Category Archives: Genealogy

“Sailing Under False Colors”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatever Happened to the Old Free Church?

Old Free Church 8-28-1901 p. 2

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

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

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

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

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

Detail of old free church

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

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

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

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

1874 Town Hall

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

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

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

WE 2-19-1890, pg. 1

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

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

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

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

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

Sanborn June 1904

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

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

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

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

west liberty st post-1904

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

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

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

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

Old Free Church as Wagon Shop

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

“Novelties in Art”

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

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

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

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

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

JWWilbur

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

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

WmVischerFrontVischerBack

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

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

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

Happy Birthday, Dear House

326 So Main Date Unknown

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

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

Fergus & Julia Camp in front of porch 1923

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

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

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

julia-camp-1926

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

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

 

Ta Da! New Blog Feature!

17b

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

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

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

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

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.

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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 Silent Bell

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Bell manufactured by Meneely’s Foundry, West Troy, New York. Undated object held in the collection of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

A few months ago, I published a lengthy post on the Seminary, a school first founded in 1849 for the young women of Wellington. While conducting research for that essay, I ran across the following quote: “[Miss Eliza Hamilton] sold the building to the village which moved it to 112 Adams Street where it was converted into a residence…The school bell was removed and placed in the union school building on South Main Street built in 1867-68. Years later it was given to the ‘Spirit of ’76’ Museum” (Henes, Historic Wellington Then and Now, pg. 11-12).

This little anecdote about a bell that allegedly came from the Seminary remained in the back of my mind. Yesterday, I had occasion to visit the ‘Spirit of ’76’ Museum. They have recently put together a nice exhibition related to Wellington’s schools, commemorating the demolition of McCormick Middle School–formerly the Union School mentioned in the quote above. And there, prominently displayed, is a lovely bronze bell.

The bowl of the bell is encircled with the words “Meneely’s Foundry, West Troy, N.Y.” There is no date indicated. The overall object is about 31″ high (to the top of the metal wheel) and the mouth of the bell is 18″ in diameter. The entire apparatus is mounted on a wooden frame that appears to be original, though with a few replacement nuts and bolts.

As it happens, Meneely is a very well-known name in the world of bell manufacturing. The company was founded in 1826 by Andrew Meneely in West Troy, New York (today called Watervliet). It is likely no accident that Meneely chose to start such a business in a town that sat on the newly opened Erie Canal; bells can be extremely heavy objects and the convenience of moving them by water and then rail is mentioned in Meneely catalogs late into the nineteenth-century. The Meneely Foundry is sometimes referred to as the first or oldest bell manufacturer in the United States, but it would be more accurate to say that it was the oldest continuously-operating bell foundry when it closed its doors in 1951.

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“A View of the Erie Canal at West Troy.”

Andrew Meneely ran the foundry until his death in 1851. His two oldest sons took over the business and operated it as Andrew Meneely’s Sons until 1863, when they felt confident enough of their own reputations to change the name once again to E.A. & G.R. Meneely. A younger brother founded his own competing bell foundry in adjacent Troy, New York, and the two older brothers sued to block his use of the family name. Their efforts were not ultimately successful, but left some very interesting reading in the form of court proceedings. Both Meneely bell companies remained in family hands and the two are said to have produced more than 65,000 bells over the course of their operations. Meneely catalogs can still be found in special collections departments, particularly in New York libraries. I was fortunate to find one from 1876 digitized.

In the court proceedings of “Meneely v. Meneely,” it is noted that plaintiffs E.A. & G.R. Meneely “have cast upon the bells manufactured by them…’Meneelys[‘], West Troy, N.Y.'” (New York Supreme Court Reports, 1874, Vol 3. pg. 544). Illustrations from the 1876 catalog confirm the same specific wording, which grammatically indicates more than one Meneely in the business. Remember, though, that the bell in the museum reads, “Meneely’s Foundry,” which grammatically indicates a single owner. Anecdotal evidence, in the form of a small sample of dated bells across the country, suggests that the museum’s singular wording was most commonly used on bells dating ca. 1850.

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Illustration from “Meneely & company, bell-founders, West Troy, N.Y….” (1876) pg. 9. This type of bell is described as ideal for academies, i.e. schools. It not only has a rope over the wheel for easier ringing, but also a “Rotary Yoke, which permits the bell to be turned in a moment so as to cause the clapper to strike in a new place when desired” and not wear out the bell metal too quickly.

It is worth noting that this was not the only Meneely bell in Wellington. In 1879, when the Congregational Church was dedicated, The Wellington Enterprise ran a detailed budget of its construction expenses. Included in the account was “Bell-Menerly & Kimberly, Troy, N.Y.” The bell was grouped in a line item with the organ and unspecified “furnishing” totaling $4,150 (4/10/1879, pg. 2). This bell was produced by the rival manufacturing firm of Meneely & Kimberly, founded in 1870 by younger brother Clinton Meneely, defendant in the 1874-75 litigation mentioned above. The 1876 Congregational Church burned down just two decades later; I do not know the fate of the bell. If it survived the fire, it is quite possibly hanging on South Main Street to this day.

So what do we know? The Seminary was founded in 1849. It was sold by Eliza Hamilton to the village in 1864, but remained in use as a public primary school until it was sold (and ultimately became a private residence) in 1876. That would seem the logical point at which a school bell might have transferred to the relatively new Union School, completed in late 1867. Unfortunately, we have no known documentary evidence nor any photographs of Eliza Hamilton’s school that might confirm the presence of the bell on its grounds. The object itself has no date, though preliminary anecdotal evidence suggests it was manufactured ca. 1850. For now, at least, the bell remains tantalizingly silent.

To see twentieth-century film footage of Meneely bell production, visit: part one and part two.

UPDATE: Apparently Wellington is chock full of Meneely bells! As I was driving by the Town Hall this morning, I suddenly had an “Ah ha!” moment. Sure enough, upon closer inspection I discovered that the large bell mounted in front of that building is also a Meneely bell…and it is dated! Around the bowl is cast the inscription, “Meneelys Bell Foundry West Troy, N.Y. 1847.” I wonder how many more we might discover if we peeked into the belfries of some local churches?

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1847 Meneely bell mounted in front of Wellington’s Town Hall. Photo by author.