Category Archives: Commercial buildings

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!

Advertisements

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.

img_0203

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.

970885

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.

screen-shot-2016-09-25-at-11-04-41-am

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.

masonic-initiation-paris-1745

“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.

Foote & Barnard

Advertisement of the new firm Foote & Barnard.

Detail of advertisement for new firm Foote & Barnard. “Lorain County News,” 5-3-1865, pg. 3. Photo by author.

Being an entrepreneur in the nineteenth century was no easier than it is today. An oft-quoted modern statistic is that only about half of all small businesses survive their first five years. The dry goods store known as Foote & Barnard lasted barely eight months over the course of the year 1865, before catastrophe closed its doors forever.

I came across this story while I was conducting research in the Lorain County News on another topic. The Oberlin College Archives holds three ledger volumes once belonging to Wellington and Pittsfield merchants called Foote & Locke, composed between 1837 and 1846, so the name caught my attention. The short and unfortunate history of Foote & Barnard unfolded across just ten short notices and advertisements.

In March 1865, the dry goods firm Clarke & Foote announced its formal dissolution. C. S. Foote,  junior partner in the operation, published his intention to continue on “at the old stand” and became the senior partner in his new venture by bringing in one William Barnard, Esq. Less than two months later, the News reported, “We are sorry to hear that our friends and patrons, Messrs. Foote and Barnard, Merchants, were burned out last Thursday night, losing their entire stock of goods, and but partially insured, supposed the work of incendiaries” (5-10-1865, pg. 2).

A much longer description of the blaze appeared in the Wellington section of the following week’s paper. Fire was first discovered near “the butter room” and was believed to have been started by arsonists. Despite the lack of wind on the night of the fire, “the buildings being of wood and the contents so combustible, the fire rushed through it with great rapidity.” Adjacent structures were also in danger of being consumed. The stove and tinware shop owned by Orrin Sage, and the hardware store of Ethel Benedict, were both “greatly periled,” which provides strong evidence that Foote & Barnard operated out of the business block at the intersection of the village, the northeast corner of what is today Main Street and Herrick Avenue.

Formal dissolution of partnership notice for Foote & Barnard.

Formal dissolution of partnership notice for Foote & Barnard. “Lorain County News,” 1-24-1866, pg. 3. Photo by author.

Foote & Barnard’s overall financial loss was estimated to be as much as twenty-five thousand dollars, on which they had approximately seventeen thousand dollars insurance. In the immediate aftermath of the fire, the two men moved first to the basement of Benedict’s hardware store, just across Main Street, but soon after relocated to “the large building lately occupied by Belding & Harris as a shoe and grocery store.” (I believe this was on the north side of what is now West Herrick Avenue.) So much of their stock had been destroyed that they pleaded for time to “visit the eastern cities for more goods” so they could resume operations (5-17-1865, pg. 3).

But circumstances continued to worsen. The reconstruction of Foote & Barnard’s store had to be abandoned for the year because “brick for the purpose could not be obtained” (7-12-1865, pg. 3). By late October, the men began to weekly promote a going-out-of-business sale, noting in the advertisement that their old stock had burned and they had “determined to close” (11-22-1865, pg. 3). A formal dissolution of partnership was published in January, 1866, printed over a card of thanks from C. S. Foote to his former customers. He was retiring from business after more than twenty-five years.

Announcement of new firm, Rininger & Barnard.

Detail of announcement of new firm Rininger & Barnard. “Lorain County News,” 1-24-1866, pg. 3). Photo by author.

Mr. Foote had one more role to play in the history of Wellington. Upon retiring, he sold both his “fine residence” and his interest in the defunct dry goods store to William Rininger of Attica, Ohio. I have written about Rininger before. One of the village’s wealthiest and most irascible residents, he eventually owned the massive brick Italianate block erected on the site of Foote & Barnard’s burned wooden shop, selling it in 1882. But brick ultimately proved no more impervious to fire than wood. A half-century after Foote & Barnard lost everything in a single spring night, the so-called Rininger block also burned to the ground in 1915.

One Hundred Years Ago Today…

Fire destroying the building known as the Rininger Block or the Horr Block, 1915. Photo courtesy of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, "The Spirit of '76" Museum.

Fire destroying the building known as the Rininger Block or the Horr Block, 1915. Photo courtesy of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, “The Spirit of ’76” Museum.

I’ve often joked on this blog that I stay as far away from the twentieth century as possible, but given the anniversary nature of this event, I felt safe. A century ago this very day, the three-story Italianate building known as both the Rininger Block and the Horr Block burned to the ground over the night of Wednesday, February 24th and into the early morning hours of Thursday, February 25th, 1915. It was one of the largest fires in the history of the village.

Papers in nearby Elyria and Medina reported breathlessly on the catastrophic occurrence. “WELLINGTON VILLAGE VISITED BY A DISASTROUS FIRE IN ITS BUSINESS SECTION” shouted the front page of The Elyria Chronicle on Thursday morning. The Chronicle noted that in addition to the destruction of the massive structures, “The wall of the Horr building fell into the street and heavily damaged the cable and wires of the Wellington Telephone Co., putting a large part of the village out of telephone service.” By the day after the fire, the front page of the Elyria Evening Telegram was dominated by photographs of the conflagration in progress, including the image at the top of this post.

Building known as both the Rininger block and the Horr block, which burned in 1915. Formerly located on the northern corner of Main Street and Mechanics Street (now East Herrick Avenue). Image must have been taken after 1882, as the tin cornice of the second Rininger store is visible on the right side. Photo courtesy of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, "The Spirit of '76" Museum.

Building known as both the Rininger block and the Horr block, which burned in 1915. Formerly located on the northern corner of Main Street and Mechanics Street (now East Herrick Avenue). Image must have been taken after 1882, as the tin cornice of the second Rininger store is visible on the right side. Photo courtesy of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, “The Spirit of ’76” Museum.

The Wellington Enterprise had published its weekly edition as normal on Wednesday, so it was seven days before the next issue featured local coverage of the fire. Given the passage of time, the reporting was a bit more subdued. An entire column of “Fire Notes,” published in the March 3rd edition, was simply a list of one-line observations on the scene. It feels rather stream-of-consciousness, as if the writer–or the town–was in shock. “For a day or so after the fire, East Main street as far as the postoffice [sic] resembled a foggy day in London as far as atmospheric conditions were concerned,” read one note. Another mentioned the truant officer pulling “fascinated school youngsters” away from the scene. A third line reflected on what might have happened had the fire occurred while the water supply was low. And so forth.

The damage was immense. In addition to the loss of the three-story block itself–as well as the inventories of the multiple stores that filled it–the wooden buildings on the east side of North Main Street were condemned, including the “old laundry building” formerly occupied by Wah Sing. Many nearby glass windows were shattered from the heat of the blaze. The telephone lines were damaged as noted, leaving the town without communication. Dynamite, and eventually the Interurban street car, was used to pull down the dangerously teetering brick walls still standing after the blaze. The work of cleaning up the downtown began immediately and the Enterprise was already reporting by March 3rd that “from its ashes there will arise a modern block of two stories in the near future” (pg. 2).

The two-story building that replaces the Rininger or Horr Block, currently standing on the northeast corner of Main Street and Herrick Avenue. Photo by author.

The two-story building that replaced the Rininger or Horr Block, currently standing on the northeast corner of Main Street and Herrick Avenue. Photo by author.

In the months that followed, the cause of the disaster became clearer. A local merchant, F. C. Bixler, confessed to starting the fire and was indicted in mid-April. He owned a store fifty miles to the southeast in Dalton, Ohio, that he was finding impossible to sell, and his Wellington store–located in the destroyed block–was not proving profitable. Early reports noted that Bixler had very little insurance, so his motive seems to have been to free himself from his legal obligations to the Wellington venture and return to his family and work in Dalton. It is likely that his intention was only to damage his own shop beyond repair. By early May, Bixler was convicted of arson and sentenced to “an indefinite term in the Ohio penitentary [sic]. If he behaves well, possibly he may be paroled or pardoned at the end of a few years servitude” (Enterprise, 5-5-1915, pg. 4).

The life of the village went on. The debris was eventually cleared away and plans were drafted for a new edifice. E. E. Watters was a businessman who suffered the heaviest losses in the fire, estimated at nearly $35,000. He had insufficient insurance to cover at least one-third of the reserve stock of his dry goods and general store, and had just received a new shipment of items for the spring selling season that was totally uncovered. But he vowed to reopen on the same site and by April 21st, the newspaper announced that he had leased the entire lot for twenty-five years, with an option to buy. From then on, the site became known as the Watters Block.

Detail of an advertisement for E.E. Watters' store, featuring a cartoon depiction of the Horr Block burning as firemen rush to save valuable Hoosier Kitchen Cabinets (the items being promoted). "The Wellington Enterprise," 6-9-1915, pg. 1. Photo by author.

Detail of an advertisement for E. E. Watters’ store, featuring a cartoon depiction of the Horr Block burning as firemen rush to save Hoosier Kitchen Cabinets (the items being promoted). “The Wellington Enterprise,” 6-9-1915, pg. 1. Photo by author.

 

Hoyt & Peters

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

Trade card for Hoyt & Peters, Wellington, Ohio. Possibly ca. 1886. Card measures 3 1/4″ square. Author’s collection.

I LOVE trade cards. I once worked in a library at Harvard that had a marvelous trade card collection. If you are unfamiliar with the term, dear reader, trade cards are small, paper advertisements that were widely distributed by businesses in the nineteenth century. They were often beautifully colored and illustrated, and became popular keepsakes collected by the general public. As a consequence, many have survived, including this little gem from a furniture store that operated in Wellington in the 1880s and 1890s. Researching the company has raised several interesting questions for me, even while it has apparently resolved one of my outstanding mysteries.

Norton G. Hoyt and David J. Peters were brothers-in-law; Norton was married to David’s sister, Hannah. The two families were apparently quite close. In addition to being business associates, the two vacationed together and at one point even shared a residence. What is unclear to me is of precisely what nature their working partnership was, and how it evolved over time.

The first evidence I find linking Hoyt and Peters professionally appears in an Enterprise notice from 1884. “Hoyt & Peters, and E. S. Tripp, have put new iron roo[f]s, on what was the warerooms, and wood and paint shop; painted the outside, and fitted up the interior in good style. Hoyt & Woolley, will be installed in their new quarters, in a few days. Mr. Tripp has already arranged his carriages in his former wood shop, making a fine display. He is also making extensive additions and repairs on his dwelling” (7-16-1884, pg. 5). I have written before about the Tripp carriage works and the uncertain fate of its westernmost building. I believe Hoyt and Peters purchased that building and renovated it to serve as a furniture store and undertaking business, when Edward Tripp “downsized” into his smaller, eastern building (still standing today at 129 East Herrick Avenue.) But the furniture shop that opened in 1884 was not Hoyt & Peters, but rather Hoyt & Woolley.

Printed advertisements from that period indicate that Hoyt & Woolley were in operation for about two years. During that time, “Mr. D. Peters” was also advertising that he was the exclusive agent selling something called the “Delaware County Creamer, a full size sample of which may be seen at Hoyt & Woolley’s Cabinet rooms” (Enterprise, 1-14-1885, pg. 5). By 1886, W. B. Woolley publicly announced his own retirement and the dissolution of the partnership.

Advertisement for Hoyt & Peters. "The Wellington Enterprise," 4-7-1886, pg. 7. Photo by author.

Advertisement for Hoyt & Peters. “The Wellington Enterprise,” 4-7-1886, pg. 7. Photo by author.

In the spring of 1886, regular advertisements began appearing for “Hoyt & Peters, Successors to Hoyt & Woolley.” Unfortunately, several issues of the newspaper do not survive from that crucial moment of transition, so we do not have the benefit of a published announcement explicitly stating who the new partners were and the nature of their business relationship. We can tell from the ads that the new furniture business continued to operate “at the old stand on the north side of Mechanic Street,” namely the former Tripp carriage depot. The year 1886 was also the only time I ever saw specific ads indicating that Hoyt & Peters sold “Pioneer Prepared Paints,” the product featured in the trade card above. This is why I am conjecturing that the trade card dates to that year.

Advertisement for Pioneer Prepared Paints, as sold by Hoyt & Peters. "The Wellington Enterprise," 4-7-1886, pg. 7. Photo by author.

Advertisement for Pioneer Prepared Paints, as sold by Hoyt & Peters. “The Wellington Enterprise,” 4-7-1886, pg. 7. Photo by author.

Three years later, a lengthy business description was published about “HOYT & BENSCHOTEN, FURNITURE AND UNDERTAKING. This firm is composed of N. G. Hoyt and J. M. Benschoten, who entered into partnership in 1886. The large three story brick structure used for their business stands on Mechanic street, near the north-east corner of the square…This is one of the old established business enter prises [sic] of the town, Mr. Hoyt having been in business in Wellington since 1860” (6-5-1889, pg. 8). What exactly was the connection between Hoyt & Benschoten and Hoyt & Peters? The ultimate fate of the Tripp building offers us a clue.

Just four months after the article above was printed, a news item appeared describing a rather extraordinary sequence of events. A man called C. H. Horton began the excavation process necessary to erect a new building on Mechanics Street. His adjacent neighbor was “the building formerly owned by E. S. Tripp, but now by Hoyt & Peters.” Very soon after the digging began, it became apparent that the former carriage depot was “giving way” and likely to fall down entirely. Earth removal was halted immediately and the workmen were redirected to shore up the endangered structure, but to no avail. “[I]ndications were that the north end would fall before many hours.” It seemed prudent to evacuate the building, so “Messrs. Hoyt & Benschoten decided to remove their furniture to a more secure place.” A group of volunteers relocated the entire stock to any available storage spaces around the village, including the basement of the nearby American House hotel. “This is quite a hard blow to Hoyt & Peters and Hoyt & Benschoten, as their building is not only unfitted for further use, but it disarranges their furniture and undertaking business” (Enterprise, 10-16-1889, pg. 5). Early the next week, the decision was made to demolish the former carriage depot and rebuild a modern structure on the same location.

I noted in my earlier post on the Tripp building that I had located a notice marking its apparent demolition in October 1889. The same piece mentioned that the foundation for C. H. Horton’s building had been laid. My hypothesis that Horton was the owner of the Tripp building, and the builder of its successor, was incorrect. Horton was, in fact, the unwitting author of its destruction. But the erectors and owners of the subsequent occupant of that land, currently 121-123 East Herrick Avenue, were Norton Hoyt and David Peters.

Detail of 1890 Wellington Corporation tax record. Shows the erection of a new building valued at $1,150 on the Hoyt & Peters lots located on Mechanic Street (today called East Herrick Avenue).

Detail of 1890 Wellington Corporation tax record. Shows the erection of a new building valued at $1,150 on the Hoyt & Peters lots located on Mechanics Street. The lot listed as belonging exclusively to N. G. Hoyt was his private residence, which once stood on the west corner of Courtland and Mechanics Streets (current site of Wellington Auto Service).

So what was the precise nature of this business relationship between Hoyt and Peters? Certainly they owned property in common. Was Peters also a stand-by partner for the furniture business when no other option was available? In 1891, two small advertisements were printed side-by-side in the Enterprise. The notice on the left indicated that if anyone wished to purchase fifty bushels of hand-picked beans, they ought to “enquire of D. J. Peters, at N. Hoyt’s furniture store.” The notice on the right was placed by Hoyt, offering to sell his residence and “the entire stock of furniture, and undertaking business of Hoyt & Benschoten, on very liberal terms.” His stated reason for wishing to sell was “the continued illness of Mrs. Hoyt” (2-25-1891, pg. 5). Norton does not appear to have been successful in his offer, but perhaps Hannah’s sickness was the cause of the two families deciding to cohabitate, which they were doing by at least 1893.

In the summer of 1895, Hoyt and Peters officially announced that they were (re)forming their store partnership. But that arrangement was short-lived. By the time a lengthy description of the operation was published in the Enterprise in June 1897, the brothers-in-law had already sold the shop. The description is worth quoting at some length: “HOYT & PETERS. Monday last I visited the furniture store of Hoyt & Peters. This in my judgment, is the leading furniture establishment of Wellington. The building is one of the finest business structures in the town and is centrally located on Main street [Mechanics Street was later called “East Main”], nearly fronting the beautiful square. N. G. Hoyt of the firm has been in business here in Wellington for forty years and two years ago associated with himself D. J. Peters…The establishment has two stories and the stock is arranged so that every article in both warerooms can be examined advantageously by the customer…This business has been sold to H. W. Bennett, who will succeed the old firm of Hoyt & Peters, and also add the undertaking business” (6-30-1897, pg. 7).

Advertisement for Leander R. Porter's undertaking and embalming operation, located within Hoyt & Peters' furniture store. "The Wellington Enterprise," 4-29-1896, pg. 4. Photo by author.

Advertisement for Leander R. Porter’s undertaking and embalming operation, located within Hoyt & Peters’ furniture store. “The Wellington Enterprise,” 4-29-1896, pg. 4. Photo by author.

The furniture shop had included an undertaking component since its earliest days. (Couch’s furniture shop on South Main Street also performed funerary services; coffins had, after all, been made of wood until quite recently.) In fact, J. M. Benschoten was a graduate of Clark’s School of Embalming in Cleveland. “[H]e is prepared to guarantee that bodies embalmed by the process he uses may be kept for any length of time without regard to the condition of the weather” (6-5-1889, pg. 8). David Peters apparently did not share an aptitude for all things mortuary; when he took over the partnership, a Wellington man named Leander R. Porter was contracted to manage that side of the operation.

After nearly four decades as a Wellington businessman, Norton Hoyt relocated his family to Norwalk, Ohio in 1897. I found several notices of the Hoyts returning to the village on visits; they were always reported to be staying with the Peters family. The two men apparently decided to make their association, dare I say, eternal. They are interred in adjacent plots in Wellington’s Greenwood Cemetery.

Headstones of the Hoyt and Peters families, at Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Headstones of the Hoyt and Peters families, at Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

 

“A Modern Home In Every Respect”

326 South Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

326 South Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

“MR. CAMP’S NEW RESIDENCE. Mr. Ferd Camp has his plans ready and is now awaiting the arrival of the brick, when he expects to begin the erection of his new brick residence on grounds fronting South Main street, and directly in front of his large barn. It will be a modern home in every respect, although it will not be so very large, the size being 38×32, one story and a half high, but the building will be extra well built and will cost him at least $6,000 when completed. The old tennis grounds, that have afforded much pleasure to lovers of the game in years agone, will soon be occupied by a handsome home for our good friend. May himself and wife live long to enjoy the same” (The Wellington Enterprise, 5-3-1916, pg. 1).

When Fergus and Julia Camp decided to move from their four-hundred-acre horse farm in Homer to the more urban setting of Wellington in 1906, they purchased the three-story home and grounds belonging to O. P. Chapman. (They left their only son in charge of the farm in Homer, though Fergus made frequent trips back to participate in harvesting and horse sales.) Camp was a wealthy man and even before relocating to the village, he commissioned “quite elaborate” improvements to the South Main Street property, which was then only twenty-five years old. The tennis courts mentioned in the notice above may have been one such addition.

Wellington, Ohio from a postcard cancelled in 1906, the year Fergus and Julia Camp moved to town. Postcard images were often reused for many years, but this picture could have been taken no earlier than 1904 (the year the Reserve Building was completed). Author's collection.

Wellington, Ohio from a postcard cancelled in 1906, when Fergus and Julia Camp moved to town. Postcard images were frequently reprinted, but this picture could have been taken no earlier than 1902, the year the Reserve Building was completed. Author’s collection.

By 1906, the Camps were both in their sixties. Fergus–called “Ferd” by his friends–was a white-bearded, wiry man who had lost a hand in a combine accident. I conducted an oral history with a gentleman who knew Camp at the end of his life, when he himself was a boy. He described Camp as a womanizer, drinker and gambler, though I have been unable (not surprisingly) to find published accounts that substantiate those assertions. He knew that Camp had lost a hand, and recalled that he often wore a hook in its place, and held the reins on his horses with the opposite hand.

Camp’s wealth enabled him to pursue his passion, raising Percherons. I noted in my previous post that the story of O. P. Chapman’s carriage house had become a bit garbled as it was passed down the generations. By the time my family came to own it, we were told that Fergus Camp had built it to house trotter horses, which he raced on a track that was later adapted into the present-day circular driveway. While I am by no means an expert in matters equestrian, my understanding is that Percherons are renowned as draft horses, used both on farms and also to pull earlier forms of public transportation. I do not know if the story about the track is accurate, but I do know that the barn predates Camp’s occupation. He did not build it, though it may have been what convinced him to buy the Chapman property.

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.

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 toddler. Author’s collection.

Fergus Camp was one of the first residents of Wellington to own an automobile, possibly as early as 1906. He seems to have used the car for the routine trips back to Homer. “Mr. Camp handles his auto with ease and grace, and by the way, he has a smart car, with plenty of power,” the paper reported in 1911. That same year, Ferd became one of the founders of the Wellington Motor Club. There were just eleven members in total, of whom three were doctors, which perhaps suggests the socio-economic status required to own and operate such a vehicle at that time. (In 1911, a new Ford cost between $600 and $1,200.) “The principal object of the Club is to obtain the written pledges of candidates and present members of the Board of County Commissioners, that the 4-mile stretch of quagmire and holes, called a ‘main road,’ between Wellington and Pittsfield be ‘piked’ the coming summer” (Enterprise, 11-22-1911, pg. 7). Five years later, Camp’s car was hit by a train at Spencer. “It was smashed some,” a reporter noted dryly, but the seventy-one-year-old driver somehow escaped uninjured.

In 1915, just nine years after the Camps purchased the Chapman residence and moved to Wellington, they decided to build a brand new home. That summer, the family sold 318 South Main Street to Charles Jones of Brighton. But they held onto the adjoining land and carriage house. Their plan was to build a modern, Craftsman-style bungalow on the lot, then occupied by their own tennis courts.

Oddly, the Camps opted to sell their home before construction on the new building had even started. Instead, they moved directly across the street into a small wooden house previously owned by the late Calvin Sage. Sage had been a longtime insurance agent (Noah Huckins was part of his firm in the 1880s), and according to the 1870 federal census, he had lived with Oren and Ella Chapman in Huntington before they all relocated and became neighbors in Wellington. Sage’s home is still known today as the Huntington House, as the Greek Revival structure was supposedly transported from that town sometime after the railroad came through Wellington in the mid-nineteenth century. Fergus and Julia Camp would be tenants in the house for nearly eighteen months.

Calvin Sage. Photo courtesy of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, "The Spirit of '76" Museum.

Calvin Sage. Photo courtesy of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, “The Spirit of ’76” Museum.

409 South Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. The so-called "Huntington House" once owned by Calvin Sage and temporary home to Fergus and Julia Camp.

409 South Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. The so-called “Huntington House” once owned by Calvin Sage and temporary home to Fergus and Julia Camp.

Weather during the building season of 1916 was poor, and bricklayers were difficult to employ, because the Union School was erecting a large brick addition that same year. It was almost twelve months after a notice first appeared in print announcing Camp’s intention to build the bungalow that the Enterprise finally reported “the Camp residence begins to look like home” (9-27-1916, pg. 2). Over the course of the following six months, wiring was installed, the grounds were landscaped, and “Mr. Ad. Wadsworth” was employed as the decorator and painter of the house. The last notice I have located pertaining to the construction reported that “Culver” had just finished laying a stone walkway from the porch to the street in July 1917.

Fergus and Julia were finally able to occupy their residence in February 1917. They were both more than seventy years old, which may account for the origin of the “retirement home” story I mentioned in my previous post. All the published notices during the building process stressed the beauty, modernity and costliness of the new structure. The Craftsman style had become very popular in early-twentieth-century America, a clean-lined and elegant response to the clutter and fussiness of Victorian architecture and decor. Though we do not know precisely how much the house cost to build and furnish, the 1930 federal census estimated the value of the Camps’ bungalow at $10,000. By comparison, the much larger house that Camp sold to Charles Jones at 318 South Main Street was estimated to be worth just $6,000. (It is possible that the value of the carriage house accounts for this difference, but the census question does specifically ask for “value of home.”)

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

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

Original basement sink of 326 South Main Street. Possibly made of soapstone and stamped, "F. M. Camp / Wellington, Ohio." Photo by author.

Original cellar sink of 326 South Main Street. Possibly made of soapstone and stamped, “F. M. CAMP / WELLINGTON OHIO.” Photo by author.

Julia Low Camp died in her modern bungalow in 1936. She was ninety and had celebrated her sixty-eighth wedding anniversary a few months before. Fergus Camp survived his wife by just twelve weeks; he was ninety-one when he passed away in the house. The gentleman with whom I conducted the oral history asserted that Camp died heavily in debt. Court papers filed two years before his demise show the estimated value of his personal property–including ninety-four sheep, stock in the First Wellington Bank, the dwelling in Wellington and the farm in Homer–at $23,900. Attorney (and later amateur historian) Robert Walden petitioned the court to sell ninety of the sheep and some miscellaneous farm equipment “for the support and maintenance of his said ward and his family and for the payment of some of his debts,” but made no mention of a necessity of selling the more valuable real estate assets.

Camp’s probate documents include a room-by-room inventory of the contents of the bungalow in 1936. Notable items included a “marbletop” table; a clock and “statue”; a Victrola and records; a piano and bench valued at $15; oil paintings; an ice box in the kitchen; a washing machine in the cellar; and a “Buick car” parked in the barn worth $10. Camp’s Wellington lots were appraised at $8,500 at the time of his death.

According to my oral history subject, the bungalow was then auctioned “by invitation” to local businessmen. The sale was reportedly conducted in the dining room. The winning bidder was a man named Florian Schweller (1898-1976), an immigrant from Austria-Hungary who owned several enterprises in town over the course of his life, including the Wellington Candy Company at 122 West Herrick Avenue. Schweller had known Fergus Camp, but fearing possible prejudice against foreigners, he sent a representative to the auction and bought the house anonymously. The Schweller family occupied the little brick residence for almost fifty years. To this day, three decades later, the house is still known to many people in Wellington as “the old Schweller place.”

Interior view of the Schweller family's candy shop on West Herrick Avenue (present location of Fort's Old Towne Tavern), ca. 1926. Photo 970431 of "Wellington Family Album" Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

Interior view of the Schweller family’s candy shop at 122 West Herrick Avenue (present location of Fort’s Old Towne Tavern), dated May 1926. Photo 970431 of “Wellington Family Album” Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

I have one final coda to add to my tale of the Camp family’s thoroughly modern home. On State Route 18, just west of the village, is a small brick bungalow that is its mirror-image; the floor plan is identical, but reversed. That house was built for a man called Winfield McConnell, perhaps around 1925. I have spoken with the present owners, as well as members of the McConnell family. Not much is known about the history of that house, though it is believed to have been constructed by Delton Mohrman, McConnell’s nephew. Mohrman was a “jack-of-all-trades,” a farmer, carpenter and builder in the non-growing seasons. I do not know if Win McConnell and Ferd Camp knew one another. It has been suggested to me that the two bungalows were assembled from identical kits, but I am not sure if that makes sense given Camp’s wealth and the emphasis in the written record on how expensive (and slow) his new construction was going to prove. If the first house was not a kit, did McConnell visit and like the look of it? Did he ask Camp to share building plans? Or was Delton Mohrman somehow involved in the construction of Camp’s house and then shared his knowledge with his uncle?

What a wonderful centennial birthday gift to our bungalow it would be if I could learn more.