Category Archives: Material culture

The Ledger of Foote & Locke

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A business ledger belonging to Wellington dry goods merchants Foote & Locke, dating from October 3, 1837 to September 7, 1839. The original object is held in the Oberlin College Archives. Photo by author.

Within the archives of Oberlin College, in their miscellaneous local business records, is a leather-bound ledger volume. It is large, more than fifteen inches long and twelve inches across when opened. And at a whopping 517 pages, it is packed with information. This object (and two smaller accompanying pieces) is all that remains of a dry goods store that operated in Wellington in the late 1830s and early 1840s, called Foote & Locke.

There is very little extant documentation from this period in Wellington’s history. Settlement had happened so recently–just twenty years before–that the urge to document the village’s past had not yet seized its residents. Publication of The Lorain County News and The Wellington Enterprise was decades in the future. I have never even seen a map of the community that dates before mid-century. So this ledger is a glorious window into everyday life, if we look carefully at its contents.

On their surface, those contents may seem fairly dry. The ledger is filled with line after line of individual purchases, from items as small as a single pencil to much larger-scale orders, like all the lumber necessary to construct a barn. But examining the pages closely reveals more subtle detail, which give color and texture to our imagining of what the town was truly like in its earliest years.

I spent three days this summer at the Oberlin College Archives, poring over the ledger. At first, I could see only lists of names, and all names I would have expected to find in this era: Adams, Clifford, DeWolfe, Herrick, Hamilton, Howk, Johns, Wadsworth and Wells, to name just a few. Foote & Locke were not the only dry goods merchants in Wellington; John Reed had moved his family to the village in 1835 and opened a store on the northwest corner of what is today Main Street and Herrick Avenue. It operated for at least twenty years, until Reed’s untimely drowning in the Black River in June 1855. John Reed is one prominent citizen whose name is therefore conspicuously absent from this, the records of his business competitors.

Henry Martin Bradley wrote in his 1907 autobiography that when his family emigrated to the village in 1835, “[W]e found the roads hardly passable because of the swamps and the clouds of mosquitoes which seemed to be waiting to greet us as new comers.” This shop ledger adds some nuance to that characterization. Foote & Locke were procuring resale goods from merchants in larger urban markets. A second, smaller volume lists at least five vendors from New York City–including Weed & Co., Trask & Marvin, and L.H. Bennet–as well as one from Albany. These bulk orders would have shipped via the Erie Canal, which opened in 1825, and arrived in Wellington within just a few weeks.

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An entry for William Howk, dated November 15, 1838 (pg. 431), showing the purchase of a spelling book. The book was presumably intended for William and Charlotte Howk’s only child, a daughter called Emma who would have been five at this time. Emma died in 1853, just twenty years old. Photo by author.

In the month of October 1837, residents purchased a diverse array of food items from Foote & Locke: tea, sugar and maple sugar, cinnamon, saleratus [sodium bicarbonate, a main ingredient of baking powder], alum, tobacco and snuff, beef, spice, raisins, butter, madder [a medicinal root], ginger, bushels of corn and onions, coffee, and eggs. Elsewhere in the ledger I found listings for purchases of pepper, cloves, rice, pork, oats, wine and port, bushels of dried apples and crab apples, bushels of beans, cheese, gallons of molasses, fish, nutmeg, jam, mutton, oil and tomatoes.

Tea was far and away more popular than coffee. Cheese was rarely mentioned, probably because many farmers had cheese-making operations at home. Perishable items were clearly seasonal, and in some instances it appears that the shop came into possession of a limited quantity of a particular item, perhaps in trade or accepted as payment from a customer. For example, fish appears in the volume only in May 1838, when a string of a dozen purchases are recorded over a period of days, then it vanishes from the inventory.

Prefabricated clothing and prepared foods were not yet available for sale. Instead, fabric purchases are among the most common in the ledger, so that clothes could be manufactured domestically. Even bread was not for sale; instead, the component ingredients for baked goods, such as saleratus and alum, were purchased regularly.

It was not only the essential materials for survival that were on offer at Foote & Locke. There are transactions for letter paper, pearl buttons, dress handkerchiefs, satinette [a cotton fabric finished to resemble satin], silk cravats, velvet, ivory combs, lace, looking glasses, strings of beads, cashmere, watch chains and even a “Geography Atlas” (pg. 201). One would need to do a careful comparative study of the prices of these items to get a sense of whether they were, in fact, luxury goods. But it is clear that even in its earliest days, Wellington’s residents had expectations of maintaining a similar standard of living to that which they had known in the eastern states of their birth. (Remember that many of the village’s earliest arrivals were coming from the rural counties of Massachusetts’ Berkshire region.)

Champain Bottles

A ledger entry dated November 1, 1837 (pg. 33) showing Oliver Sardine Wadsworth and his brother, Jabez Lorenzo Wadsworth, making multiple purchases including “6 Champain Bottles.” The Wadsworth brothers were keepers of the local hotel in Wellington, opened around 1833. It was known first as The Wellington House, then Wadsworth’s Hotel, before finally settling on the name by which it is best known, The American House. Photo by author.

We can also see evidence of townspeople buying the materials they required for their professions. John Case, the local tanner and cobbler, could be found purchasing supplemental pieces of leather and small cords. Dr. Daniel Johns stocked up on madder root, a medicinal plant. The Wadsworth brothers, Oliver and Jabez, bought fabrics, dishes, plated spoons and even “Champain Bottles,” presumably for use in their hotel (see above). Asa Hamilton, a carpenter and joiner, replaced tools such as hand saws. The only woman who shows up regularly in the ledger, Lucinda Smith, was presumably a dressmaker and/or milliner, based on her repeated orders for large quantities of fabrics and traditionally feminine-associated items including ornamental hair combs, pearl buttons, and lace (see below).

Smith is the exception to an otherwise overwhelmingly male list of names. When I first began to examine the ledger, I conjured a mental image of a shop peopled entirely with men. Then I began to notice entries that were written in this fashion: “Ephraim Herrick pr Evaline,” or “William Bradley per Lady [i.e. his wife].” I initially took this to mean that the man was making a purchase on behalf of his spouse or daughter at home. But I soon realized that I was completely backward in my thinking. “John Case per Girl” is very likely a servant running to the local shop to buy something on behalf of her employer, or more precisely, to charge something to his account. Suddenly my imaginary shop was filled with women and children–Evaline Herrick, Sarah Wilcox, Mehitable Fox Couch Howk and her daughter, all patronizing the store and having their transactions recorded under the family’s male “breadwinner.” Thirteen-year-old Henry Martin Bradley, or his older brother Charles, visited Foote & Locke, as well; there is at least one purchase of a ball of wicking [the cord of a candle] being charged to “William Bradley pr Son” (pg. 126).

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A July 17, 1838 (pg. 282) entry for Lucinda Smith, one of only two women–the other being widow Sarah Wilcox–who had her own account at Foote & Locke. Smith made regular purchases of fabrics, ribbon, lace, etc., leading me to believe that she made her living as a dressmaker and/or milliner. Smith does not appear under her own name in either the 1830 or 1840 federal censuses of Wellington, which may mean that she became a widow and/or she relocated or died between decades. Photo by author.

Many of these purchases were paid for in trade, either in labor or material. The smaller invoice book that accompanies the ledger, which lists New York and Albany merchants from whom Foote & Locke were obtaining resale goods, also includes extensive accounts for grain, cheese, wheat and potash turned in to the store for credit by residents. (Henry Martin Bradley wrote at length in his autobiography about cutting and burning trees to extract lye and “black salts,” which he then exchanged in the village for flour and other groceries.) There are multiple entries that suggest one-off non-cash transactions, such as Isaac Humaston’s son buying fabric and lighting materials, marked “pay in sugar,” or David Pucket receiving a $0.25 credit “By Work on Wheelbarrows.” And residents including Gideon Adams, Sandford Humphrey and John Howk obtained substantial amounts of purchasing power in exchange for farm animals such as hogs or “1 English Cow” (pgs. 308-9, 381-2).

According to the federal censuses of 1830 and 1840, the population of Wellington climbed in ten years from 224 residents living in 47 households, to 781 residents living in 134 households. The town was expanding rapidly. It would be only ten years until a busy railroad line connected Wellington to the urban environments of Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and beyond. This set the stage for a late-century expansion in both population and economic prosperity fueled, in large part, by the exportation of cheese. But the explosive commercial successes of the 1870s and ’80s–which resulted in private fortunes and grand houses still standing on South Main and Courtland Streets today–were rooted in the backbreaking work of families carving farms out of forest, trading ashes and hogs for spools of thread and spelling books.

“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.

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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.

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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.

“3 Paintings for Use of Lodge Room”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ta Da! New Blog Feature!

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 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.

 

Recent Acquisitions II

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Postcard image showing the “Public and High School,” first called the Union School and later incorporated into McCormick Middle School. Postmarked [December] 1913. Author’s collection.

I first did a post like this almost exactly one year ago. Since that time, my modest collection of Wellington-related documents and images has expanded to include a few small objects. My thoughts of late have been dominated by the demolition of the former Union School on April 5th. I live within walking distance of the site, and so have observed the debris removal daily. The lot is now nearly completely empty. Amazing to think that the process took less than two weeks start to finish.

While the building was being dismantled, I did a small project to record the window and door placements on the original 1867 Italianate structure. Since the architectural evidence was incomplete due to many additions and renovations over the decades, I began to look for historic images of the building from as many cardinal directions as possible. The 3.5 by 5.25 inch postcard above is a close, clear shot of the west facade, formerly facing South Main Street. Though it is hand-dated “12/27/3” in pencil, this appears to be a small human error, as it is clearly postmarked 1913, and the color and style of the card seem to confirm the later date.

The company managing the demolition process began by removing a section of bricks from the east facade of the Union School, and making them available to the public as keepsakes. Tiny fragments of Wellington’s nineteenth-century past have no doubt made their way across the country by this point, if the numerous requests I saw posted to social media are any indication. One of them is currently on display in my dining room.

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Bin full of Union School bricks, manufactured circa 1867, available to the public as souvenirs. Image taken March 24, 2016. Photo by author.

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Brick from the 1867 Union School, demolished April 5, 2016. Author’s collection.

The final object I want to highlight is actually from the twentieth century. In August 1901, Wellington hosted a massive celebration it called “Home Week,” to coincide with the annual fair. Former residents from around the United States returned to Ohio. The Wellington Enterprise printed numerous articles on the history of the town and notable buildings in the weeks prior, culminating in a special commemorative issue that included pieces such as a list of all the registered attendees, and biographical sketches of all the pioneer women of the town. Home Week has always been a subject of interest to me because of its own focus on the village’s founding and early days, and because so many of its most honored participants were the people I have been writing about in this blog for nearly three years. So you can imagine how delighted I was to acquire this unusual object:

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Obverse and reverse of a souvenir badge from Wellington’s Home Week, 1901. Author’s collection.

The badge, which measures two inches in diameter, appears to be made of coated paper adhered to a cardboard backing, rimmed with metal. A straight pin is twisted through a slot in the badge, but it is not immediately apparent (at least to me!) whether the pin was the original securing mechanism; it seems neither long enough nor heavy enough to attach the badge to cloth. The badge is surprisingly heavy and the surface colors remain vibrant more than a century after its manufacture. If you happen to visit the Lorain County Fair this August, and you see fair goers wearing souvenir hats, pins or t-shirts, stop for a moment and imagine those same objects in a museum case one hundred years from now. I’ve written it before: history is today. Remember that while you are living it.