, and starting a shop that they would name the Bee Hive. (This may have been a reference to the popular Bee Line that operated on the nearby train tracks, an east-west excursion line with stops in places as far-flung as Denver, Colorado and Toronto, Canada.) In a separate notice, the newspaper reported that Mr. Jordan had for many years been connected to the wholesale houses of Cleveland. Whether Jordan was actually living in Wellington while the Bee Hive was open is not clear.

WE 4.8.80 pg. 3

“Wellington Enterprise,” 4-8-1880, pg. 3.

The owners of the Bee Hive demonstrated a sort of frenetic energy for growing their business. They pioneered a novel method of publicity in the Enterprise; rather than simply paying for a one-column block, they sprinkled single sentence promotions of individual products throughout the local news page. They announced that they would have two wagons loaded with merchandise circulating throughout the area during harvest time, for the benefit of “country customers” who could not then spare the time to travel into the village (Enterprise, 6-10-1880, pg. 3). In the spring of 1881, they announced a promotional giveaway of an unspecified prize to every customer who purchased a pound of tea, and appear to have continued the offer through the end of the year. They crafted exhibits of sale goods for the Wellington fair, and hosted parties and musical entertainments in their building. Though the Bee Hive was mentioned hundreds of times in the Enterprise during its brief existence, and the owners clearly wanted to convey that they were doing a booming business, the notices begin to smack of desperation; one gimmick they employed was to repeatedly run an advertisement that read, in multiple variations, that they were just too busy to write new ad copy.

Each year, the Bee Hive had a Friday evening holiday grand opening in which they debuted their new Christmas merchandise. For the 1880 holiday season, they installed a steam engine to “help them grind coffee and spices and do up parcels” (Enterprise, 12-23-1880, pg. 2). The array of items on offer was impressive: toys, china, tea sets, dinner sets, chamber and toilet sets, silver-plated dinnerware, lamps, and vases.  In season they added flower pots, garden vases, hanging baskets and window boxes. They carried groceries including ground coffee, tea, canned fruit, sliced beef, Sandusky hams, cigars and oysters, butter, fresh eggs and fish. The Bee Hive also did copper, tin, iron and brass repair, and would complete roofing and spouting work by request.

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Recto of trade card, printed ca. 1880, for the Bee Hive, Wellington, Ohio. Rather than purchasing generic trade cards and stamp inking their shop name, as many Wellington businesses did, the proprietors of the Bee Hive had their trade cards printed, perhaps at the offices of the “Wellington Enterprise.” Author’s collection.

In July 1880, Smith and Jordan announced that they were soon to erect a new brick building on the vacant space immediately west of their Liberty Street shop. They offered “close out” sales to rid themselves of heavy merchandise like stoves, that they did not wish to move. By early August, they broke ground on a “double store,” but continued to do business by temporarily locating one door west, into the furniture establishment of Hoyt and Woolley, who were also the local undertakers.

The construction plans were ambitious. “The foundation of the addition to Smith & Jordan’s building is nearly complete. It will be joined to the old store-room as one building, having an entrance to the upper story between the old and the new. When finished there will be three [shop] fronts–two of 20 feet each and another small triangular room on the extreme south-west, which will be for rent. The ceiling of the present room will be raised to make a 13 foot story, and the second will be 11 feet. An arched way will connect the two rooms so they can be used as one store. The front rooms in the second story will be finished for offices. An addition will be built on the rear end, of 20 feet, for storage purposes” (Enterprise, 8-19-1880, pg. 3).

Remarkably, interior touches were completed just two months later. Corporation tax records show that block 1, lot 75 was owned by Anson Smith. I believe Anson was the stepfather of F. T. Smith, as I will explain below. The lot was valued at just $370 in 1880 (prior to construction), but by 1881 jumped to $1,380. By 1882, that assessment had increased to $1,980. Likewise, an 1874 map of the village shows a small square in the center of lot 75, to later be replaced by a roughly triangular structure that filled the entire plot of land.

west liberty st post-1904

Post-1904 image of West Main or Liberty Street, at its intersection with Rail Road Street. The brick two-story building in the foreground is the Bee Hive block, completed in 1880. Photo courtesy of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, “The Spirit of ’76” Museum.

But for Smith and Jordan, time was up. In January 1882, John Houghton published a scathing editorial in the Wellington Enterprise in which he laid out the failure of their partnership in excruciating detail. Smith apparently owed Houghton money, perhaps for the excessive advertising services he had furnished the store, or the custom printed trade cards they had distributed. His revenge, as he himself wrote, was to tell the entire village precisely what had happened. Houghton noted that the failure was not a surprise to the “wise and observing,” whom he claimed had been predicting the event for more than a year. Smith’s stepfather had “furnished the larger portion of the capital,” and had decided the partners must relinquish the Bee Hive “to secure himself from further loss.” I believe this to be Anson Smith, owner and taxpayer on the Bee Hive block.

The younger Smith, Houghton wrote, “is reported to have ruined the trade and squandered the capital by his intemperance and immoralities and by his reckless business management. Our personal knowledge extends far enough to know that we [co-editors and spouses John and Mary Hayes Houghton] have salted down a considerable sum which he appropriated to his personal uses, and we do him no injustice when we say that by his vices and dishonesty he has thrown away a golden opportunity . . . [he] has nothing to show for his investment but failure, shame and disgrace” (Enterprise, 1-25-1880, pg. 2). The editor acknowledged that Jordan shared equally in the blame, if only for being so blind to Smith’s actions. The partners were said to owe in excess of $6,000–an enormous sum when considering that the entire brand-new business block was tax assessed at less than one-third that amount. Houghton pronounced the entire affair “one of the most inexcusable failures ever known in Wellington.”

The Bee Hive store was not yet two years old when Smith and Jordan dissolved their partnership. Anson Smith continued to own what was now called the Bee Hive block. Another set of proprietors purchased the contents of the store, and operated in the same location for about a year. They maintained the customs of hosting dinners and musical entertainments on the upper floor, and even held the annual holiday grand opening. In February 1883, the Bee Hive installed the eighth telephone in the village, and soon began to advertise that customers should call orders in. In lieu of owning one’s own phone, one could use a neighbor’s line or even send a child down to the shop. All goods would be promptly delivered, regardless of order method.

Sanborn October 1884

Sanborn Map from October 1884, showing the Bee Hive block on block 1, lot 75.

In April 1883, the new proprietors vacated the Bee Hive block and relocated the still-named Bee Hive store to the west side of South Main Street, next door to Mallory, Jopp & Co., on the village square. The new location did not improve their profits, however, and by January 1884, the Bee Hive shop closed for good. The Bee Hive block, meanwhile, was now home to three separate businesses: a drug and grocery shop, a news and cigar store, and the boot and shoe repair shop housed in the triangular space occupied by cobbler David Snyder since the building was completed in the fall of 1880.

The Bee Hive block still stands on West Herrick Avenue today, rapidly approaching its one hundred and fortieth birthday. The ground floor of the building is now home to two small businesses, the Painting Factory and Happy Tails Dog Grooming. The second story contains apartments. Not long after I moved to Wellington, as recently as 2005, a local resident giving me directions identified the landmark to me as “the old Bee Hive.” I find it fascinating how many old names linger on, long after their origins have faded away.

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149-151 West Herrick Avenue, Wellington, Ohio. Image from GoogleMaps.

“Fire In The Morning And War At Night”

Cleveland Morning Leader, 9.16.1858. pg. 2

“Cleveland Morning Leader,” 9-16-1858, pg. 2.

Today is the one hundred and sixtieth anniversary of the Oberlin-Wellington Slave Rescue. September 13, 1858 was one of the most eventful days that has ever occurred in the village’s two hundred years of existence, on both a local and a national level. The day began with a massive conflagration in the southwestern corner of the downtown, and ended with a single act of political resistance–but also human decency and compassion–that at least one historian has argued may have precipitated the coming of the American Civil War. A local woman summed it up as “a fire in the morning and war at night” (Oberlin News, 3-3-1899).

I have written about this date before. Wellington was in some ways a very different place in the fall of 1858 than it is today. The town had been legally incorporated for only three years. There was no Wellington Enterprise, no local newspaper of any name. The railroad line was less than a decade old. Dairy and cheese production was still done on individual family farms, not yet exported in massive quantities by regional factories. There were as yet no large and elegant homes on South Main or Courtland Streets, no imposing brick school filling the community with pride in its educational system. Only about 1,600 people lived in Wellington (one-third of today’s population), of whom none were people of color.

Village of Wellington 1857

Detail of “Village of Wellington” (1857) by Archibald Willard, showing the east side of South Main Street. Original painting owned by Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

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Detail of “Map of Lorain Co. Ohio From Actual Surveys by John F. Geil. 1857” showing the downtown business district, Wellington, Ohio.

The massive fire that tore through the shops on the west side of South Main Street in the early hours of that Monday morning destroyed buildings and inventory. It gutted the pharmacy of Dr. James Rust, and the meeting rooms of the Wellington Masons. (Rust later invited Masonic Lodge #127 to relocate to his new building and occupy its third floor, which they did for nearly forty-five years.) In the absence of a fire department, volunteer bucket brigades were assembled to quell the flames, even as bystanders risked their lives running back into buildings to save precious contents. In a community so compact and close-knit, and with smoke from the blaze visible for miles in the clear autumn air, it did not take long before hundreds of people were assembled in the public square. Had those large, otherwise unoccupied crowds not been present in Wellington that afternoon, the events of the rescue might have transpired quite differently.

For a detailed description of the day, I would recommend reading A History of the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue compiled by Oberlin student and Rescuer Jacob R. Shipherd in 1859 from court transcripts and contemporary writings. Nat Brandt’s 1990 publication, The Town That Started the Civil War, is also an informative and enjoyable read. Ten Wellington men were indicted in connection with the rescue of John Price, and Brandt argues that eight of those ten were “singled out because they were conductors on the Underground Railroad” (125). The indicted Wellington men were:

Thinking of all the Oberlin and Wellington people who took action that day against slavery and the inhumanity of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, I am reminded of  the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he wrote in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” a century later, “I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”

An Unexpected Gift

American House postcard

Unmailed postcard with image depicting the American House hotel in Wellington, Ohio. Author’s collection.

I received the loveliest piece of mail this week. A person whom I have never met, who does not even live in Wellington, sent me a beautiful handwritten letter and enclosed a gift: an unmailed postcard depicting the American House hotel. The sender explained that he had very much enjoyed reading the recent bicentennial insert published by the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram, particularly the article on the Oberlin-Wellington Slave Rescue of 1858, one hundred and sixty years ago this September. He enclosed the postcard as a thank you for my work on preserving local history.

The hotel was first built around 1833, owned and operated by the Wadsworth family. It had numerous proprietors and was known by multiple names over the years, most famously as the American House in the late nineteenth century. It closed its doors for good and was quickly demolished in April 1902. Purchased by soon-to-be governor of Ohio, Myron T. Herrick, the hotel was removed to make way for a new town library, which was dedicated and opened to the public on the same site in January 1904. Initial plans for the construction of the library called for the reuse of some 150,000 bricks from the hotel; perhaps there is yet some part of the American House still standing in Wellington’s Public Square to this day.

“The Colored Orator of World Wide Reputation”

Frederick Douglass ca. 1866

Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) photographed ca. 1866. Original image is held in the collections of the New-York Historical Society. Accessed via Wikipedia Commons.

The year 1818 may be notable locally as the year in which Wellington was first settled, but it was also the year in which a renowned nineteenth-century American entered the world. Frederick Douglass (née Bailey) was born into slavery on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in February of that year. 2018 therefore marks the bicentennial celebrations of our small village and also arguably the greatest orator our country has ever produced.

The story of Frederick Douglass’s early life is well documented in his three autobiographies. He escaped enslavement with the help, and financial assistance, of a free black woman named Anna Murray, whom he later married. The two made their way up the east coast, eventually settling in New Bedford, Massachusetts when Douglass was twenty. The young man became active in local abolitionist circles and quickly developed a reputation as a powerful public speaker. The growing family (Frederick and Anna eventually had five children) later moved to Rochester, New York, where Douglass launched an abolitionist newspaper he called the North Star, a reference to the guiding light by which those escaping from slavery charted their course to freedom.

Over the course of the 1840s and 1850s–the decades immediately preceding the Civil War–Douglass traveled all over the northern United States and Europe speaking out in favor of immediate emancipation and civil rights for black Americans. He reportedly made over one hundred speeches per year in the 1840s alone. Douglass rejected outright the assertion that people of color living in America were not its citizens, as well as the racist assumption that they were not capable of full participation in its democracy. The orator was also a strong proponent of equal rights for women and advocated in favor of female suffrage at the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848.

Douglass was a regular visitor to Ohio. He was offering speeches in the state at least as early as 1843. In the summer of 1847, he toured Ohio and Pennsylvania with abolitionist and newspaper editor William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879); during that tour, Douglass spoke at First Church, in Oberlin. He attended the first National Convention of Colored Citizens, held in Cleveland in 1848. His daughter, Rosetta, attended the Oberlin College Ladies Preparatory Department in 1854. Douglass wrote approvingly in the North Star that the black community of Ohio was “stemming the current of the most raging floods, combating every opposition, resisting every obstacle until at length they have forced the dominant class in their own state to notice and respect their efforts” (6-29-1849).

R.J. Robinson

Robert Jonathan Robinson (1818-1890) was born a freeman in Winchester, Virginia. A Baptist preacher, entrepreneur, and vocal advocate for black educational opportunities and civil rights, Robinson lived in Wellington for thirty years. Original image courtesy of Robinson family descendants still living in Virginia today.

During his travels, Douglass met a minister, entrepreneur and civil rights activist called R.J. Robinson. The two men served on the Equal Rights League together in 1865, and both attended the Colored Men Conventions mentioned above. Robinson was born free in Virginia–coincidentally, also in 1818–and had moved in the fall of 1860 from his home in Illinois to a little village in Ohio called Wellington. It may be that R.J. Robinson was responsible for inviting Frederick Douglass to come speak in his adopted home, as the nation struggled to come to terms with the meaning and consequences of the war it had recently waged.

The Wellington correspondent for the Lorain County News first reported in early 1868, “We understand that Frederick Douglass has been engaged to deliver a lecture in this place sometime in March next, notice of which will be given in due time” (1-29-1868, pg. 3). On March 18th, the paper reminded its readers that “the Colored Orator of world wide reputation will lecture in this place on Friday evening of next week–under the auspices [of] the Wellington Reading Room Association. Don’t fail to hear him” (pg. 3). The following week, locals were again urged to attend the lecture, as “we do not often have an opportunity of hearing as distinguished a man as Fred” (3-25-1868, pg. 3). After Douglass’s “well attended” presentation, the correspondent concluded, “All were well satisfied, and speak of it in the highest praise” (4-1-1868, pg. 3).

Douglass was officially invited to come to Wellington by the Reading Room Association, an exclusively male club first formed in the summer of 1866. Its membership rented space over Levi Bowman’s clothing store on the western side of South Main Street. (Regular readers of the blog may remember the Bavarian-born Bowman as the Freemason who brought painter Archibald Willard into Wellington Lodge #127, or as the employer of a young woman who died tragically after a botched medical procedure.) The Lorain County News printed a reader-submitted description of the room when it first opened: “Its files and tables are supplied with a large selection of the first class periodicals, dailies, weeklies, monthlies, and quarterlies, both domestic and foreign, of literary, political, fictitious, and religious characters, such as are suited to all tastes in all moods. The room is open for the resort of members at all hours of the day, and until ten or after in the evening.” The group’s aim was to offer a regular schedule of “public lectures and literary entertainments” (8-8-1866, pg. 2). It is not clear whether women were intended to be part of the audience.

South Main 1869-1882

Based on the business names and buildings shown in this image, it most likely dates to the 1870s or early 1880s. In the mid-1860s, the Wellington Reading Room Association occupied a rented room over Levi Bowman’s clothing shop on Public Square. The circled area indicates what I believe to be its location. The building still stands today. Image used courtesy of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, “The Spirit of ’76” Museum.

When the Wellington Enterprise commenced publication on September 19, 1867, its very first front page also sang the praises of the reading room, “a feature of Wellington seldom found in towns three times as large and often not in cities.” The room was by that time open not only to its male membership, but also to “persons here for a short period,” presumably referring to gentlemen passing through town on business via the railway. “Strangers and persons in the place, transiently, are entitled to the privileges of the Reading Room on payment of fifty cents per month[.] A small fee, indeed.” The presence of such an amenity in the village demonstrated, in the publisher’s opinion, “the progressive spirit of our citizens and their appreciation of the beneficial.”

There were multiple literary and library associations convened in Wellington during the nineteenth century. In fact, a literary society open to men and woman formed in the village just three months after the reading room opened; it met weekly at the town hall. (At that time, the town hall was the wood-framed “Old Free Church” located on the western side of South Main Street, near the present location of the Congregational Church.) It is difficult to parse the relationships between these various groups, if any. A library association that existed in the 1880s seems to be the one which eventually turned its holdings over to the Wellington Township trustees, a collection which then formed the nucleus of the Herrick Memorial Library when it opened in 1904. At present, I do not know if that library association had any connection to the Reading Room Association of the mid-1860s.

South Main early 20th century?

Early-twentieth-century image of the west side of South Main Street. The circled area indicates what I believe to be the location of the Wellington Reading Room Association in the late 1860s. The building still stands today. Photo courtesy of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, “The Spirit of ’76” Museum.

No issues of the Wellington Enterprise survive from the period of Douglass’s visit, and published accounts of the address do not mention where it was held. While those notices characterize his oration as “well attended,” it is not clear what that means. We do not know if the Reading Room Association usually invited speakers to appear in its own, members-only, space. Just after Christmas in 1866 (and again the following year), the association advertised a “grand entertainment to be held in Franks’ new Hall.” Perhaps the use of the hall was necessitated by the “elegant supper” accompanying the entertainment, which was to be served by “the ladies.” No mention was made as to whether ladies would be permitted to attend the event, or simply to cook the food afterward (Lorain County News, 12-19-1866, pg. 3 and 12-4-1867, pg. 3). The third floor of H.B. Franks’s lovely Italianate commercial building had a permanent stage and was used for public performances in the decades prior to the construction of the Opera House. It was erected at the town center in 1866, but burned down in 1915. If my theory about the location of the Reading Room Association’s headquarters is correct, that building survives to this day.

E Herrick before fire

Italianate commercial building erected by H. B. Franks in 1866. Later known as both the Rininger block and the Horr block, it burned in 1915. Formerly located on the northern corner of Main Street and Mechanics Street (now East Herrick Avenue). The third floor of the building was used as a public performance space from its earliest days. Photo courtesy of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, “The Spirit of ’76” Museum.

It feels fitting to close this post with some of Frederick Douglass’s own words, a flavor of what his Wellington audience was treated to one hundred and fifty years ago this very night. In 1867, he published “An Appeal to Congress for Impartial Suffrage,” in which he demanded the right to vote for citizens of color. “Man is the only government-making animal in the world. His right to a participation in the production and operation of government is an inference from his nature, as direct and self-evident as is his right to acquire property or education. It is no less a crime against the manhood of a man, to declare that he shall not share in the making and directing of the government under which he lives, than to say that he shall not acquire property and education. The fundamental and unanswerable argument in favor of the enfranchisement of the negro is found in the undisputed fact of his manhood. He is a man, and by every fact and argument by which any man can sustain his right to vote, the negro can sustain his right equally. It is plain that, if the right belongs to any, it belongs to all.”

Mystery Solved

1937 depot st fire.jpg

Photograph of the August 16, 1937 fire that destroyed the H.C. Otterbacher farm implement warehouse on Depot Street, which had formerly served as the so-called Old Free Church. Image courtesy of Mr. Alan L. Leiby.

Just weeks ago I posed the question, whatever happened to the Old Free Church? In that March post, I laid out the history of the structure, built on South Main Street to house an anti-slavery congregation during an 1850s schism in Wellington’s Congregational church. I traced the life of the building from its construction in 1852, up to the final record of it that I could locate, namely a 1933 Sanborn fire map. By that point in its existence, the little wooden building had been relocated to what is now Depot Street and was being used to store farm implements.

At the conclusion of the post, I asked if any readers remembered the building or knew its fate. Mr. Alan Leiby, creator and moderator of the Memory Lane Wellington Facebook page, quickly located two late-nineteenth-/early-twentieth-century images that featured small portions of the building. I appended both of those pictures to the original post. But recently Mr. Leiby located a third image (shown above). It depicts the same wood-frame structure in the process of burning down. No additional information was attached, though vehicles in the background of the shot suggest a date during or after the 1920s.

I located the Depot Street lot on an 1896 map of the village and determined that it was block 1, lot 74. Given that the building appeared to be intact as late as 1933 (though it was certainly possible that the original structure could have burned and been rebuilt on the same footprint), I picked the arbitrary date of 1930 and began to comb through village tax duplicates. Taxes are organized alphabetically by the last name of the land owner–which I did not know–so I had to scan through approximately seventy pages of returns looking for the correct block and lot numbers. And I found what I was looking for: Harry C. Otterbacher owned the lot in 1930, and all the subsequent years up to (and beyond) 1937, when I discovered the following:

1937 Wellington Village Tax Duplicates

1937 Wellington tax records for Harry C. Otterbacher. Note that the $1,000 valuation of a building on block 1, lot 74 has been manually crossed out and annotated “Bldg Burned.”

Knowing that a building fire occurred sometime in 1937, I began to search through the microfilmed issues of The Wellington Enterprise for that year. Fires and automobile accidents were almost always front-page news at that time, which made the search somewhat easier. And sure enough, on the Friday, August 20, 1937 issue, the headline announced, “FIREMEN BATTLE $20,000 BLAZE.” Proclaimed “the most spectacular fire” in the village in nearly a decade, the conflagration consumed the small farm implement warehouse and partially destroyed the adjoining two-story brick building. The newspaper noted that had the alarm sounded just moments later, the consequences for the “entire southwest business section” would have been catastrophic, as Wellington’s fire department would have been en route to Ashland, in response to a call for aid from that city in battling a blaze of its own.

Multi-page coverage of the fire included a (sadly murky) photograph of “dense clouds of smoke” pouring from the structure, as a consequence of 1,500 gallons of oil stored there. Otterbacher employees attempted to remove tractors and other equipment from the building as it burned, but the thick smoke quickly made recovery efforts impossible. It took nearly five hours to extinguish the fire that Monday afternoon. The heat was intense enough to ignite a telephone pole located more than twenty feet away from the building. Two gas stations across the street “were closed and gasoline was drained from the pumps because of the danger of explosion” (pg. 2).

The Enterprise published a three-column article in the same issue, detailing the history of the destroyed building. “Considerable speculation” had arisen as to its origins, the paper reported. No, it had not come from Huntington as some residents were suggesting. It was built on South Main Street as a church, later used as a “town hall and public meeting place,” then served as a carriage shop before ending its existence on Depot Street as a farm implement warehouse and sales room (pg. 4).

How I wish every mystery I have run across while writing this blog had concluded as neatly as this one!

Archibald Willard and Wellington Masonic Lodge #127

self-portrait-ca-1876

Self-portrait by Archibald Willard, completed circa 1876. Original work held in the collection of the Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, OH.

When I began writing this blog three years ago, I made two promises to myself. 1) I would never stray outside of the nineteenth century. 2) I would never write about Myron T. Herrick or Archibald Willard. The reason for this second promise was simply that Herrick and Willard are, by far, the best known figures from Wellington’s past, and both have had articles and books aplenty published about their lives. I did not feel that I could contribute anything new to either story, so I vowed to steer clear.

I can cheerfully report that I have since broken both of those promises, wandering back into the eighteenth century and forward into the twentieth…and beyond. I have even written about topics that brushed gently against the lives of both Herrick and Willard. But today I offer up something unprecedented: a post dedicated to the life of Archibald Willard and, I believe, on an aspect of his biography that has never before been documented.

Regular readers of the blog will recall that for some months past, I have made reference to an ongoing research project of a larger scale than that for my standard posts. Early in 2016, I was contacted by members of Wellington’s Masonic Lodge #127. They were about to come into possession of something wonderful: three enormous and previously unknown paintings by Archibald Willard. They wondered if I could assist them in researching the history of the pieces, and in having them “restored.” As it happens, I worked for a number of years at a regional art conservation center based in Cleveland. I put the lodge in contact with a talented, AIC-accredited paintings conservator and in March of this year we all came together to study these unusual objects.

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Paintings conservator Heather Galloway of Galloway Art Conservation examines one of three oversized Masonic tracing boards painted by Archibald Willard. Photo by author, taken March 3, 2016.

Wellington Lodge #127 has always known that Archibald Willard was once its member. They have beautiful, leather-bound ledger volumes from the nineteenth century that record his joining, and faithfully paying dues even years after he moved away from the village. But there is even more to be told about Willard’s connection with the Wellington Masons. And since October 11th is the 98th anniversary of his death, now seemed a perfect time to share that story.

The first meeting of a potential Masonic lodge in Wellington occurred in a garret under the eaves of the Wellington House–later called the American House–in 1844. It would be eleven more years before young Arch Willard, then aged nineteen, moved to the village with his family. The teenager had some nascent artistic talent, and got a job at Tripp’s Carriage Depot, where he was soon employed doing decorative painting on the vehicles. (He was also later employed by the Couch furniture company for the same purpose.)

September 13, 1858 is a day that is remembered in local and national history as the day of the Oberlin-Wellington Slave Rescue. What is less well remembered is the fact that so many people were present on the village green and able to participate in the famous rescue, because they were already there observing a large fire as it swept through the business block on the west side of South Main Street. Most of the buildings were completely destroyed, including the large brick building on the corner, owned by Dr. Eli Boies. By 1858, the Masons had relocated their meeting hall into Boies’ building, and consequently lost everything in the fire. It was to be the first of several such devastating fire events for the Wellington lodge.

Dr. John Rust also lost his wood-frame building in the September 13th fire. Masonic records indicate that in October, the lodge discussed the fact that “Do. J. Rust was about to rebuild his Drug Store and had offered the Lodge the priviledge [sic] of putting on the thrice Story he putting on the roof and the Lodge paying him One Hundred and fifty Dollars ground rent” (Wellington Masonic ledger, vol. 1, 10-26-1858 entry). The group voted to accept the offer, and began raising funds to pay for the third-floor addition.

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Image of the building erected in 1859 by Dr. John Rust, and later owned by Dr. John W. Houghton. This building housed Houghton’s Drug Store for a half-century, and the second floor was home to “The Wellington Enterprise” for decades while Houghton and his wife, Mary, were its co-editors. Wellington Masonic Lodge #127 occupied its third floor for forty-three years (note the Masonic symbol displayed on the third-floor facade). The building was demolished in the 1960s for what is now the Farm & Home parking lot. Photo 970885 of “Wellington Family Album” Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

The building was erected in 1859 and its third-floor Masonic Hall was dedicated and celebrated with a special event at the Congregational Church on January 17, 1860. The nation, meanwhile, was careening toward four years of war, during which time Archibald Willard would serve two tours of duty in the Union army, marry local girl Nellie Challacombe, and see the first of their five children born.

By 1866, the war had ended and Wellington’s Masons were already having problems with their facilities. The chief issue seems to have been inadequate space, and a committee was formed in June to determine “what a new Hall will cost, what we can sell our present Hall for~” (Masonic ledger, vol. 1, undated pre-6-30-1866 entry). Instead, less than a month later, the committee reported that conditions for building were “unfavorable” but “propositions have been made to enlarge our own Hall by extending to the west” (7-24-1866 entry). The lodge voted to agree to the extension proposal, and once again commenced fundraising to pay for the work.

On September 12, 1866, The Lorain County News reported that “the Masons are enlarging their hall by putting on twenty-one feet to the length and raising the roof, adding a Reading and Reception Room, which will make it a very fine Hall” (pg. 3). And then, for the first time, Archibald Willard makes an appearance in the records of the lodge, petitioning for membership on February 2, 1867. The committee formed to review his petition reported favorably, and he was elected into the lodge in March, when he was thirty years old.

One day after Willard’s election, the following notice appeared in The Lorain County News:

“Masonic Hall. The new Hall just finished by the Free Masons is one of the best in the State. The furniture, carpets, chandeliers &c., are all new and of a splendid quality. The walls and ceiling are frescoed in the finest manner. Four large paintings decorate the walls. The one in the east represents the rising sun reflecting its rays upon the ruins of castles on the distant hills. The one in the south represents midday with the trees and plants of the tropics. The north represents icebergs with a frail ship dashing among them and overtopping all is the Aurora Borealis sending up its glare to the blue sky above. The west represents rocky hills and extension [sic] plains, with wild scenes almost to the setting sun. The ceiling overhead represents the blue sky interspersed with clouds with twinkling stars glistening beautifully in the light of the splendid chandelier. Several miles of striping around the pannels [sic] on the walls and ceiling add greatly to the beauty of the whole—This work was done by our young townsman, Mr. A. Willard, and reflects great credit to him as an artist. The plans and designs of the hall and all its fixtures were mostly by Mr. L. Bowman who has been indefatigable in his labors to have every thing well done and in good taste. It will repay any one to visit this beautiful Hall” (3-20-1867, pg. 3).

The “Mr. L. Bowman” mentioned as being responsible for heading up the expansion and redecoration was Levi Bowman, a Jewish businessman born in Germany who was treasurer of the lodge. He and his wife raised eight children in Wellington, and Levi owned a clothing shop in the building immediately adjacent to Houghton’s. (Lepha Sherman Houghton was employed in Bowman’s shop when she moved from Massachusetts to Wellington; it was there she met married tailor Jack Brown and became pregnant with his child. She later died from a botched abortion attempt.) Bowman was a member of Lodge #127 for more than forty years, until he moved to Dayton just before the end of his life in 1900.

It is Levi Bowman’s name that is listed in Masonic records as the person who recommended Willard for membership in the lodge, and Willard’s profession is noted not as “mechanic,” as might be expected for someone working in a carriage shop in the period, but as “painter.” Masonic rituals and symbology were closely-held information in the mid-nineteenth century, and I am tempted to wonder if Willard in some sense had to become a Mason in order to secure the lucrative job of decorating their hall. He progressed through the three degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and finally Master Mason, finishing on May 21, 1867. On July 16th, a list of bills presented to the lodge for compensation included “One by A.M. Willard $75” (Wellington Masonic ledger, vol. 2, pg. 28). This was presumably the bill for painting services. But then on September 10th, this curious entry appears: “It was then moved, sec’d + carried by vote of Lodge that the fees for conferring the Degrees of E.A. F.C. + M.M. be remited [sic] to Bro. A.M. Willard” (pg. 33). I examined thirty years worth of Masonic records and this is the only instance I found of any member having his initiation fees returned by the lodge.

Willard paid annual dues to Lodge #127 until he withdrew in December of 1891, thirteen years after he left the village and moved his family to Cleveland. If he was an active member of the group during his residence in town, it is not reflected in existing records. I can find no mention of him ever serving as an officer–except for one day in 1872, when he stood in for an absent member. The only committee I found any reference to him serving on was also formed in 1872, to assess “the condition of the hall” (pg. 194). The building was experiencing water leaks, and it makes sense that the artist who painted the space was asked to inspect the impact on his work.

The Masons endured the water leaks, and another fire in 1881 that damaged, but did not destroy, the Houghton building. In 1900, a massive fire leveled the three-story brick building on the corner of Main Street and what is now West Herrick Avenue. A group of Masons decided to pool their resources and build a “splendid business house…The third floor is to be finished off into one large room, and would be ideal quarters for the Masonic fraternity, the members of which have hoped to secure it for the blue lodge and Chapter” (Wellington Enterprise, 3-26-1902, pg. 1). Ironically, as this modern edifice was being erected, the Masons’ first home in Wellington, the American House, was being demolished to make way for a new public library, a gift to the community from none other than Myron T. Herrick.

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Postcard image showing the relationship between the Houghton Building (far left) and the Reserve Building (far right). The Houghton building was demolished in the 1960s; the Reserve Building is still standing–and still home to Lodge #127–today. Postmarked January 1909. Author’s collection.

The Reserve Building was erected over the course of 1901 and 1902. In December 1902, The Wellington Enterprise reported that “the contract for finishing off the third floor of the new Reserve building will be let soon, and before spring the new Masonic quarters will be in readiness for the fraternity. When these rooms are finished Wellington Lodge F. & A.M. [i.e. Free and Accepted Masons] will be as comfortably quartered as any society in Lorain county” (12-24-1902, pg. 1) Unfortunately, there is a gap in the surviving copies of the Enterprise, so we know only that the Lodge was comfortably settled by the spring of 1904.

What, then, of the enormous paintings acquired by Lodge #127 this year? They have been donated by the lodge to the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, also known as the ‘Spirit of ’76’ Museum; the two groups are now working together to secure conservation funding. We know the panels were painted by Willard, as one of the three is signed by him. They appear to be Masonic tracing boards, teaching objects produced in groups of three and used for instruction within a lodge. The precise provenance of the panels has not yet been established; we can say only that they were painted by Willard and so must date within the span of his artistic career, ca. 1860 to 1918. My research is ongoing and will hopefully be the topic of a future post.

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“A meeting of Freemasons for the reception of apprentices: the junior warden introducing the candidate to be initiated and entered apprentice. Lithograph published 1st March 1812, by Thomas Palser, Surry Side, Westminster Bridge.” Early nineteenth-century depiction of an English Masonic initiation, showing a tracing board in use.

The Importance of Being Patient

Detail of Wellington 1857

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

The massively popular website GeneaBloggers has been running a program this year that it calls the “2016 Genealogy Do Over.” The basic premise of the program is to give oneself permission to set aside all previous assumptions made during years–if not decades–of genealogical research and start fresh. Reexamine your primary source material with clear eyes and see what new information presents itself.

I have often wondered what I would learn if I had the time to go back and reread all the materials I have gathered since 2005, in the larger context of what I (think I) know now. Through pure happenstance, in recent weeks I had two instances in which this very scenario occurred. I was looking at materials I had gathered for research on other topics, and found unrelated answers for which I had been searching.

The image above is a detail of Archibald Willard’s study, “Village of Wellington.” For ages I have been attempting to use documentary evidence to determine precisely what each of the depicted buildings was used for when the painting was made in 1857. Then, while gathering information for my recent post on Wellington’s Seminary, it suddenly struck me: the massive “Map of Lorain Co. Ohio From Actual Surveys by John F. Geil” was also created in 1857. And there, printed right on the map, is a clear set of labels indicating the purpose of every structure in the painting. The Wellington House hotel-later called the American House-sat on the intersection, with a book store and post office directly adjacent. Next came a store, followed by the Presbyterian Church, then the (second) town hall and finally the (first) Methodist Church.

Detail 1857 County Map

Detail of “Map of Lorain Co. Ohio From Actual Surveys by John F. Geil. 1857” showing the east side of South Main Street, Wellington, Ohio.

The second mystery I recently solved was perhaps of less general interest than the one described above, but was immensely satisfying for me. Early readers of the blog will recall that I began this research when my family bought an 1876 Italianate house on North Main Street in 2004, a house built by businessman Noah Huckins. Over the years I have learned an enormous amount about Huckins’ life story. I know that he was born in Canada; that he attended college at Baldwin University (now Baldwin Wallace University) in Berea, Ohio; that he enlisted in a Civil War regiment from Oberlin but only served three months; that he was a successful entrepreneur in both Wellington and Oberlin, where he died.

What I was never able to discover was what brought Huckins to Wellington after his military service. Then, again while reviewing materials for my recent post on the Wellington Seminary, I found a Lorain County News item on the state of Wellington schools during the war. Buried in seven paragraphs, I discovered eight words that answered my question. “Our schools for the past term, though taught in three different houses, have been managed on the plan of the ‘Union Schools,’ with a corps of four teachers, under the superintendence of N. Huckins of Berea, and it has proved a success beyond that of any former period in the history of Wellington schools” (emphasis added, 12-30-1863, pg. 3). So Huckins came to Wellington to serve as superintendent of the village’s educational system, and ended up staying for two decades. I had the answer in my grasp for who knows how long, but somehow missed it.

Speaking of the virtues of patience, I must beg the pardon of regular readers. I have been posting less frequently of late, but I hope for good reason. I have a few blog-related projects in the works at present, including two print publications and a possible exhibition. Most exciting, perhaps, is that my assistance has been requested on an upcoming conservation project involving three newly discovered panels painted by Archibald Willard. Local folks may have seen recent press coverage. All of that “tangential” research is taking a fair amount of time. But if the nineteenth-century history of Wellington is a topic that interests you, I trust your patience will ultimately be rewarded.

Willard panels

Candid snapshot of three oversized panels painted by Archibald Willard, on public display at Wellington’s Masonic Hall, May 22, 2016. Photo by author.