Category Archives: Rochester

Easter Sunday

Screen Shot 2017-04-15 at 7.31.12 PM

English Easter card, printed ca. 1890.

Happy Easter to all who celebrate! In nearly four years of writing this blog, I have somehow never done an Easter post. So I searched through The Wellington Enterprise and include a few brief notices for your holiday reading pleasure.

“Easter Sunday is coming more and more to be observed in the Protestant Churches, and few let it pass without special services. At the Methodist Episcopal Church Sunday, the Scripture texts and floral decorations were numerous and elaborate and all the services of both Sunday School and Church were prepared with reference to the day. The Sunday School numbered 401 and birds as well as flowers and music assisted to make it delightful to the children. The Congregational Church had also profuse floral decorations” (3-28-1883, pg. 3).

“Very impressive Easter services were held in the churches Sunday. The choirs had made special selections for the occasion and sang them with spirit. The divines had evidently devoted a number of days to preparation of their subjects and the time arrived for closing before they were half through telling of the events of the anniversary of the occasion. The day was a beautiful one and inspiration was within the reach of every one who were in condition to receive it” (4-28-1889, pg. 5).

“The services in the Congregational church were of unusual interest. Elaborate floral decorations appropriate for the occasion had been arranged on a temporary platform built several feet in front of the pulpit. Large palms flanked the platform, and all between them was a mass of green foliage with white blossoms. A rich vase of Easter lilies graced the desk. On the front of the pulpit was a large star covered with white flowers from the Dark Continent; above was the text ‘He is Risen’ wrought in purple Immortelles on a background of white…” (4-1-1891, pg. 5).

And a late-century report from nearby Rochester:

“In spite of the muddy roads there was a good attendance at the Easter concert at the Baptist church Sunday evening. The church was prettily decorated with potted plants, and Easter flowers, with their fragrance, added their beauty to the church. The center attraction was the beautiful cross with the motto, ‘Christ Has Risen.’ The little children with their smiling faces, presented a picture of perfect happiness when the beautiful Easter eggs of various colors were presented them. Rev. Lash made some very interesting remarks appropriate for the occasion” (4-5-1899, pg. 8).

Happy Easter, readers!

Screen Shot 2017-04-15 at 8.15.09 PM

Illustration from “The Wellington Enterprise,” 3-29-1899, pg. 3.

 

Artless

Detail of mural, attributed to Mr. Lesley Tripp, in the basement of 326 South Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Detail of twentieth-century mural in the basement of 326 South Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

When my family first moved into our home on South Main Street a few years ago, we were constantly asked about the Archibald Willard murals in the house. Some folks had only heard about the murals and wanted to confirm whether they actually existed. Some claimed to have seen the paintings with their own eyes and wanted reassurance that they survived unscathed. The one constant in all these narratives was the attribution: everyone called them “the Willard murals.” It is completely understandable why this should be so. Archibald Willard was, after all, a nationally-known artist with a connection to the town. But while the commonly-held belief may be understandable, it is almost certainly incorrect.

Archibald Willard died in Cleveland in 1918, aged 82, following nearly a decade of ill health. Our bungalow was completed barely a year prior to his passing. Numerous notices in The Wellington Enterprise explicitly named the decorator, interior house painter, even the man who laid the stone walkway from the house to the street in the summer of 1917. Nowhere is there a mention of a famous painter visiting the construction site, let alone executing a massive and time-consuming mural commission.

Detail of mural, attributed to Mr. Lesley Tripp, in the basement of 326 South Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Detail of twentieth-century mural in the basement of 326 South Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Beyond this evidence “by omission” is a stronger clue that Willard was not the responsible party. In 2013, we were paid an impromptu visit by a member of the Schweller family, who occupied the house from the mid-1930s to the mid-1980s. Mr. Robert Schweller informed us that his father, Florian, hired a man called Leslie Tripp from Rochester, Ohio, to beautify three areas of the bungalow: the dining room; another small room on the ground floor; and a basement space that runs the width of the house. (Schweller, Sr. reportedly liked Tripp’s work well enough that he also retained him to decorate two of the family’s downtown businesses.) The dining room frieze of ducks in flight, and the four seasons encircling the walls of another ground-floor room, are now covered over by contemporary paint and wallpaper. Only the basement mural remains. If there is any signature on the work, we have not yet found it.

Does Mr. Schweller’s telling of this story prove that it is absolutely correct? With every respect to the man, it does not. Human memory, of both the short- and long-term varieties, is demonstrably unreliable. But weighing all the evidence currently in hand–Willard’s advanced age and ill health; no timely press coverage of such a notable project; and a first-person account fleshed out with numerous detailed anecdotes–the most reasonable working hypothesis is that local artist Leslie Tripp is our man. The next logical step would be in-depth research to disprove or substantiate that claim.

Why am I relating this story? The Wellington Enterprise recently published a full-page, heavily illustrated feature in which it reported that “the village’s oldest house” at 308 East Herrick Avenue is now for sale, and quite possibly contains three original vignettes by Archibald Willard. I was not intending to offer any public comment on the matter, but I have since been asked on several separate occasions for my opinion of the article’s accuracy, so I decided to write this post in response.

Let me begin by saying that I am not an art historian. I can only assess the available evidence as I understand it. Nineteen-year-old Archibald Willard moved to Wellington with his family in 1855. By 1857, he was capable of producing work that looked like this:

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

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

When the house at 308 East Herrick Avenue first became available for sale, I made an appointment with the realtor and went to see it. It is known in local lore as the “Alanson Howk House” and I was very interested to look at some of the architectural details up close. I took snapshots of the small paintings at that time. Here is an example of one of the panels in question:

Panel in west front room of 308 East Herrick Avenue, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Undated, unsigned panel in west front room of 308 East Herrick Avenue, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

If we stipulate that Willard came to Wellington in 1855, and we acknowledge that he was a painter of some technical and aesthetic accomplishment by 1857, then it seems to me that we are left with two possible conclusions about the East Herrick panels. The first is that Archibald Willard painted them after he arrived in town, but before he (rapidly?) developed the talents evident when he painted Village of Wellington. Remember though that Willard did not begin to enjoy commercial success or a measure of renown until fifteen years later, with his Pluck paintings and lithographs. His earlier work is not likely to have been so prized, and therefore protected, prior to that time. The second possible conclusion is that Archibald Willard did not paint the East Herrick panels. They were created by someone with less sophisticated artistic abilities and later incorrectly attributed to the town’s most famous citizen. In the absence of further documentary evidence, I favor the second theory.

Panel in east front room of 308 East Herrick Avenue, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Undated, unsigned panel in east front room of 308 East Herrick Avenue, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Regarding the claim that 308 East Herrick Avenue is the village’s oldest house, I can only say that it was not built in 1815, as the article asserts. Alanson Howk is popularly credited as the builder of that house. He was among the first white settlers to arrive in the area we now call Wellington in late 1818, but he continued to live in his older brother’s household until at least 1826. This is shown by census documents and corporation tax records. Howk married Theadocia Clifford in October 1828; it is not improbable that a house was constructed to shelter the new family. Again, until further research can be conducted, I would only be comfortable stating that–if Alanson Howk was indeed the builder–the house was erected prior to his death in 1850. An architectural historian might have been able to offer a significantly tighter date range, but the Enterprise article indicates that major changes have recently been made to the interior of the structure.

Did Archibald Willard paint the three small works inside 308 East Herrick Avenue? Connoisseurship and artistic authentication are not my fields of expertise. But if you are asking for my best guess, I have my doubts.

“A Rare Chance for the Girls”

I have been doing a great deal of research into the earliest settlers in Wellington of late, which by necessity leads me back to Massachusetts in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. I happened to run across the following letter to the editor, which was purportedly first directed to the Newburyport [MA] Herald in 1836. It then “went viral” and was republished in multiple other newspapers, including the Barre [MA] Gazette and the Newark [NJ] Daily Advertiser.

Letter from Luther W. Day of Wellington, Ohio published in the "Barre [MA] Gazette," 2-12-1836, pg. 4.

Letter allegedly from Luther W. Day of Wellington, Ohio published in the “Barre [MA] Gazette,” 2-12-1836, pg. 4.

Was Luther Day a real person? An (admittedly cursory) examination did not turn up any evidence of him in the 1830 or 1840 Wellington censuses. In 1830, Day would supposedly have been just sixteen years old. The census that year listed only the name of the male head of household; no one named Day is included, but it is theoretically possible that the teenager could have been living in another man’s home. By 1840, four years had passed since the letter was published. Day could have relocated, or died. He does not appear in the extant burial records of Wellington’s Pioneer Cemetery, nor those of Greenwood Cemetery.

Assuming for a moment that he was not the creation of an imaginative eastern newspaper editor, I love the idea that Day was living in rural Ohio, reading a Kentucky newspaper, and apparently saw a reprinted article from a Massachusetts periodical that inspired him to begin a quest for a mail-order bride. Also fascinating is his assertion that “there are no girls in this place.” Did Luther have any inkling of how widely published his earnest entreaty became? Did it lead to his finding “a good girl, not over 25 years of age” to marry? It seems unlikely, but I hope for his sake that it did.

UPDATE: I have been unable to locate anyone called Day in the Wellington corporation tax records for the years 1834, 1835 or 1836. I went so far as to spot check the surrounding communities. John Day of Pittsfield paid taxes on three head of cattle in 1836, but apparently owned no land. Someone who seems to be called Lucy Day owned more than 1,800 acres in Penfield. I found no Luther W., from Huntington to Camden to Brighton to Rochester. I think Farmer Day may be an amusing hoax.

Death and Taxes

Detail of 1837 Wellington Corporation tax record. Lawton Wadsworth's 1.5 acres of land in Lot 22 are valued at $11. Immediately below that, his two sons are listed owning a "House" valued at $1,000. I believe this is the first explicit recorded reference to what would become the American House in tax records.

Detail of 1837 Wellington Corporation tax record. Lawton Wadsworth’s 1.5 acres of land in Lot 22 are valued at $11. Immediately below that, his two sons are listed owning a “House” valued at $1,000. I believe this is the first explicit recorded reference in the tax records to what would become known as the American House.

I love tax records. Not my own, of course. But other people’s? Definitely. After my last post about the keepers of the American House, it occurred to me that a closer examination of village property taxes might clarify exactly who owned the hotel and its land, and who simply managed it as an employee. So I looked at all seventy years of records. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

I could trace ownership of the specific lot on which the hotel stood back to 1835, when Lawton Wadsworth first appears in the data. Since taxes are paid after they are accrued, that seems to confirm 1834 as the year the family purchased the land. However, the lot was valued at only $11 for its first three years, which suggests that it remained empty. Not until 1837 did Lawton’s sons, Oliver Sardine and Jabez Lorenzo Wadsworth, appear on the tax rolls with their father, for ownership of a “House” valued at $1,000. There are very few houses separately listed in the 1837 valuations, and I cannot find any valued higher than that of the Wadsworth brothers. My working hypothesis at present is that the structure was sizable and made of brick (to account for the high valuation), but was built a few years later than the date handed down to us. If that theory is correct, it might explain some of the contradictory accounts of which was the “first” brick building erected in the village.

By 1838, Jabez Wadsworth owned the lot formerly held by his father. He and brother Oliver co-owned the “House” for a few years, but by 1841 Jabez alone was the tax payer of record for both land and structure, a status he retained until 1863. There was a single interruption in that twenty-five year period. In 1852, he apparently sold the property to James and H. B. Nelson. In a rare burst of descriptiveness, the tax recorder added the phrase “Tavern stand” next to the parcel number. The Nelsons held the business for a year but by 1854 it belonged to Jabez once again. (At present, I do not know the connection between the Nelsons and J. M. Tuttle, who in 1852 advertised in The Wellington Journal that he had “recently purchased and refitted” the American House.)

Detail of 1852 Wellington Corporation tax record. Shows the transfer of J. L. Wadsworth's "Tavern stand" on lots 4,1 and 4,2 to James and H. B. Nelson. The property was valued at $1,963 at that time.

Detail of 1852 Wellington Corporation tax record. Shows the transfer of J. L. Wadsworth’s “Tavern stand” on lots 4,1 and 4,2 to James and H. B. Nelson. The properties were valued at $1,963 at that time.

In 1863, Wadsworth finally sold the enterprise for good, to N. A. Wood. I do not know the circumstances of the transfer. In 1869, Wadsworth committed suicide and the Lorain County News reported, “The cause of the rash act is supposed to be insanity, produced by financial troubles and loss of property” (9-29-1869, pg. 3). Wood held the hotel for only three or four years, selling it to Hiram Woodworth in 1866 or 1867.

I briefly mentioned Hiram Woodworth at the conclusion of my last post. Born in 1800, Woodworth had experience running a hotel in New York state when he was first married. He relocated his family to Ohio in 1831 and lived in Rochester township for more than thirty years. According to the obituary of his widow, Caroline L. Wales Woodworth, “They then [1863] sold the old homestead and moved on a farm north of the village of Wellington and there resided three years, when they bought and moved into the American hotel, at Wellington. After her husband’s death she made the hotel her home until she bought a home on Magyar street” (Wellington Enterprise, 10-31-1894, pg. 1). Hiram Woodworth died in October 1873. Mrs. Woodworth continued on at the hotel for at least a decade longer; an 1884 notice in the Enterprise announced, “Mr. and Mrs. W. F. Sawtell have taken the apartments lately occupied by Mrs. Woodworth at the American House…” (1-2-1884, pg. 5). Meanwhile, the property remained in Hiram Woodworth’s name for more than twenty years after his death; it was transferred only after Caroline’s passing in 1894.

Hiram Woodworth. "Commemorative Biographical Record of the Counties of Huron and Lorain, Ohio" (1894), pg. 685.

Hiram Woodworth. “Commemorative Biographical Record of the Counties of Huron and Lorain, Ohio” (1894), pg. 685.

Who obtained the assets from the Woodworth estate? At first I thought the list of names in the tax register represented some sort of business consortium. Then I read the following in Mrs. Woodward’s obituary: “Four daughters and one son were born to Mr. and Mrs. Woodworth, [namely] Mrs. D. L. Wadsworth of Wellington, Mrs. F. M. Sheldon of Hornellsville, N. Y., Mrs. S. E. Wilcox, and Warren Woodworth.” (The fifth daughter was already deceased.) The names of the individuals who paid taxes on the hotel and land after Caroline Woodworth’s death? Wilcox, Sheldon and Ordway.

Stanley Wilcox, so long associated with the operation, was Hiram and Caroline’s son-in-law. W. A. Woodworth, another noted landlord of the American House, was their son. And their eldest surviving daughter, Rosenia, was married to David Lawton Wadsworth, youngest brother of the hotel’s two original owners. I was positively giddy when these pieces all fell into place.

D. L. Wadsworth. "Commemorative Biographical Record of the Counties of Huron and Lorain, Ohio" (1894), pg. 705.

D. L. Wadsworth. “Commemorative Biographical Record of the Counties of Huron and Lorain, Ohio” (1894), pg. 705.

You may be wondering about the final name in the list, Ordway. David and Rosenia Wadsworth’s daughter, Georgie, married D.B. Ordway in 1885, and briefly lived in Hornellsville near her aunt, Mrs. Sheldon. So all of the American House’s final owners were related by blood or marriage. They eventually sold the property to soon-to-be Ohio governor Myron T. Herrick (elected in 1903), who demolished the hotel to make space for a public library, and first appeared in the tax records in that context in 1902.

David and Rosenia Wadsworth were married in 1850, long before her parents relocated to Wellington. Did David play a role in bringing them to the village? Did he want his new relatives to help him reclaim, in some fashion, the venerable old institution his pioneer family had built and managed for so long? The only certainties in life are death, taxes, and the endless yarn spinning of history lovers.

UPDATE: I found an interesting anecdote while perusing Robert Walden’s local history columns. In an article about the Stemple family (proprietors in the 1890s), Walden wrote: “For some years prior to 1902 the old tavern [of the American House] had been falling apart. It was infested with rats, mice and cockroaches. Mrs. Stemple had waged a successful campaign in a series of battles, including the inspection of every particle of food that came up from the kitchen to the dining room tables, but rats and mice accept no defeat. Besides all of these annoyances and others, the roof to the hotel leaked badly and no one had authority to repair it. During the years when Hiram Woodruf [sic] was the landlord there he had given a mortgage upon the building to Wm. Rininger and died without liquidating the debt. Since his estate had no money for the repair and Mr. Rininger refused to make the repairs himself or authorize them at his expence [sic], each succeeding season worsened the disrepair of the roof” (#A116).

Coincidentally, I also just ran across this notice in The Wellington Enterprise, which seems to corroborate Walden’s comments: “A new tin roof is being laid on the American House by Ranson & Wilbur. It is the first time in 33 years that the hotel has been vacant…” (1-12-1898, pg. 5).