Category Archives: Italianate

Farewell, Union School

Architectural detail of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Architectural detail of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Back in January 2014, I wrote a post about the Union School, built in 1867. Over time, the stately brick Italianate was obscured behind multiple additions, and the overall structure is today known as McCormick Middle School. When I wrote that post nearly two years ago, plans were afoot to construct a new middle school and demolish this building. That plan has now come to fruition. The new building is complete on the north side of town, and the old one is due to be torn down by year’s end.

Today, the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, i.e. The Spirit of ’76 Museum, sponsored an open house at the school that they called, “The Last Lunch.” They opened the building up to the public for self-directed and guided tours, while serving a free final lunch to the community in the cafeteria. Tonight there is a farewell dance in the gymnasium. It was a wonderful event and the school was full of people, taking photographs of their former classrooms and reminiscing over childhood adventures.

Exterior view of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Exterior view of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

I am not a Wellington native and never attended McCormick. Instead, I was hunting for evidence of the nineteenth-century core of the complex. While the original Italianate structure is clearly identifiable on the exterior, there is virtually no evidence of it inside. All architectural details, including a central, curving wooden staircase, have been eradicated or hidden behind drop ceilings, drywall, and decades of paint.

Architectural detail of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Architectural detail of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Though the Italianate section of the building looks rather large from the outside, it is comprised of only two floors: the ground level is almost entirely filled by the cafeteria, and the second story has two large classrooms, with curving walls that proved impossible to effectively photograph. The central staircase was apparently entirely enclosed in stages over the course of the twentieth century due to fears of fire.

Former exterior wall of the Union School, now enclosed in the basement of a later addition. Photo by author.

Former exterior wall of the Union School, now enclosed in the basement of a later addition to McCormick Middle School. Photo by author.

McCormick Middle School is scheduled to come down in the next two to three months. For the first time since 1867, that plot of land on South Main Street will sit unoccupied. At about the same time, the new railroad underpass will open; for the first time since 1850, vehicles will move unobstructed by train traffic through the center of the village. It is the end of a Wellington era, in more ways than one.

Exterior view of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Exterior view of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

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.

 

Changes Afoot

Detail of a Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for Wellington, Ohio dated February, 1933. Shows the house at 600 North Main Street, and its northern and eastern adjacent neighbors. OhioLINK Digital Resource Commons. Accessed 1-26-2014.

Detail of a Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for Wellington, Ohio dated February, 1933. Shows the house at 600 North Main Street, and its northern and eastern adjacent neighbors. OhioLINK Digital Resource Commons. Accessed 1-26-2014.

I am violating my self-imposed ban on writing about anything in the twentieth century, so that I can offer a concluding chapter on the evolution of the Italianate at 600 North Main Street. I mentioned several months ago that I toured the house with an architectural historian and that many of the alterations he observed in the building occurred after Noah Huckins and Sereno Bacon owned it. This is the story of those changes.

When Sereno’s widow, Mary Bacon, died in 1909, her two living children sold the Italianate to an elderly widow and her youngest daughter. Aura and Edna Perkins took possession of the house, barn, and two lots of land. According to 1910 corporation tax records, the house was then valued at $540 and the barn at $90.

I know very little about Aura Perkins, except that she was a writer who published at least five poems I have found in The Wellington Enterprise. One seems particularly appropriate to this post. It was entitled, ” Beautiful Home,” and read in part: “O the beautiful homes of earth!/Our hearts are filled with pride/As we travel on thro’ the noonday heat,/Or pause at the even tide./The mansion that stately stands–/The cot by the dusty road–/All bear the print of the loving hands/That set up this best abode…” (9-16-1880, pg. 3). Like all of her poems, this one ultimately had a religious theme.

Daughter Edna never married. She spent her working life as a clerk or manager of local shops. In 1916, Rogers and Bill advertised: “We have arranged to leave our store in charge of Miss Edna B. Perkins as manager” (10-11-1916, pg. 5). When she died, her obituary noted that she was “for many years an employee of the E. E. Watters dry goods store” (2-16-1942, pg. 1).

In 1915, Aura and Edna sold off the lot and barn east of the house, fronting Lincoln Street. I do not know if this was due to financial difficulties, but in April of that same year they placed an advertisement in the newspaper offering furnished rooms in exchange for light housekeeping. And it is at just this historical moment that changes begin to appear inside the house.

The modifications suggest an intentional transformation of the residence into two separate living spaces. During the period from about 1910 to 1915, the kitchen was modernized; the back porch and washroom were enclosed and transformed into a downstairs bathroom; a built-in linen closet and chest of drawers (added inside a closet) were installed on the second floor. A second bathroom was created inside a small bedroom closet upstairs, and a tiny second-floor room shows evidence of plumbing work associated with a kitchenette. Most tellingly, an awkward back door was installed in place of a window, with direct and separate access to the second floor.

Undated image of Owen Prosser at work in his shop on North Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo 970603 of "Wellington Family Album" Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

Undated image of Owen Prosser at work in his barbershop on North Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo 970603 of “Wellington Family Album” Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

I noted in a previous post that I conducted an oral history with Mrs. Pat Markel, whose grandmother and step-grandfather, Owen Prosser, lived in the house in the late 1940s. In fact, federal census records show the Prossers sharing the house at 600 North Main Street with Edna Perkins (Aura died in 1922) as early as 1935. At the time of the 1940 census, Edna Perkins was 70 years old; Owen Prosser was 63 and his wife, Minnie, was 58. Also living in the house was Owen’s son, Harold–known throughout the village as “Shorty”–then 35 years old. The Prossers paid $36 per month in rent.

Mrs. Markel vividly remembered that “Mr. Prosser” (as she always called him) slept alone upstairs, while her grandmother slept in a large room downstairs, between the parlor and kitchen. She recalled a couple called the Newlins living in the “upstairs apartment,” which was essentially created by closing a single door between the back part of house and an upstairs landing. The Newlins, she remembered, did not share her grandmother’s kitchen, and always exited out the back door.

I assumed that after Edna Perkins’ death in February 1942, the Prossers (who, remember, had already been tenants in the house for at least seven years by then) relocated into the more spacious section of the home. But I was wrong. I found Edna Perkins’ probate documents and the inventory of her possessions clearly states: “Household furnishings of three room apartment.” So even though she was the owner of the property, Perkins was living in three small rooms upstairs while another family occupied the majority of the building. The inventory is rather remarkable in that, while occupying only three rooms, Perkins somehow fit fifteen chairs!

Headstone of the Perkins family at Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Edna Perkins' name is listed on one side of the monument with three siblings; her parents are listed on the other. Photo by author.

Headstone of the Perkins family at Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Edna Perkins’ name is listed on one side of the monument with three siblings; her parents are listed on the other. Photo by author.

Edna Perkins left the Italianate at 600 North Main Street to her niece, Hazel Perkins White, of Willard, Ohio. According to the 1910 federal census, Hazel had lived there with Aura and Edna when she was a teenager. She sold the house immediately, and the new owner apparently wanted to use the property for rental income, as he allowed the Prossers to remain for a number of years. The 1950 federal census is not yet available to check, but Mrs. Markel thinks it might have been as late as 1948 before they moved. Owen Prosser died in 1953.

While I might uncover more details about the life of Noah Huckins, this will be my last post about 600 North Main Street. Part of the reason for my recent absence from working on this blog is that my husband and I sold the house about two weeks ago. Out of respect for the privacy of the new owners, I will now be turning my attention elsewhere. The good news is that we still live in Wellington; the “bad” news is that our new house was built in the early twentieth century. But it does have a history strongly rooted in the previous century, and I will begin writing that story in the weeks to come.

Sereno and Mary Bacon

"Residence of S. D. Bacon, Wellington, Ohio." From "History of Lorain County, Ohio" (1879), opposite pg. 349. A caption notes that the engraved images are taken from photographs by William F. Sawtell.

“Residence of S. D. Bacon, Wellington, Ohio.” From “History of Lorain County, Ohio” (1879), opposite pg. 349. A caption notes that the engraved images are taken from photographs by William F. Sawtell.

On April 8, 1889–almost exactly 125 years ago–Noah and Ermina Huckins sold their house, barn and two adjoining lots fronting Lincoln Street to local farmer S. D. Bacon for $2,750. Regular readers of the blog will recall that one of my unanswered questions about Huckins is why he chose to sell all his properties and businesses in Wellington to become junior partner in an Oberlin hardware store.

I had always assumed that when Huckins sold the Italianate house he built on family land in 1876, he immediately departed with his wife and children. But I recently discovered notices in The Wellington Enterprise that suggest only Huckins left the village right away. “Mr. N. Huckins who is now engaged in business in Oberlin returns occasionally to visit his family and friends,” the paper reported on April 17, 1889. I took that to mean he was visiting extended family; his wife’s siblings still lived in Wellington.

But nearly three months after the sale of the house, this notice appeared in the Oberlin notes section of the Wellington paper: “N. Huckins, of the firm of Carter & Huckins, has rented the residence of Mrs. Mary Jewett, No. 18 East Lorain street, and will remove his family from Wellington to this place about August 1st” (6-26-1889, pg.5). From what I can determine, the Jewett home stood on the present day site of a park across from the Allen Memorial Art Museum and is no longer standing.

Undated image of East Lorain Street, Oberlin, Ohio. The house at the left of the frame is likely the Jewett home rented by Noah Huckins in 1889. Image courtesy of "Oberlin in the Past" Facebook page.

Undated image of East Lorain Street, Oberlin, Ohio. The house at the left of the frame is likely the Jewett home rented by Noah Huckins in 1889. Image courtesy of “Oberlin in the Past” Facebook page.

Where was Huckins’ family living while he started over in Oberlin? I do not know, but the most likely scenario is that they temporarily moved back into the Adams family homestead, then occupied by Ermina Huckins’ twin brother Erwin and his wife, Mary Emma Mallory Adams. The Adams homestead was just north of the Huckins’ house on Main Street. Why Noah Huckins would sell everything and move less than ten miles away without already having another home in which to settle his family is a mystery. His son Howard was then fifteen; daughter Ibla was eleven. Perhaps Huckins wanted to allow them to complete the school year. I know only that the family did not purchase a home in Oberlin until 1890, when they bought a modest dwelling at 151 Forest Street from Mary Humphrey.

Meanwhile, my Italianate had its second owners. Sereno Dwight Bacon had been born in Vermont in 1825 but emigrated with his family to Lorain County in 1842. He married Mary Ann Bailey in 1846; she was born in New York but was adopted after her mother’s early death and moved to Medina as a child. The Bacons bought a two hundred acre farm in Wellington Township in 1851 and raised three children there.

The 1860 federal agricultural census recorded that Bacon owned eighty-two milch cows and thirty-four sheep, as well as swine and horses. (An 1879 newspaper notice indicates that his sheep flock had grown to more than 260 animals just two decades later.) That year, his farming operation had produced 1,300 pounds of butter and 10,800 pounds of cheese. This is six years before the first cheese factory opened in Huntington, Ohio; the Bacon farm produced five-and-a-half tons of cheese onsite, in addition to all its other crop and livestock management.

(L) Detail of the Bacon farm, from "History of Lorain County, Ohio" (1879), opposite pg. 349. (R) Photo by author of private residence on Pitts Road, 2013.

(L) Detail of the Bacon farm, from “History of Lorain County, Ohio” (1879), opposite pg. 349. (R) Photo by author of private residence on Pitts Road, 2013.

By the time the Bacons purchased my house, it was clearly their retirement home. Sereno Bacon was sixty-four years old and had done very well financially; tax records indicate that he ranked among the wealthiest individuals in Wellington throughout his years of residence in town. One of the things I find most interesting about the Italianate’s first two owners is that both made their fortunes from the so-called Cheese Boom, but in very different ways. Bacon was a dairy farmer, producing the milk that (after the mid-1860s) middlemen made into cheese in a nearby factory. Huckins felled trees and built thousands of wooden boxes to ship that cheese to far-away markets.

The Bacons’ living children were grown and married by the time Sereno and Mary left their farm on Pitts Road and moved three miles to the “Cheese City.” The 1890 census records do not survive, so I do not know the composition of the household when they first moved into town. I do know that their grandson, Aaron Lynn Bacon, born in 1881, moved in with them after his mother’s death. Aaron Lynn was therefore the third child to live in the Italianate, after Howard and Ibla.

The Bacons rarely appeared in the newspaper, in stark contrast to Noah Huckins’ hundreds of mentions. My walk-through of the Italianate with architectural historian Shawn Godwin suggested that the Bacons probably wired the house for electricity soon after moving in, but otherwise changed it very little. (I subsequently learned that electricity was first available in the village in August, 1896.) I am tempted to characterize this as “a quiet life.”

Sereno Bacon died in 1901, shortly after the couple’s fifty-fifth wedding anniversary. Mary Ann Bacon survived until 1909, though tax records continued to record the house as belonging to her deceased husband for those eight remaining years of her life. The Bacons are buried in Greenwood Cemetery with a daughter and infant grandchild who predeceased them. The two surviving Bacon children sold the Italianate shortly after their mother’s death.

Headstone of Sereno and Mary Bacon, Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Headstone of Sereno and Mary Bacon, Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Aaron Lynn Bacon inherited the family farm on Pitts Road and had just finished renovating his grandparents’ 1861 brick homestead (pictured above) when he was tragically killed. The accident occurred only a few years after his grandmother passed away. “KILLED BY INFURIATED BULL,” screamed the Enterprise headline. The young farmer was feeding the animal early on a Sunday morning when it charged him, breaking his legs and ribs. He “suffered much from his injuries” and died the next night, September 3, 1912. He was not yet thirty-one years old. Aaron Lynn Bacon is also interred in Greenwood Cemetery.

Aaron Lynn Bacon. From "Standard History of Lorain County, Ohio, Volume 1" (1916) by G. Frederick Wright, opposite pg. 899.

Aaron Lynn Bacon. From “Standard History of Lorain County, Ohio, Volume 1” (1916) by G. Frederick Wright, opposite pg. 899.

Headstone of Aaron Lynn Bacon at Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Bacon is buried with his aunt and uncle, Ada Bacon Harris and Hugh Harris. Hugh owned a shoe store in Wellington and eventually became Lorain County Treasurer. Photo by author.

Headstone of Aaron Lynn Bacon at Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Bacon is buried with his aunt and uncle, Ada Bacon Harris and Hugh Harris. Hugh owned a shoe store in Wellington but later moved to Elyria and became Lorain County Treasurer. Photo by author.

While conducting this research into the history of our house and its owners, we made a discovery. The story of Aaron Lynn being trampled by the bull sparked memories of a similar incident in my husband’s family history. It turns out that my husband is related to the Bacons. Since he grew up in the area, it is not terribly surprising to learn that we are connected to a previous occupant of the house. But imagining that other, ill-fated little boy bounding down our floating staircase makes it all the more poignant to watch my own son, his great-great-great nephew, growing up.

Prosser vs. Prosser

Headstone of George Hilo Prosser (1855-1921), Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Headstone of George Hilo Prosser (1855-1921), Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

As regular readers of the blog know, I have been slowly making my way through all the extant nineteenth-century issues of The Wellington Enterprise, from 1867 to 1900. At present, I’m reading the year 1890. A lengthy article caught my eye, because it described an acrimonious divorce case in great detail. I noticed that the couple in question, George and Mary Ann Prosser, had the same last name as a family that rented my Italianate from the early 1930s until after World War II.

Owen Prosser (1877-1953) was a local barber. I had the privilege of conducting an oral history last year with his step-granddaughter, Mrs. Pat Markel. She remembers her grandmother and “Mr. Prosser”–as she always called him–living in the house on North Main Street. I intend to write more about that in a later post, but I was immediately curious to know if there was a connection between the Prossers of my home, and the Prossers of the divorce case.

I did some genealogical research and determined that Owen Prosser and George Prosser were brothers. Their parents, Hilo (1828-1887) and Mary Meredith (1832-1909) Prosser, emigrated to Ohio from England and eventually settled in Pittsfield, where they produced at least eleven children. George was second oldest, born in 1855, and Owen was the baby of the family, born twenty-two years later. The Prosser siblings spread all over Pittsfield, Wellington and Brighton, and many of them are interred in Greenwood Cemetery. Owen would only have been about thirteen years old when George divorced. He was not directly involved in the events I’m about to describe, but several of his older brothers were.

Undated image of Owen Prosser at work in his shop on North Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo 970603 of "Wellington Family Album" Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

Undated image of Owen Prosser at work in his barbershop on North Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo 970603 of “Wellington Family Album” Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

In 1890, George Prosser was a trustee of Brighton township. He had been married to Mary Ann Runals in 1877 (the year Owen was born) and they had three children. George began to believe that Mary Ann was having an affair. “[H]is first suspicions of the infidelity of his wife arose from her relations to his brother” (Enterprise, 3-19-1890, pg. 5). Charles Prosser was two years younger than George and worked for him on his dairy farm, but was “discharged” in 1887 because of George’s jealousy. Two summers later, George hired a man named Henry Haynes to help on the farm and Haynes moved into the family home.

George soon claimed to observe his wife blowing kisses to the hired man, and testified that he saw them eating ice cream together and dancing at the public hall during the annual fair. He later saw his wife leaving an outbuilding of the family farm, “brushing her dress,” with Haynes following shortly after. George enlisted the help of younger brother Thomas Prosser (1867-1918) to confirm his suspicions. “While he [Thomas] was looking through the openings in the lumber pile he saw Haynes enter the corn-house and make a loud rapping noise, soon after which Mrs. Prosser came out of the house in her stocking feet, and entered the corn-house. Leaving his hiding place he went to the door, which was not closed, and saw them both upon the floor in the rear of the house.”

George Prosser then laid another trap for his wife, pretending to visit a sick relative, “but soon returned and crawled under the house, which stood on stone blocks.” Apparently satisfied by what he heard, he went to an attorney to file for divorce the next day. But he had one final snare to spring. George asked another brother, Frank (1872-1948), and brother-in-law Tom Burton, to help him catch the pair in the act. In the middle of a September night, the three men broke into the Prosser house. “Frank had a loaded revolver, and Tom had a dark lantern. The stairs landed in Haynes’ room, and when half way up they saw defendant lying on the front side of the bed, and Haynes lying beside her next to the wall. Both were undressed, and the bed clothing was thrown back over the footboard.” The three men grabbed the hired hand, tied him up, and dragged him down the stairs and into the front yard. George Prosser “went to the barn, procured his rattan carriage whip and commenced whipping him.” They then untied Haynes and sent him back into the house to pack up his belongings, but before he left the aggrieved husband took Haynes’ pocketbook [i.e. wallet] and removed ten dollars from it, presumably as some sort of compensation for damages done to his marriage.

Mary Ann Prosser had a very different story to tell, and she took the stand to defend her own reputation. She denied that she had ever been unfaithful and painted a picture of a spouse who was irrationally jealous and physically abusive. “At one time he knocked her down without any provocation. At another time he threw a basket of potatoes at her which he had dug for breakfast, because she had not got breakfast ready, she waiting for the potatoes. At another time he pulled her ears until the flesh was ruptured behind them. On one occasion he kicked her severely because she remonstrated against his abuse of a horse.” The night of the whipping, Mary Ann claimed that she was in her room and, hearing the noise of the brothers breaking into the house, ran to Haynes for help. She was then held at gunpoint while the Prossers bound and beat an innocent man. Her testimony, the paper reported, “was given without hesitation, and at times with much feeling” which seems to suggest that the writer believed her.

Haynes was ill with consumption and could not appear in court, but submitted a deposition categorically denying any improper involvement with Mrs. Prosser. He had denied all the allegations while he was being bound and hauled into the yard, and only later confessed to adultery while he was being attacked, “extorted under the terrible blows of the whip and a threat that he would be whipped until he did confess.” Now safe from additional harm, he retracted the forced confession.

A few other witnesses testified, including Mary Ann Prosser’s mother, who saw the grievous injury to her ears and “black and blue spots” from other incidents of spousal abuse. In giving his decision, the judge noted his discomfort with George Prosser beating Haynes and then taking his money. He did not want to find against Mrs. Prosser as an adulterous, preferring “to render a decree that would leave no stain upon the innocent children.” George Prosser agreed to withdraw his petition, which allowed the judge to grant Mary Ann Prosser a divorce on her cross-petition, on the grounds of “extreme cruelty.” He awarded custody of the couple’s oldest daughter, Stella, and their son, Elmer, to George; Mary was awarded custody of younger daughter, Ida Belle. Both parents were granted visitation rights and Mary was given alimony in the amount of $1,500, as well as “cows and horses to the value of $500.” George was ordered to pay all court costs excluding his ex-wife’s attorneys.

This story has a wild ending. I wondered what happened to Mary Ann after her divorce. I know that George married again, and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery with two of his later wives. A little digging revealed that Charles Prosser–the younger brother with whom Mary Ann was initially suspected of infidelity–is buried in LaGrange, Ohio with his wife…Mary Ann Runals Prosser. The divorce was finalized in March 1890 and according to Ohio marriage records, “Charley” and Mary Ann wed on November 30th of the same year. Their son, Ray, was born in 1892 and was living with them for the 1910, 1920 and 1930 federal censuses; by 1930, Ray’s Scottish-emigrant wife, Bessie, had also moved in. Mary Ann’s daughters by her first husband, Stella and Ida Prosser, both listed their uncle/stepfather Charles as “father of the bride” on their marriage licenses, which perhaps suggests estrangement from George, their biological father. Charles Prosser died in 1936, meaning the lovers had almost fifty years together after her disastrous first marriage. I wonder if George felt vindicated when he heard the news?

Headstone of Charles (1857-1936) and Mary Ann (1855-1945) Prosser, LaGrange Township Cemetery, LaGrange, Ohio. Image from website "Find a Grave.com."

Headstone of Charles (1857-1936) and Mary Ann (1855-1945) Prosser, LaGrange Township Cemetery, LaGrange, Ohio. Image from website “Find a Grave.com.”

The Union School

"Main Building," from "Catalogue of Wellington Public Schools" (1899).

“Main Building,” from “Catalogue of Wellington Public Schools” (1899).

“THE SCHOOLS have from the beginning been the special pride of the town, and Wellington has always given its youth the best advantages for obtaining an education, which the circumstances of the people would permit, and now she sustains one of the best high schools to be found in the State” (The Wellington Enterprise, 6-5-1889, pg. 1).

On the very first page of the earliest surviving issue of The Wellington Enterprise–dated September 19, 1867–is an article about the new Union School house. It calls the construction of the school “prominent among the improvements on foot in Wellington” and describes in detail the proposed dimensions and amenities of the building. Stone was coming from “the Berea quarries” and local manufacturers Kirk, Bennett & Co. had won the masonry contract for digging the basement. More than 400,000 bricks were expected to comprise the finished structure, topped by a slate-covered mansard roof installed by the Cleveland firm of Towsend & Co.

There had been some controversy over where to locate the school. Two years earlier, the Lorain County News published a dispatch from Wellington correspondent J. B. Lang that revealed, “We understand that a location for the new Union School house has been decided upon, and the lot surveyed and taken possession of, against the wishes of the owner, Mrs. Howk, who we understand threatens to destroy anything they may place upon it. We are sorry that it was necessary to take that course on the part of the school directors, as we learn from conversing with the people, that Mrs. H. has many friends, who will embarrass and trouble the directors, if not entirely defeat their plans. All this will be attended with more or less expense, and have to be paid by those who feel as though they were already paying rent instead of taxes. Besides these reasons, it will create a disagreeable feeling among our citizens, which should, if possible, be avoided” (8-16-1865, pg. 3). “Mrs. H.” may refer to Theadocia Howk, early settler Alanson Howk’s widow; an 1874 map of the village shows that she owned more than forty acres of land that ran north-south from today’s East Herrick Avenue down almost to Pleasant Street, immediately east of the eventual school grounds.

Postcard image reprinted in Alan L. Leiby's "Memory Lane, Wellington, Ohio" (2012), pg. 30.

Postcard image reprinted in Alan L. Leiby’s “Memory Lane, Wellington, Ohio” (2012), pg. 30.

Little more than a decade later, an addition was already in the works. “The contract for building the new wing to the Union School building has been let to Mr. Black, for the sum of $5,795, which includes everything except furniture, furnishing and Kalsomining [i.e. whitewashing]. The contract for brick work is sub-let to Messrs. Bennett & Holmes, and the stone work to Mr. Richard Gibbons. It is to be completed and ready for occupancy Dec. 25th, 1879” (The Wellington Enterprise, 7-17-1879, pg. 3). The wing added four new rooms, each with a large adjoining closet. An 1880 editorial praised, “We do not hesitate to say that these are really the finest school rooms in the State of Ohio” (1-15-1880, pg. 3).

By 1885, a new steam heating system was installed in the school, the twenty-year-old furnaces having worn out from use. For $2,200, the Toledo firm of Shaw, Kendall & Co. put in a state-of-the-art system, which immediately reduced the heating costs of the building by some fifty percent, or $300 per year. Previously, very cold weather had sometimes resulted in the cancellation of classes, because the old furnaces were not capable of maintaining a reasonable temperature in all rooms. But the steam method resulted in “rooms [that] have been kept at a uniform temperature though the whole winter, all the while comfortable…This season there has been no complaint, and we may congratulate ourselves on having as cheap and perfect a system of heating as any school building in this section of the country” (4-1-1885, pg. 4).

"High School Building, Wellington, Ohio." Postcard printed in Germany for J. W. Houghton. Author's collection.

“High School Building, Wellington, Ohio.” Postcard printed in Germany for J. W. Houghton. Author’s collection.

The school sat in the center of several acres of green space (see image above) and public traffic across the grounds was an ongoing issue. In 1880, the Board of Education issued a notice that, “Parties living in the vicinity of the Union School grounds, who are accustomed to cross them on their way to and from town, are hereby notified it is unlawful and is strictly forbidden by the Board. Measures will be taken if necessary to enforce this requirement. It is hardly necessary to present a reason for forbidding pedestrians the use of the grounds for foot paths and we hope this notice will put an end to the practice of running over them” (4-22-1880, pg. 3).

It did not. Nine years later, a nearly identical notice was published in the paper. “Persons living on South Courtland street and on Carpenter street are requested not to cross the lawn in front of the school building, but to keep the walk. The path being made by such persons greatly mars the beauty of the lawn, which is not used as a play ground by any of the pupils. Those crossing the school grounds with delivery carts are also asked to keep the walks. It is hoped that no personal request will need to be made to those improperly using the school grounds in front of the building” (1-16-1889, pg. 5).

It was not until the twentieth century that the Union School was incorporated into a greatly expanded facility that served as a township high school. The stately Italianate was gradually swallowed up in 1916, 1938 and 1953 additions, which put an entirely different facade on the structure, as well as enhancements such as an auditorium and gymnasium. In the 1960s, a modern high school building was erected on North Main Street, and the “old high school” was redesignated as McCormick Middle School.

View from Courtland Street of the Union School, still visible within the structure of McCormick Middle School. Photo by author.

View from Courtland Street of the Union School, still visible within the structure of McCormick Middle School. Photo by author.

Sadly, the Union School is not long for the world. Plans are underway to construct a new middle school, adjacent to the 1960s high school on North Main Street. My understanding is that the present middle school is due to be demolished within the next few years and its grounds are to be turned into a public park. Having just written a post about the loss of the Opera House, I suppose it goes without saying that I already mourn the loss of yet another monument to Wellington’s past.

Process Story

N. Huckins & Co. letterhead, detail from a letter sent by Noah Huckins to John Baldwin, Jr. 12-27-1877. Original document held by the Western Reserve Historical Society. Image used courtesy of Baldwin Wallace University Archive.

N. Huckins & Co. letterhead, detail from a letter sent by Noah Huckins to John Baldwin, Jr. 12-27-1877. Original document held by the Western Reserve Historical Society. Image used courtesy of Baldwin Wallace University Archive.

In politics, a “process story” is one that focuses on how a policy is made, rather than the content of the policy itself. I traveled to the Baldwin Wallace University Archive in Berea, Ohio today and thought I would write a post about the visit and the documents and objects I was able to examine. My thanks to University Archivist Jeremy Feador, who graciously put his time and resources at my disposal.

Ritter Library, home of the Baldwin Wallace University Archive, Berea, Ohio. Photo by author.

Ritter Library, home of the Baldwin Wallace University Archive, Berea, Ohio. Photo by author.

I initially contacted Mr. Feador a few months back while trying to understand what brought Noah Huckins from Canada to Ohio in the 1850s. I knew that Noah and his brother George both attended what was then known as Baldwin University, though Noah never formally graduated. Feador immediately sent me back an early image of Huckins, and let me know that there are a few pieces of correspondence from Huckins in the archive’s John Baldwin Collection.

Mid-nineteenth-century photo collage. Image used courtesy of Baldwin Wallace University Archive. Photo by author.

Mid-nineteenth-century photo collage. Image used courtesy of Baldwin Wallace University Archive. Photo by author.

When I arrived today, Mr. Feador first brought out the photo collage from which he obtained the image of young Noah Huckins. But what immediately drew my eye was a photograph of another young man, labeled, “John W. Houghton A.M. M.D.” Readers of this blog will remember how excited I was to learn that Wellington newspaper editors John and Mary Hayes Houghton lived across the street from the Huckins family; you may well imagine how thrilled I was to discover that Houghton and Huckins were actually classmates at college! Perhaps this is why Huckins relocated to Wellington after the Civil War ended. Feador checked the student directory and confirmed that both of John Houghton’s wives, Mary Seymour and Mary Hayes, also attended Baldwin University.

Detail from mid-nineteenth-century photo collage, showing a young John Wesley Houghton. Image used courtesy of Baldwin Wallace University Archive. Photo by author.

Detail from mid-nineteenth-century photo collage, showing a young John Wesley Houghton. Image used courtesy of Baldwin Wallace University Archive. Photo by author.

I was next able to peruse the John Baldwin Collection, which contains papers related to both John Baldwin, founder of the college, and his son, John Baldwin, Jr. (The original documents are held by the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio; Baldwin Wallace has a collection of photocopies.) The younger Baldwin was also a classmate of Huckins and Houghton, and his image is featured on the collage, as well. In fact, both documents in the collection that relate to my research are from Noah Huckins to John Baldwin, Jr.

Letter sent by Noah Huckins to John Baldwin, Jr. 12-27-1877. Original document held by the Western Reserve Historical Society. Image used courtesy of Baldwin Wallace University Archive.

Letter sent by Noah Huckins to John Baldwin, Jr. 12-27-1877. Original document held by the Western Reserve Historical Society. Image used courtesy of Baldwin Wallace University Archive.

The first item is a short note dated December 27, 1877. It reads as follows: “Bro[ther] Baldwin[,] ‘Yourself wife & baby’ at hand. They came in good shape for us to entertain at present — as ‘our wife’ is ‘Enceinte.’ Sometime in the future we shall be glad to see the originals of those fine Photo’s at our home. My kindest regards to Lury. Happy New + Properous Year to you and yours. I will keep you in mind about the stone for new church. Yours, Noah.”

Huckins seems to be referring to receipt of a family photograph, perhaps sent for the Christmas season. The baby in question is likely Milton T. Baldwin, third and final child of John and his wife, Lury Ann Gould Baldwin (yet another Baldwin University alumna). Milton would have turned four just weeks before this note was sent. And Huckins mentions that his own wife, Ermina, is pregnant (“Enceinte”) with the couple’s second child, Ibla Belle. She would be born two months later. He concludes that he will keep Baldwin “in mind about the stone” for the soon-to-be-built Congregational Church, which would be completed in 1879. The Baldwin family fortune had been made by the discovery of sandstone on their lands which was eventually quarried commercially; I do not know if they received the contract to supply stone for the Wellington church. What is personally interesting to me is Huckins anticipating a future visit from his friends “at our home,” which is, in fact, my Italianate. The house was brand new, just finished the year before.

The second document is a simple telegram, so not written in Huckins’ own hand. It contains a single line. “I am sick and cannot come — accept our regrets. N. Huckins.” This telegram was sent to John Baldwin, Jr. in 1879 but I know nothing more about it than that. Whatever event Huckins was missing due to illness is lost to history.

I continue to discover networks of connectedness among this community of individuals. I have been reading a wonderful thesis for the last few days describing the Presbyterian and Congregational reform movements in Lorain County in the early nineteenth century; the Huckins and Adams families, the Horrs, and many of the most prominent businesspeople in Wellington were members of the Congregational Church. Baldwin University, meanwhile, was founded on Methodist principles. The Houghtons, William and Charlotte Howk, and many others attended Wellington’s Methodist Church. I did not make any spectacular discoveries nor solve any age-old mysteries in the archive today, but I did find a new way of seeing a seemingly familiar subject. And as writer Marcel Proust once observed, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”