Monday, November 2, 2009

Birthplace of John W. Heisman

Not the John W. Heisman birth site

Historical markers are one of my other interests, so much so that I'm an editor with the Historical Marker Database. Of course, that may be due less to my level of interest and more to get me to shut up...

I'd long heard the occasional rumor that the historical marker for the John W. Heisman birth site was in front of the wrong house, an error which occurred due to a change in the street addresses in Cleveland some time in the early 20th century. Heisman is the namesake of the Heisman Trophy. The house in question is in the Ohio City neighborhood of Cleveland, on the near west side.

Not the John W. Heisman birth site

The marker is in front of this 1910s Cleveland duplex on Bridge Avenue, at W. 29th Place, where it has been for the past 30 years. I thought it would be worth doing the legwork to determine whether this was, in fact, the site of Heisman's birth.

The Cuyahoga County Recorder maintains a database of all real estate transfer documents dating back to the early 19th century. I was able to locate the deed transfering the property to the Heismans, which included a specific lot number. Utilizing historical maps, I was able to determine exactly which house the Heismans purchased. I came to the conclusion that the Heisman birthplace is, in fact four tenths of a mile to the west, at 3928 Bridge Avenue. I've documented the history thoroughly on the page illustrating the marker at the Historical Marker Database.

Birthplace of John W. Heisman

This is the house at 3928 Bridge Avenue. Historically, this house is more interesting, as the main part of it was built in the 1850s. This means that it is the actual house John Heisman was born in, rather than merely the house on the site of his birthplace.

Birthplace of John W. Heisman

This angle illustrates the main portion of the house in a slightly clearer manner.

15 comments:

  1. Are they going to move the marker?

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  2. It's unlikely. The Ohio Historical Society only verifies the facts on the marker itself, not the place that the marker is to be erected. This seems reasonable enough - there are any number of reasons why a historical marker might not be on the site of the actual event - for greater prominence, for instance, or if the structure in question had been demolished.

    The problem is that to move it, you'd have to get the organizations who erected it to agreee to move it, and get them to come up with the funds to move it. Right now, I just don't see that happening.

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  3. Maybe the marker needs a marker?

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  4. Oh my I live in that house from 1961-1973 and owned it from 1987-1994. Great area.

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    1. Hey, I currently live in the house across the street from 3928. It's a beautiful old house with I'm sure an interesting story. Do you know anyone who might help me in uncovering pieces of that story? Thanks

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  5. My ex-husband and I lived in that house from 1997 to 2004 and my ex-husband still owns it. We had no idea that any part of it was built in the 1850's. My father completely gutted the inside of the house. I'll have to share this with him and see if he had any clue that the house was older than we believed.

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    1. Hey, I currently live in the house across the street from 3928. It's a beautiful old house with I'm sure an interesting story. Do you know anyone who might help me in uncovering pieces of that story? Thanks

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  6. Christopher, I'm going to try to wake this one up after a year and a half. What do you think the error was that placed the historical marker in front of the wrong house? As far as I can tell, the address of the incorrect house in 1905 (when the streets were renumbered) would have been something in the range 182-186 Bridge St. and today's address is (I think) 2826 Bridge Ave. How did this get confused with 378/3928 Bridge?

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  7. I have no idea what the issue was. I've heard stories that someone told them that this was the site, and they went on that without verifying it. I'll see if I can dig up anything.

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    1. Christopher, any new information? The ex-husband mentioned above and owner of the house. I have been monitoring since 2009. What can I do to assist?

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    2. Hey, I currently live in the house across the street from 3928. It's a beautiful old house with I'm sure an interesting story. Do you know anyone who might help me in uncovering pieces of that story? Thanks

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  8. As a longtime resident of Ohio City and local architect involved in restoration I am pleased that someone has finally solved the riddle of the misplaced marker. As a friend of Anonymous above and her ex, I consulted on the '97 renovation and was inside the house before, during, and after the project. Based on my recollections of the interior after demolition, the front part of the house could possibly be ca. 1860's but the rear portions are probably ca. 1880's. It would be nice to get the marker relocated. Ohio City Inc. could be helpful in getting the ball rolling.

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    Replies
    1. Hey, I currently live in the house across the street from 3928 bridge. It's a beautiful old house with I'm sure an interesting story. Do you know anyone who might help me in uncovering pieces of that story? Thanks

      Delete
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