Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pioneer Post and Beam House - Threatened

Greek Revival house McIlrath residence

Back in January, I identified this pair of historically significant homes in the Collinwood neighborhood of Cleveland, 15002 Sylvia Avenue (left) and 15006 Westropp Avenue (right). Both were built in the 1840s or 1850s, making them some of the very oldest in the area, and, to make them more significant, both seemed to have been built by the same builder, for the same family. The pair even made their way into Hidden History of Cleveland (History Press, 2011).

The McIlrath residence

A few days ago, I saw that the one on Westropp Avenue had been condemned. I took a closer look. Someone had started to remove the aluminum siding. The yard looked overgrown. The doors had been broken down, presumably by city inspectors, seeking to gain access to the property. And there was a ton of stuff inside.

But did I see anything that really justified condemning the structure? No.

A typical farmhouse of the Western Reserve.
Photograph by I.T. Frary, from Ohio in Homespun and Calico, page 16.

Perhaps this photograph will make it easier to visualize the house as it was and may again be. The house in this photo is similar, save that the wing on our house was on the left side of the house and that ours has no second floor windows on the front of the house. There's a lot of great detail, I'm sure, hiding underneath the aluminum siding, cement shingles, and asphalt composition siding. How am I so sure of this? I'll reveal what I've been able to determine about original details in the structure later, once I've explained the history behind it.

The Dille and McIlrath families were some of the earliest settlers to the Collinwood area. They played a major part in the growth and development of the town.


Ninety years ago, there was no family name in this locality more familiar than that of Dille, and no other family so numerically numerous. There were three separate branches of the Dille in the county, headed by two brothers and their nephew. David Dille, Jr., came in 1797 from Washington County, Pa., to spy out the land. He was a farmer and was looking for fertile soil upon which to locate. He did not find what he wanted in or near the hamlet at the mouth of the Cuyahoga, and finally decided upon a 100-acre lot in Euclid. This decision would seem to have barred him and his family from this local history, were it not that they sojourned six weeks in town while their log-cabin in Euclid was being built, and that the children and grandchildren intermarried into Cleveland families, so that David's descendants today - many of them of much local importance - are distributed over the length and breadth of this city. His brother, Asa Dille, Settled in East Cleveland, on Mayfield Road, and the nephew, Samuel Dille, Sr., on Broadway.
(Wickham. The Pioneer Families of Cleveland, 1796-1840, pages 68-69.)

Asa Dille, Sr., brother of David Dille, married Frances Saylor. His log-cabin was on Euclid Avenue, just south of Mayfield Road. When Cuyahoga County was organized in 1810, he was elected its first treasurer. His name appears in connection with societies organized in Cleveland for philanthropic efforts, but nothing else is found concerning him. He had ten children, nine of whom attained majority.
(Wickham, page 71)

There are many family reunions held every year in Cleveland, but none of them were organized so early or have so large a membership as that of McIlrath. Furthermore, this big clan has another point of superiority over others which is a matter of great local pride. Adult McIlraths in some of its branches, that of Alexander, for instance, can visit the McIlrath cemetery in East Cleveland and stand by the graves of their great-great-grandmother, their great-grandparents, and their grandparents, all of whom lived and died in that locality.

Can any Cleveland family beat that record?


One of the sons, Alexander, and his brother in law, John Shaw, came on in 1803, and each purchased 640 acres of land, much of it fronting on Euclid Ave., and extending north to the lake.

Samuel and Isabella McIlrath, the parents, started for East Cleveland in 1808. With other members of the family, they came in ox-teams, drawing household furniture, farming utensils, and the younger and frailer members of the party. They were six months making the journey, therefore must have traveled at their leisure. They settled in a log-house opposite Lake View Cemetery.
(Wickham, page 72)
Abner C. and Eliza McIlrath kept a tavern on Euclid Avenue, in East Cleveland, where they lived all their married lives, and raised 13 children. Their four sons served in the Civil War, and their names can be read on the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument on the Public Square.


It will be noted that the elder McIlraths, children of Samuel and Isabel, were middle-aged when they came to Cleveland. Andrew, the oldest son, was 50 years old; Samuel, his son, and fifth child, married in 1810, Betsy Carlton. Her maiden name was Davis, and she had Carlton children, Davis and Sherman Carlton - both fine men who removed to Elkhart, Ind.

Samuel McIlrath was address as "Squire" by the neighbors, and probably was a justice of the peace. Both Samuel and Betsey were warm-hearted and open-handed. There never was a time when their own household of children was not supplemented by tow or three children bearing other surnames, waifs who had lost one or both children in one of the fatal epidemics that occasionally prevailed.
(Wickham, page 73)

Note: Pioneer Families of Cleveland is worth a look, if you're interested in the histories of these or any of the other early families of Cleveland - especially the ones that may not have received so much attention. The full text is available through Heritage Quest, one of the many databases that the Cleveland Public Library subscribes to.

The eldest of Samuel and Betsey McIlrath's children, Hiram (born circa 1814), married Katherine (or Catherine) Day (born c. 1812), daughter of Hiram Day (Wickham, page 73). By 1840, they had two children, Nancy (born c. 1837) and Morris (born c. 1839) (1850 U.S. Census). This growing family likely needed more space. To that end, in 1843, he purchased a three acre parcel from his parents, for $50 (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 184412120002). This is where he built the house, fronting on what is now East 152nd Street. A few years later, in 1853, he expanded the parcel by a half acre, for the same price again as the original purchase (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 185303210005).

The McIlraths were farmers, like most of families in the area.

One might presume that Hiram McIlrath would have built a house on this parcel as soon as possible - probably in 1844 - but the evidence suggests otherwise. The tax duplicates, available in the county archives, show Hiram's three acres being worth $26 in 1846 and $110 in 1848. The appropriate record for 1847 could not be located.

It's quite reasonable that the house was constructed in 1846, or possibly even 1845, and it just didn't make it onto the tax rolls. We know that it was built by 1848, so while we can't give an exact year, we can solidly place the date between 1844 and 1847.

By 1850, the value of their property had appreciated to $500 - a solid indicator of an improved house. Hiram and Catherine had had two more children, Cassius (born c. 1845) and Mary (born c. 1847).

Catherine McIlrath died, sometime between 1850 and 1856. By that year, Hiram had remarried. He and Mercy (or Mary) (born c. 1817) had two more children, Catherine E. (born c. 1856) and Harriet M. (born c. 1858) (1860 U.S. Census and Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 185604290010). Their other children were not living with them at the time - it's not immediately obvious what became of them.

As of 1860, Hiram was justice of the peace for Euclid Township (1860 U.S. Census).

In April, 1856, Hiram and Mercy sold the parcel (3.5 acres) and the house to Samuel and Sarah McIlrath, for either $500 or $600 (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 185604290010). The exact relationship between Samuel and Hiram is unclear.

Eight months later, Samuel and Sarah McIlrath sold the property to Asa Dille, for $600 (AFN: 185612220011). Earlier in same year (May, 1856), Dille had purchased two other parcels - 93.25 acres, at a cost of $5,653.50 - from Samuel and Sarah McIlrath. The land was adjacent to this house. (The boundaries and surviving neighborhood farmhouses will be addressed in a future post.)

Polly (born c. 1797) and Asa (born c. 1782) Dille were farmers. While they'd been farming in this vicinity for quite a while, but with the purchase of the land from the McIlraths, they likely moved into this house. (They are adjacent to Thomas McIlrath in the 1860 U.S. Census - and the land his house is on is adjacent to this one on the 1858 Hopkins Map of Cuyahoga County.) Several members of the Dille family were laborers on the farm: Chas (born c. 1820); Darwin (born c. 1832); Henry C. (born c. 1838); Thos C. (born c. 1841); and Lucy (born c. 1834). It's unclear whether these were children or other relatives. One Fannie Dare (born c. 1839, a teacher, also lived with them at the time. The farm was said to be worth $8,000, and they had personal property worth $1,000 (1860 U.S. Census).

In 1867, Asa Dille's estate sold the property to Henry Westropp (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 186702220011). Henry (born c. 1813 or 1818) and his wife, Catherine (born c. 1822) immigrated to Ohio from Ireland in 1852 (1900 U.S. Census for Mary A. Westropp). As of 1870, ten of their children were living with them on this farm, said to be worth $8,000. The list on the 1870 U.S. Census notes: Mary A. (born c. 1842); Margaret (born c. 1850); Kate (born c. 1853); Ralph (born c. 1854); James H. (born c. 1856); John (born c. 1858); Patrick (born c. 1860); Bridget E. (Elizabeth?) (born c. 1862); William (born c. 1864); and Ellen (born c. 1866). Ralph, James H., and John worked on the farm with their father.

A decade later, Mary, James, Elizabeth, and William were still living on the farm. James was helping to run the farm while William was in school (1880 U.S. Census).

Henry Westropp remained in the house for the remainder of his life. The property was split among his heirs, after his death, in 1884. The fractional parts and splits are too numerous to document in the space available here.

In 1880, Catherine Westropp married William J. Busby (born March, 1852), an Irish immigrant who came to the U.S. in 1875. As of 1900, they occupied a house at 50 Westropp Road, adjacent to the house of her brothers, Patrick and John P, and her sister, Mary A. - 37 Westropp Road. The men were all farmers (1900 U.S. Census).

Detail, 1898 Flynn plate 5
Detail, Plate 5, Flynn Atlas of the Suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, 1898. Used courtesy of Cleveland Public Library.

In this map detail, north is at the top. Erie Street (now East 152nd Street) runs top to bottom. From left to right, at the bottom, is Scott Avenue (now Hale Avenue, and mostly covered by Interstate 90). The street north of Scott is now known as Westropp. Between these two roads is a parcel, labeled "Cath. A. Westropp et al. 2 35/100 A" - the yellow shape between "Cath" and "A." is our subject house - 15006 Westropp Avenue. On the other side of the road is a parcel belonging to John A. Westropp - this was part of the farm.

The yellow shapes with Xs on them are barns or other outbuildings. One was likely a carriage house, while others may have been for chickens or cows. The one on the north side of the road, running parallel to it, was two stories high - all the rest of the outbuildings that survived to 1913 were only 1 story (1912-1913 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for Cleveland, Ohio, Volume 8, Plate 13).

In 1910, Patrick S. Westropp, John P. Westrop, and Katherine C. Busby were all living in their childhood home, 15006 Westropp. Patrick was noted to still be working as a farmer (1910 U.S. Census).

Detail, 1912 Plat Book of the City of Cleveland Volume 1 plate 40
Detail, 1912 Plat Book of the City of Cleveland, Volume 1, Plate 40. Used courtesy of Cleveland Public Library.

By 1912, the outbuilding with the biggest footprint on the 1898 map was gone.

Detail, 1912 Plat Book of the City of Cleveland Volume 1 plate 40
Detail, 1912 Plat Book of the City of Cleveland, Volume 1, Plate 40. Used courtesy of Cleveland Public Library.

A wider angle view illustrates how much the neighborhood had changed by that date. The massive Collinwood rail yards, with their associated roundhouse and other buildings sit imposingly to the south. The Collinwood Memorial School - the red structure to the north of our house - had been built. Almost all of the blocks had been platted for houses, many of which had been built. Yet slightly off-center, shaded in red and blue, remains the undeveloped farmland, owned by the Busbys and Westropps.

John P. Westropp died Sunday, October 10, 1915, at 15006 Westropp. A funeral was held at St. Joseph's Church on the 13th, and he was buried at St. John's cemetery (Cleveland Necrology File).

By 1920, part of the house was being rented to Frank Kays, a pharmacist (born c. 1882) and his wife Ida M. Kays(born c. 1882) Kays. The U.S. Census taken that year has Katherine Busby as a resident, along with a nephew, Harold Westropp (born c. 1906) and two nieces, Margaret M. Westropp (born c. 1908) and Henrietta A. Westropp (born c. 1908). The three were born in Indiana.

One Elizabeth Gregory evidenly also a tenant, judging from this entry in the Cleveland Necrology File, dated January 5, 1924:
Gregory-Elizabeth, wife of the late Thomas E. Gregory, sister of Mrs. Mamie McNeil, Mrs. Rose M. Edwards and Mrs. Clara George, suddenly at her residence, 15006 Westropp avenue. Funeral from late residence and St. Jerome's church, Lake Shore Boulevard, at 9 a. m. Wednesday.
Though he is not listed in the 1920 Census, Patrick Westropp seems to have remained a resident of this house - at least he was at the time of his death, April 13, 1929. His funeral was held at St. Jerome's Church on Tuesday, April 16 (Cleveland Necrology File).

A husband and wife, Frank and Josephine Borkovac (both born c. 1872) rented part of the house as of 1930. Frank worked on a punch machine, in the steel industry, while Josephine worked cleaning private homes (1930 U.S. Census).

Henriette Westropp married John Martick. After the wedding, he moved into this house. Henriette lived here until her death, on July 31, 1934. A funeral was held at St. Jerome's Church, at East 152nd Street and Lakeshore Boulevard (Cleveland Necrology File).

Catherine retained ownership of the property - and probably lived here - for the rest of her life. In 1934, it was transferred to her nieces and nephews (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 193410090075). Her heirs sold it to Dewey and Edna Pettit, in 1944 (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 193711160003 and 194408030076).

The Pettits lived here for the rest of their lives. It wasn't until 1985 that the property transferred, through Edna Pettit's estate, to Richard L. Pettit (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 00021263).

Richard Pettit sold the house to James R. Major, in 1987 (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 00369967). In 2002, Major sold it to the current owners, Sandra H. King and Henry King (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 200207031082).

There's much more to be unearthed regarding all of the families who called 15006 Westropp home. I've only cut it as short as I have due to limited time.

A typical farmhouse of the Western Reserve.
Photograph by I.T. Frary, from Ohio in Homespun and Calico, page 16.

As I mentioned above, the original appearance of the house on Westropp was likely very similar to this one. A wing, similar to the one here, existed on left side of the house, when facing the house from the exterior, rather than the right, as on this example. It was removed between 1920 and the mid 1950s.

The McIlrath residence

The lines of the Westropp house don't look so sharp, mostly due to several layers of material hiding the original lines - aluminum siding over cement shingles over asphalt composition shingles over the wood siding. I'm sure that with these removed, it would look a lot more appealing.

Brainard residence front door

The front doorway probably looked like the one in Frary's photograph, with a massive pediment balancing the (visually) empty space on the second floor. Ignoring the space above the door, ours would have probably looked something like the entrance on the Brainard Residence (demolished 2010).

Original door, south wall, McIlrath residence

The front door itself was likely similar to, if not identical, to this original door, found on the first floor, south wall.

Detail, front doorway, McIlrath residence

This moulding, a relatively common shape for the period, surrounds the front door and the sidelights (the small vertical windows on either side of the door).

Detail, front doorway, McIlrath residence

In this shot, a wider angle, one gets a better idea of the look of the doorway. Note that the sidelights have been boarded up, and that a wall now covers some of the trim.

A large chimney runs through the center of the house.

Detail, parlor (northeast room), McIlrath residence

To your right, from the entrance, is the parlor. The three windows in that room retain the original trim and paneling, as shown here. The large quantity of material left in the house prevented an effective wider angle shot.

Structural beam with beaded edge, southeast corner, McIlrath residence

The beams that make up the frame of the house protrude from the four corners - in each case, about 5 inches. They were covered, at the time of construction or soon after, trim with a rounded edge. At some later date, this was concealed with plaster.

Basement, McIlrath residence

In the basement, the beams, some hand-hewn, that make up the structure of the house, are still visible.

Chimney, McIlrath residence

The massive chimney, perhaps five feet wide, which once provided heat for the house still remains. Wood beams were added later for support.

Structural detail, northeast room, second floor, McIlrath residence

Structural elements are also visible on the second floor.

Gable detail, McIlrath residence

On the outside, this nice trim, part of the gable end, remains, hinting at what might be present underneath.

Overall, there doesn't appear to be anything especially wrong with the house, other than the level of debris, both inside and outside the house, and the half-removed aluminum siding. There isn't any evidence of water getting in, and there don't seem to be any structural issues. It's a solid house, with good lines, and plenty of historic interior detail.

What happens next?

I have not yet seen the list of code violations - I've requested these, and any other public records associated with the condemnation of the property, and I expect to have them in hand next week. I'll share them at that time.

While the busy intersection may not make this the best location for a private residence, it could work quite well for an office, I would think. That would as an excellent way to preserve the structure.

Historic photographs of this house or the surroundings would be most welcome, as would any additional history of this structure and the families that called it home.

This house, built by Hiram McIlrath, between 1844 and 1848, factored into the lives of two of the earliest families to settle this area, the McIlraths and the Dilles. To quote I.T. Frary (Early Homes of Ohio, page 61),
We build monuments to the memory of heroes. These structures are monuments erected by the heroes themselves.

Correction: The story previously referred to the outermost layer of siding on the house as being vinyl siding. It is, in fact, aluminum siding. While this may suggest the motivations for the removal of some of the siding, it does not change any of the other facts, nor the conclusions reached.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Threatened: The best frame Italianate house on Cleveland's east side

The best frame Italianate house on the east side

I first detailed this massive 3,500 square foot house back on November 9, 2009 (The best frame Italianate house I've seen in Cleveland). It's also covered in Hidden History of Cleveland (History Press, 2011), pages 119-120.

The house was built in 1874. We can learn some details of the construction, thanks to a court case involving payment involving the contract for the house:

"Agreement entered into this 8th day of October, 1874, between Jan Zoeter and A.W. Lamson, whereby said Jan Zoeter this day agrees to sell to A.W. Lamson a certain house and lot situated upon the south side of Superior street between Norwood street and Denham avenue, being the first lot east" [east of an existing house belonging to one Mr. Griffin (AFN: 188111190002) - actually Ernest Giffhorn] and so on describing the property.

Then follows: "Said house being now in course of erection and completion, said house to be finished in every respect by said Zoeter in a good workmanlike manner, with inside walk and fences, well and cistern, lot graded and sodded, and barn, all to be conveyed to said Lamson by a good warranty deed free from incumbrances when finished. Said A.W. Lamson agrees to pay the said Zoeter for the same the sum of $8,000, $2,000 down, the balance, $6,000, in four equal annual payments, secured by a mortgage on said premises, and at 7 per cent interest; said payments to bear date the day when possession is given of said Lamson. This contract is subject to verbal arrangements between the parties as to the manner of finishing said house.

Reprint of Decisions of Ohio Courts (Below Supreme Court): Contained in the Cleveland Law Reporter, Volumes 1 & 2 (1878-1879), Cleveland Law Record, 1856. Cleveland Law Register, 1893.
Weekly Law Bulletin, 1897, pages 235-237.

Alfred W. Lamson was a principal in the law firm of Pennewell & Lamson. He later served as a judge on the court of common pleas in Cleveland. (Special thanks to Craig Bobby for his work in tracking down this information and several other small but important facts that would have otherwise been omitted.)

The best frame Italianate house on Cleveland's east side
Circa 1956. Photograph courtesy of the Cuyahoga County Archives

Here's a photo of the house from the 1950s. Virtually all of the detail present in this historic photo remains.

The best frame Italianate house on the east side

A recent photo from a similar angle illustrates just how much the trees and bushes hide the beauty of the house.

Alfred W. Lamson lived in this house until 1879.

As a result of the lawsuit mentioned above, wherein which Lamson owed Jan Zoeter $7,063.41 on this house, the property was sold at sheriff's sale, in 1881, and returned to Jan Zoeter (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 188111190002).

Jan and Jane Zoeter remained owners of the property for a decade, until 1891, when they sold the house to Stephen Taylor, for $7,000 (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 189106130002). In 1895, Taylor sold the house to Byron E. Helman, for $8,500 (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 189508130036). Two years later, Helman sold the house to Phillip Platten, for the same price (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 18970721001).

Phillip Platten sold the property to George W. Ford, in 1906 (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 190602130007). Later the same year, Ford sold the property to John J. and Rosa J. Fischer, Swiss immigrants (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 190611160053, 1920 U.S. Census). The Fischers would remain in the house for the rest of their lives (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 190902270025 and 192903140066). After Rosa's death in 1929, the property transferred to their children, Otto J. Fisher, Ernest J. Fischer, and Johanna R. Fischer.

Otto worked as a superintendent in a steel mill, while his brother, Ernest, worked in one as a toolmaker (1920 U.S. Census).

Otto, Ernest, and Johanna kept the house as their residence for the next 30 years. It only transferred out of the family after the last of three, Johanna, died in 1961 (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 195703020029; 196104080041; 196109060005).

Johanna Fischer's estate sold the house to Francis and Adele Neimanas, who also lived their for the rest of their lives, April 29, 200, and March 26, 1994, respectively. In 2004, their heirs sold the house to James Baker (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 200304030916; AFN: 200405041037; AFN: 200405041038; AFN: 200405041039).

The best frame Italianate house on Cleveland's east side

Let's take a look at the house itself. As you approach the front porch, you notice that the front of the house appears to be stone. This is, in fact, not stone or faux painting, but wood carved to look like stone.

The best frame Italianate house on the east side

The columns that support the front porch feature incredibly detailed carvings.

The best frame Italianate house on the east side

The windows also feature intricate carvings.

The best frame Italianate house on the east side

Here's a detail of one of the windows. Imagine how expensive it would be to have just one piece like this made today.

The best frame Italianate house on the east side

You'r greeted by the massive front doors, which somehow have remained intact.

Banister, the best frame Italianate house on Cleveland's east side

Once you step inside, you can see the stairs to the second floor. This massive bannister provides both visual and physical support for the railing. Note the trim on the side of the stairs, as well as the faux painting on the baseboard in the background. It's rare for such a surface treatment to remain intact.

The spindles have been replaced,yes, but I'm sure suitable replacements could be found at a reasonable price from Buffalo ReUse.

The best frame Italianate house on the east side

When you step into the front room and look back at the stairs, you notice that the trim and doorway here, too, remain original and even retain their original finish - the only thing marring the door is a deadbolt lock.

The best frame Italianate house on the east side

An arched doorway with pocket doors separates the front room from the one behind it.

Plaster ceiling medallion, the best frame Italianate house on the east side

Even the plaster ceiling medallion - which would have had a light fixture hanging from the center - remains intact. There are similar ceiling medallions, in similar condition, in many of the rooms.

The best frame Italianate house on the east side

The pocket doors remain functional, as demonstrated so ably by my assistant.

The best frame Italianate house on the east side

Then you step back into this room. Like the front room, it had a fireplace.

Photograph by Tim Barrett

I suspect that the fireplaces were marble, like those in the Beckenbach residence, just across the street, shown here. It's worth noting that the Beckenbach residence and St. George's Lithuanian Church have been saved, which bodes well for this community.

The best frame Italianate house on the east side

If we take the stairs up to the second floor, we observe similarly high finish quality.

The best frame Italianate house on the east side

A hallway leads from the front to the back of the house. Toward the end of the hallway, a curved wall provides a visual separation between the front of the house and the area where the help would have lived.

Yes, there are some problems that become obvious here, the most notable being falling plaster in the rear rooms. The roof will likely need to be redone. I don't expect there to be significant structural issues - there is no evidence of water inside right now.

The best frame Italianate house on the east side

The little details are worth noting, too, like this doorknob, one of a few different varieties in the house, all correct to the period.

The best frame Italianate house on Cleveland's east side

Even the latches on the windows are beautifully detailed.

The best frame Italianate house on Cleveland's east side

Another look at the exterior reveals more impressive trim. Here, we can see the original wood gutters and the fine detail present.

The best frame Italianate house on Cleveland's east side

The house, while quite large, at 3,500 square feet, sits comfortably on the lot.

The best frame Italianate house on the east side

And just when you thought that's all there was to see, something else catches your attention, hidden behind the trees - a carriage house! The structure, with the beautiful arched doorways, for both people and carriages, is an extremely rare example at best. A view from the rear reveals large holes in the roofing material. While it can and should be saved, it will take some work.

For a house that has sat vacant for so long, the condition is impressive. (According to the neighbors I spoke with, it's been empty for at least seven years.)

Why is it threatened? Because the city is trying to condemn as many houses as possible. Vacant structures like this one, no matter how impressive, are easy targets - especially when their owners are uninterested in doing anything with them.

The Lamson house is the best frame Italianate house on Cleveland's east side - this isn't an exaggeration. For the price of new plumbing and a new roof, you could call it home.

Need more information? Check out my full set of photos of the house.

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Church and the Landscape - The Congregational Church at Claridon

1381 - Congregational Church, built 1831
Photograph by I.T. Frary. 1922. Scanned from a photocopy of an original in the I.T. Frary Audiovisual Collection at the Ohio Historical Society.

On Wednesday, I illustrated how the changes in landscape around St. Theodosius Russian Orthodox Church affected the perception of the structure, from something monumental to something more ordinary. Today, I hope to illustrate how more subtle changes affect the perception of a historic structure.

The Congregational Church at Claridon was built in 1831, at the intersection of Mayfield Road (US 322) and Claridon-Troy Road, in Geauga County. (If you took Mayfield Road east from Interstate 271 and continued east for 16 miles, you'd end up there.)

The church is an especially good example of the type built in this area during the time specified.

As you look at these photographs, try to notice how the church has been changed over time.

Church at Claridon
Photograph by I.T. Frary, in the collections of the Ohio Historical Society. From the Cleveland Artists Foundation exhibition Designing History: I.T. Frary; Interior Design and the Beginnings of Historic Preservation in Ohio.

This photograph, circa 1929, was used by Frary in his landmark work, Early Homes of Ohio, which remains the best work on Ohio's architectural heritage as a whole.

First Congregational Church of Claridon

Finally, we have a photograph that I took, back in March of this year.

The most obvious change is that the windows are no longer arched, but now have rounded tops. But there's another significant change. Look at the stairs leading to the church.

In 1922, there are just two front stairs. By circa 1929, there are three. And today, there are four.

Note how much the church feels like it's part of the landscape in 1922. Something's lost in the addition of stairs - to my eyes, it feels more separated from the landscape. Perhaps that was the intention.

As in Tremont, these changes, large and small, make a difference.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

St. Theodosius Russian Orthodox Church, Again

Dominance of the City
The Dominance of the City. Ora Coltman, 1933-34. Image used courtesy of Cleveland Public Library.

When I came across this painting, The Dominance of the City, by Ora Coltman, I was impressed. The canvas, painted in 1933-1934, was the first New Deal mural in Cleveland. The description on the Cleveland Public Library website notes:
The large center panel shows a view of bridges over the Cuyahoga River in the Cleveland flats. The artist's intent was "to glorify the genius of Cleveland which contemptuous of the obstacles of the river and its valley, had thrown across it these broad level highways making one community out of two, the mercantile east side…linked up with the south-side foreign residents. " The right panel of the mural shows the St. Theodosius Cathedral and its surrounding Tremont neighborhood. The left panel is the Ohio Bell building representing Cleveland as a center of commerce.

Detail, Dominance of the City
Detail, The Dominance of the City. Ora Coltman, 1933-34. Image used courtesy of Cleveland Public Library.

My attention was drawn to the right hand panel, illustrating St. Theodosius Russian Orthodox Church. It reminded me of another painting of the church and the Flats, painted in 1912 by Frank Nelson Wilcox, which I discussed in Caboose and Russian Church.

The historic church remains today, while many of the houses around it are gone. But that's not the most significant change in the appearance of the church.

In these paintings, the church is portrayed as sitting at the very highest point in the landscape, while the viewer is placed in the Flats. In such an elevated position, it is impressive, and suggests grander things.

Today, most of those who view the church see it from Interstates 90 and 490. They're (physically) closer to the position of the church, and as a result it loses something of what makes it impressive.

Little Russia, Cleveland View of Tremont from the Clark Ave. Bridge
Little Russia, Cleveland. Ora Coltman, 1926. Image used courtesy of Cleveland Public Library.

This can be seen in a lesser degree in Coltman's Little Russia, Cleveland, painted for the Jefferson Branch of Cleveland Public Library.

Am I saying that we should remove the interstate highways for a more appropriate historical landscape? No. I bring this all up to suggest that we can better view the landscape as a whole (and the significance of this church within the community) by visualizing the landscape around it at the time it was built.

Imagine yourself in the Flats in the 1910s and try to see what the visual impact of this church must have been.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cleveland’s Role in Origins of Baseball in America

Since the game of baseball became an immensely popular sport in the mid-1850’s in the New York & Massachusetts region of the country, theories have existed as to when and where the game originated. The most popular theory is the Doubleday Myth, call so because it has been thoroughly debunked by great research and the discovery of prime sources that prove the theory to be a myth. Historians have exhaustively tried to solve this great mystery, and have turned up some interesting evidence over the past ten years.

Author David Block’s “Baseball Before We Knew It”, is probably the best comprehensive book on the matter. Block has discovered evidence that some form of bat and ball games were being played by the ancient Egyptians. He has discovered woodcuts of children playing bat and ball games from as early as 1301! The current general consensus is that our modern game of baseball is derived from changes in some sort of bat and ball game implemented by the New York Knickerbockers in 1845. Prior to these changes, base ball was most likely known as town ball, which is the rue American origin of the modern game. In fact, “town ball”, may have been called base ball many years prior to 1845.

In 2004, Baseball Hall of Fame Historian and noted author John Thorn discovered a reference to a ban on “baseball” in a town by-law in the town of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The by-law was written in 1791, and was enacted to keep the game from being played within 80 yards of a new town meetinghouse built in the town. Evidently, kids were breaking windows by playing the game well over 200 years ago. Laws such as this became very common as the game became more popular. There was even a ban on ball playing in Cleveland, enacted in 1845 (see above photo). The ban reads as follows: "it should be unlawful for any person or person to play at any game of Ball, or at any other game or pastime whereby the grass or grounds of any Public place or square shall be defaced or injured." The ban was lifted in 1856.

You may ask, how does Cleveland fit into the mystery? Recent discoveries here in Cleveland corroborate what Mr. Thorn found in Pittsfield. In addition to the 1845 Cleveland ban on ball playing, which suggests that the game was popular enough to warrant a law banning it’s play in order to save countless windows around public square, I have found other references that show the game was being played here close to the same time as when the game was banned in Pittsfield.

Pittsfield, Massachusetts, is located a mere 35 miles from the Connecticut border. Connecticut claimed the Western Reserve as a territory from 1662 to 1800, and Cleveland was, and still is, by far the largest, and one of the oldest settlements in the Western Reserve. The land was settled by residents of Connecticut, and Cleveland was founded by Moses Cleaveland of Connecticut. According to an newspaper article from the Cleveland Leader from July 9, 1859, the game of baseball had been around Cleveland for quite some time.
“Baseball was a favorite game of the early settlers and we are glad to see the manly sport is still in vogue, at least in “benighted Ashtabula.” A game was played in Jefferson, and the first side to win 100 “scores” was to be declared the winner. There were 13 innings without a score. Joshua R. Giddings, 64, scored every time at bat.”

The find here is that the article ties the game in with the “early settlers”, which were people that came here in the time period of 1796 to the early 1800’s. The fact that a 64 year-old person was playing the game suggests that the game was popular, and maybe something he learned in childhood. A 64 year-old man in 1859 would have been a child during the time of settlement.

Another reference describes how the game had been around for some time in the area.

“Large crowds of men, both old and young, resort daily to the Public Square to engage in the invigorating old game of baseball. Police endeavored to stop the players on Apr. 4, but the city marshal informed the players that they were breaking no law, so playing was resumed.” (Cleveland Leader, April 8, 1857)

It is interesting to note that this game at Public Square (see above photo of ball diamond on Public Square in 1859) took place right after the ban from 1845 had been repealed in 1856! Further, that fact that again, old residents as well as young people were playing “the invigorating OLD game of baseball”, suggests that the game had been around the area for quite some time.

A final piece of evidence comes from a Cleveland newspaper article from April 15, 1841.

“Playing ball is among the very first of the ‘sports’ of our early years. Who has not teased his grandmother for a ball, until the ‘old stockings’ have been transformed into one that would bound well?… There is fun, and sport, and healthy exercise, in a game of ‘ball’. We like it; for with it is associated recollections of our earlier days.”

The article again references “early years”, and ”earlier days”. For a city that was a mere 45 years old at the time of the article, early years and days can only solidify that argument that the game was being played by the settlers of Cleveland and the Western Reserve.

A case can be made that the game of “ball”, “town ball” and/or “base ball”, was imported from Connecticut, a mere 35 miles from the earliest reference to the game in America in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The game was cultivated, and played by our earliest settlers, who passed the pastime down to their children and grandchildren. The popularity of the game was such that the city banned its’ play in 1845 due to the same issues leading to the ban in Pittsfield in 1791 – broken windows and ruined grass. The evidence found here in Cleveland merely corroborates the theory that the great game of base ball, in some form, was being played in America for quite some time.

Cleveland Newspaper Digest, 1841, 1857, 1859
Baseball Before We Knew It, David Block
Baseball Hall of Fame
Base Ball on the Western Reserve, James Egan Jr.

1845 City of Cleveland Ban on Ball Playing -
Ambrotype of Public Square in 1859, foreground shows outline of a baseball diamond (photo of ballfield on Public Square)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Cleveland's Oldest House - Identified

Cleveland's Oldest House
Photo from the Cleveland Press Collection, used courtesy of the Cleveland Memory Project.

Last week, I shared this photograph, of a structure said to be Cleveland's Oldest House. The caption noted that it was located at West 93rd and Lorain - but I couldn't find anything in the historic maps of that area that matched up with the footprint of the house.

I offered a signed copy of Hidden History of Cleveland, for anyone who could identify the location of the structure or whose house it actually was.

Craig Bobby took up the task. He said,
I decided to "look up" whatever I could regarding the alleged Lorenzo Carter house, demolished in 1932, by looking in the Press, circa September 15, 1932. I did succeed in finding what was needed, published, by the way, in that very same date's edition.

Detail, 1913 Sanborn
Detail, 1913 Sanborn map. Used courtesy of Cleveland Public Library. Loren is the street running left-right near the bottom of the image. Our house is at the corner of Loren and East 93rd, the street running top to bottom.

He continued,
This house was neither at West 93rd nor Lorain; it was at East 93rd and Loren. This would be a small number of blocks north of Harvard, just outside of the original Newburgh Village. The article misidentifies the side-street as 'Lauren'. Its exact address was 3890 East 93rd -- it was on the northwest corner. You could see, from looking at the 1913 Sanborn map, that the house was set back considerably from the street. It has such a setback on both the 1881 and 1858 maps. The house behind it in the 1932 photo was the first house on the north side of Loren.

Detail, Plate 26, 1881 City Atlas of Cleveland, Ohio
Detail, Plate 26, 1881 City Atlas of Cleveland, Ohio - used courtesy of Cleveland Public Library

Craig Bobby said,
I checked the 1881 City Of Cleveland Atlas and the 1858 Cuyahoga County Map. This house was on the property of Alonzo Carter, not Lorenzo Carter. I also looked at various historic Censuses and found an Alonzo Carter in Newburgh as far back as 1850. Both the 1840 and 1830 censuses have an Alonzo Carter living in Brooklyn, not Newburgh. I personally believe that they are all the same person. Those older censuses only listed age-groups, but, considering this, they seem to be about the same person, with knowing that the 1850 census has his age as being 60. Assuming from all of this that Alonzo Carter moved from Brooklyn to Newburgh sometime between 1840 and 1850, I think that it could be legitimately suggested that the house was built by him whenever that was that he arrived there in Newburgh. If not, then he acquired an already-built house. Regardless of the story of the alleged "primitive" construction features made visible during demolition, I still can not accept that this house was built in 1800 -- at least not the house as we see it in the photo. Could it have been a log cabin extensively remodeled in later years? We will never know.

The Dictionary Of Cleveland Biography article on Lorenzo Carter says that he had a son named Alonzo. I am willing to believe that this is that person. The Dictionary says Lorenzo was at least born in Connecticut, while the 1850 census says that Alonzo was born in Vermont. Lorenzo could have moved from Connecticut to Vermont -- they are quite near each other. The 1850 census also says that Alonzo Carter had a son named 'Lorain'. I believe that this is a misspelling; I bet his name was Loren (likely a 'diminutive' of Lorenzo). This should 'explain' why the side-street was named Loren. And, according to the Cleveland Necrology File, Alonzo Carter died in 1872 (quite possibly in this very house) at the ripe old age of 82.

Cleveland's Oldest House is Razed

He was kind enough to provide a copy of the article as well.

For his efforts, Craig Bobby will receive a signed copy of Hidden History of Cleveland.

While we now have the correct location for the photo, we are left with more answers than questions. Perhaps someone else, at some future date, will take interest in this and see what else can be learned about the history of this historic home.