Monday, April 18, 2016

The Long Shadow of John Brown

Abolitionist leader John Brown (1800-1859)
Abolitionist leader John Brown (1800-1859)
On Wednesday, April 13, I spoke at the Peninsula Library. My talk, "The Long Shadow of John Brown", sponsored by the Cuyahoga Valley Civil War Round Table, is one of my favorite topics. I have followed the story of John Brown for over 40 years and would like to share some observations about Brown, his family's years in Hudson, Ohio, and his connections to Western Reserve Academy.

WRA connections:
  • Owen Brown, father of the abolitionist, was a founding trustee of the college and school in 1826.
  • Samuel L. Adair, brother-in-law of John Brown, went to our school in the 1830's
  • Charles Storrs Adair, son of Samuel & Florella Brown Adair, was named for Charles B. Storrs, first President of Western Reserve College (1830-1833) and "the first martyr of the abolitionist cause".
  • Charles Storrs Adair, nephew of John Brown, was a student here at WRA 1860-1862 before dropping out to join the 2nd Kansas Cavalry and serving for the rest of the Civil War.
  • Newton B. Hobart, (b.1854) Headmaster of Western Reserve Academy 1880-1892, was proud to be the nephew of John Brown. Hobart mentioned Brown in letters to WRA years later.
    Newton B. Hobart
    Headmaster Newton B. Hobart, who was Head of WRA 1880-1892; he was a nephew of John Brown and could recall sitting on his lap as a small child (Hobart was born in 1854).
  • Julian Scott, grandson of Lora Case to whom John Brown's last letter was addressed, was a WRA graduate, class of 1897. He was the father of Ellen Scott Mickel, WRA 1921 and Jeanette Scott McCuskey, WRA 1925.
  • Julian Scott, WRA class of 1897
    Julian Scott, WRA class of 1897
  • John Brown's last letter, written to Lora Case of Hudson, was loaned to the school in the late 1920's for a special exhibit. It is now in the Schomberg Collection at New York Public Library.
 John Brown's 216th birthday is May 9, 2016.
John Brown (1800-1859)
Abolitionist leader John Brown (1800-1859)

His wife, Mary Ann Day Brown's 200th birthday was April 15, 2016.
Mary Ann Day Brown
 Mary Ann Day Brown, wife of John Brown, with daughters Annie and Sarah, taken in 1851.
John Brown's house built in the early 1820s
The house that John Brown built in the early 1820's, still standing at 1842 Hines Hill Road, Hudson. It was here that the first three of John Brown's 20 children were born. Photo from Reserve Record, 1929, before the house was remodeled.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

New Photo of School Benefactor is Gift

A small box from the estate of the late Luella Crawford Dodds (1879-1978) who was among the 24 graduates of the 1898 class at Western Reserve Academy arrived at WRA Archives a short time ago.  It had been hiding in the attic of a Hudson house for the last 35 years.  Among the little treasures of this collection include some diaries that Luella kept, a number of clippings from the local paper, and a couple of rare photos of James W. Ellsworth and his wife, Julia.
Luella Crawford Dodds had become the travel companion of Mrs. Ellsworth around 1910 and remained with the Ellsworth household until the death of school benefactor James W. Ellsworth in 1925.  Her frequent travel to Europe or to Jekyll Island, Georgia, with the Ellsworths was quite a contrast to the other young women who grew up in Hudson at the end of the 19th century.  Luella must have had the charm and panache to mingle in the society that the Ellsworths kept.  One photo shows Luella with Mrs. Ellsworth at the Schloss Lenzberg in Switzerland in August, 1920.  It is interesting but not as good as the one taken around the same time at the Villa Palmieri, the Ellsworth home at Florence, Italy.
The photo of Ellsworth himself and his wife was probably taken in Switzerland around 1914 and shows them both posing on a rustic staircase in what appear to be seersucker outfits, appropriate for summer season. Ellsworth is wearing one of the Lenzberg straw hats that he sported during his summers abroad.  This same hat appears on a Swiss postage stamp of our era.
Luella came back to Hudson in 1925 and lived with her husband on Owen Brown Street where she remained for more than 30 years.  She served on the Board of Trustees at the Hudson Library and Historical Society for over 60 years and was active at Christ Church Episcopal where she was cashier for the church's annual fall rummage sale.  She lived in a house on North Main in her later years, liked strong cocktails and cigarettes, and always wore a hat.  Alice Stark of WRA recalled her attending a function on campus around 1975 where she was "seated bolt upright on a Victorian sofa, sipping tea and smoking a cigarette at age 95, the only person in the room wearing a hat".  We are pleased to add these items from an unforgettable alumna to the collections of WRA Archives.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Archives Makeover

It was a pleasure working with designer Inga Walker on posting historic photos in the hallway outside the WRA Archives on the lower level of the John D. Ong Library. We examined a number of vintage photos and made a selection of the ones we hoped would be of interest to visitors and alumni. The oldest photo shows the campus buildings in the late 1860's with a heavy fence on the College Street side of Brick Row.

Another photo on the walls is one of student cadets ranged in front of the Chapel in the late 1870's when military drill was a part of the curriculum. Other photos show a girls' basketball team from the early 1920's, a baseball team with coach "Doc" Frew from the 1930's, two photos of the Senior Cabin built in the East Woods in 1928, and an interior chapel photo from the 1940's showing Headmaster Joel B. Hayden at the podium with the beautiful Palladian windows behind him. In all there are 15 photos in the hallway, each with an explanatory tag.

We invite all visitors to the school to come down to the lower level of the John D. Ong Library to see this photo collection, as well as visit the Archives. Some other items of historic interest have been framed for the adjacent College Counseling Office and should also be included in the visitor tour.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A History of WRA

I am contacted often regarding Western Reserve Academy's history. Here is a brief overview of major WRA happenings. Please do contact me for additional details not provided here. Ours is an exciting and unique history on many levels.

Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, Ohio, was founded in 1826 as the preparatory school for the Western Reserve College, located in Hudson from 1826 until it moved to Cleveland's University Circle in 1882. The school became autonomous, then completely independent, of what is now Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. There is no current connection between our two institutions except for a common founding date, and the fact that our school now occupies the historic buildings that once were the seat of the old college.

The earliest buildings were constructed starting in 1826 with the building of Middle College, where the cornerstone was located, and which served as a dormitory from its completion in 1827 until its demolition in 1912. South College, which was the home of the old Preparatory School, was built in 1829-30 and continued to be the main classroom and dormitory building for the school until the college moved to Cleveland. This building was demolished in 1884. Both of these were on Brick Row, that line of buildings facing west that were modeled loosely on the Brick Row at Yale College in New England. In fact, during the 1840's and '50's, the old college liked to call itself "the Yale of the West."

The historic Brick Row consists of several buildings lined up on the ridge facing west in order to best catch the sunshine that was needed to light 19th century structures. Lemuel Porter, who had emigrated from Waterbury, CT, and had built the wonderful Church at Tallmadge Circle (1825), was hired as the architect/ builder for the campus of the old college. He had completed the two buildings described above, and was just finishing up the duplex President's House (1829-30) when he died suddenly in the fall of 1829. The college trustees decided to extend the contract to his young son, Simeon Porter (1807-1871).  He was only 22 years of age, but had worked as an apprentice to his father on his college projects.

Using the plans of his father, often based on the models in the Asher Benjamin pattern books, Simeon Porter completed the work on Brick Row and then went on to a distinguished career as an architect in Cleveland. Simeon and his father were responsible for introducing the Greek Revival style to Hudson and this campus, and the Brick Row is an excellent example of this important architectural style.

Simeon Porter completed the majestic Chapel (1836); the North Hall dormitory (1838), one of the oldest in Ohio; Loomis Observatory (1838) based on the plan of astronomer Elias Loomis (1811-1889), who had gone to Europe to purchase the instruments that are still in this little building. Loomis Observatory is now the 2nd oldest in this country, the only one older is also an 1838 structure at Williams College in Massachusetts. Simeon also built the Athenaeum (1843) on the north campus that was the main classroom building on campus until the completion of Seymour Hall (1914) on the Brick Row. He also helped build the Nathan Seymour House (1842) on Prospect Street, used as a guesthouse. The other building on WRA's historic Brick Row is the John D. Ong Library (2000), designed to fit into the line of historic buildings on this walkway.

James W. Ellsworth (1849-1925) was the multi-millionaire Hudson man who became the chief benefactor of the town during the 20th century and the principal benefactor of Western Reserve Academy which "reopened" on his foundation in 1926. It was his gift that saved the school and its historic buildings, which might otherwise have been demolished, as the school itself went bankrupt in 1903. Ellsworth is the man who rescued the school and put it on a sound financial basis which is why it is one of America's leading independent schools.

You can read about the early history of this campus in Frederick Waite's Western Reserve University, the Hudson Era (1943) which should be available for loan from your local library. Additional historical significant articles are also always available by reading my archival blog postings.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Connections from Australia show WRA's global reach

A paraphrase of a blog visitor's request:

I came across your name on the internet (WRA: Past & Present), and wondered if you could help me. I live in New South Wales, Australia. I am a distant relative of William Pettingell via his older brother Joseph Pettingell. I have been informed that there was a portrait of William Pettingell in the dining room of Nathan P Seymour House - Campus Guest House, Western Reserve Academy. If this portrait is still hanging in Nathan P Seymour House, is there any way I could get a copy? I would be very grateful if you could reply to my email. I can provide you with a PDF of the diary, if you are interested.

And my subsequent response:

How nice to hear from one of William Pettingell's relatives in Australia, and to know that you contacted us as the result of our blog, WRA: Past & Present.

Yes, we have that portrait of William Pettingell which has been hanging in the dining room of WRA's guest house, the Nathan Seymour House on Prospect Street, since it was opened as a guest house in 1998. I will have that image scanned and sent to you probably later today (Monday).

It may interest you to learn that over the years we have had correspondence with other family members of the Pettingell family. In early 1999 I corresponded with Robert O. Pettingell of Greenville, Texas and sent him a packet of information about William Pettingell (1802-1885) and his association with the old college that was located here in Hudson. Rob then sent me a packet of family information that included the names and addresses of the following, some of whom may be directly related to you. They included Mike Linden of Taupo, New Zealand; Betty Hargreaves of Albion Park Rail, NSW, Australia; Wal Taylor of Muskisson, NSW, Australia; and Mrs. Helen Boyd of Northbridge, NSW, Australia.

A little earlier, my colleague from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Rich Baznik, sent out a large packet of letters from Pettingell to various family members, his wife and others, from 1843 to 1857 that are in the Archives of CWRU or borrowed from private owners with copies in the CWRU Archives. This packet was sent to a Linda Pettingell whose location is unknown to me. Rich also corresponded with Robert O. Pettingell of Texas who was probably sent the same packet of letters, many of them datelined Hudson, Ohio.

Hudson also became the home of William's brother Joseph's grandsons, artist Alfred Pettingell whose nature paintings are in the collection of The Hudson Library and Historical Society where I was library director at the time those paintings were restored. I believe that several are now on exhibit at the library.

Joseph Pettingell, (1879-1964) the other grandson who settled here, kept a diary that tells about Hudson life in the 1880's and 1890's and which was published in a limited edition volume several years ago and is available at the Hudson Library, His widow, Maude S. Pettingell (1880-1980), lived on Oviatt Street for much of her life, and was a special education teacher in Cleveland and Columbus. She and her husband, Joseph, had an extensive shell collection that they donated to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Let me know if any of these items would be of interest to you, and I will make copies and send to you via surface mail. For that I will need a street address. Meantime, I will have that portrait scanned and sent along to you.

Yes, we would be interested in seeing the Diary of Joseph Pettingell as transcribed by his grandson, Joseph, and yourself. If you are able to send us the link to the National Library of Australia, we would add this to our records. Thanks again for contacting Western Reserve Academy.

Our connections at WRA are global and so valued.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Guest post from alumnus Lawrence B. Siddall ’48

Class of 1948 member Lawrence Siddall recently submitted an essay for our community, writing the speech he'd give to our student body in the Chapel, if able to travel to WRA. Mr. Siddall is a retired psychotherapist and a former Peace Corps volunteer, and his essay is a wonderful reminder of how connected our community is throughout the ages. Thank you Mr. Siddall!
What I Would Say if I Were to Give a Talk in the Chapel
By Lawrence B. Siddall ’48
Greetings to you all. It is a real pleasure to be with you today. I spent three years at Reserve, graduating in 1948. Here it is 2014. It’s hard to believe that it has been more than 65 years since I sat where you are in this historic chapel. That means I’m 84 this year, old enough to be your grandfather. It makes me think that if, in 1948, we had an alumni member give a talk who had graduated 65 years before, he or she would have been from the Class of 1883. That would have seemed like ancient history to us. You may be thinking the same thing about me. Incidentally, 1883 was one year after the Trustees of Western Reserve College, which was founded on this campus in 1826, decided to move the college to Cleveland.

Do you know where the term western reserve comes from? It’s connected to the state of Connecticut, which in colonial times had land claims that stretched westward into what would become Ohio. These claims in northern Ohio were collectively known as the Connecticut Western Reserve. Much of the territory was wilderness and home to American Indians. It must have been a huge challenge for David Hudson and his fellow Connecticut pioneers to make the trek out here and settle this town in 1799. 

Read entire essay here... 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Lincoln Chair celebrates 100 years in Hudson!

This month marks the 100-year anniversary that James W. Ellsworth brought Lincoln's chair back to Hudson.
Archivist Thomas Vince with Lincoln's chair.

Western Reserve Academy's benefactor, James W. Ellsworth, was just 12 years old when Abraham Lincoln's train stopped in Hudson in 1861. We believe he was there, as it would have been a great occasion for the town that had voted solidly for Lincoln in the election of 1860.

Ellsworth attended our school in the late 1860s, and when his son was born in 1880, he named him Lincoln Ellsworth. After his retirement to Hudson, James W. Ellsworth rescued and reopened WRA, shaped and restored the campus, and eventually left his entire fortune to endow the school. And along the way, he became quite a collector of American antiques and implements which also were willed to the school. Among his treasured items is a chair that once was in the chambers of the Lincoln and Herndon Law Office in Springfield, Illinois. Ellsworth bought it at auction in March, 1914. It now can be seen in the WRA Archives.

Our Loomis Observatory founder's descendant visits campus

Doc Loomis of Medina County, a descendant of the founder of WRA's Loomis Observatory, visited the WRA archives and the 175-year old building last spring. Loomis, a missionary Bishop with the Anglican church, brought some genealogical books to share with WRA Archivist Tom Vince, who had extended the invitation. Loomis was amazed at how much material about Loomis and the Observatory is in the Archives. Opened in September, 1838, the landmark building was 175 years old this fall.
Outside the door of the historic Loomis Observatory are visitor Doc Loomis with Archivist Tom Vince.
At the transit telescope, one of the instruments Loomis bought in England, are visitor Doc Loomis with WRA Archivist Tom Vince.