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.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Seymour Hall -- A History of the Name

James W. Ellsworth
Some time ago, our Assistant Head of School for Advancement Mark LaFontaine asked me about the naming history of Seymour Hall.

School benefactor James W. Ellsworth (1849-1925) was the owner of the WRA campus starting in 1912, and eventually was able to reopen WRA as a boarding school (as it had been before 1903) in 1916. He was responsible for the corporation of trustees who operated the school and retained the naming rights for himself.
Seymour Hall
Ellsworth ordered the demolition of Middle College (1827) in 1912 which stood on the location of the present Seymour Hall. The building was designed by Ellsworth's architect, J.W.C. Corbusier, who gave the campus a large, high style Georgian building that would nicely blend with the 19th century Brick Row structures like the Chapel and North Hall. The building was announced at the end of 1912, and ground was broken in 1913 (100 years ago this year), and finished in 1914. It was named for the Seymours, father and son, who had been favorite classics professors during the day of the old Western Reserve College. Nathan Perkins Seymour (1813-1891) had built the handsome house on Prospect Street in 1843 which is used as the school's guest house. Professor Seymour spent fifty years on our campus teaching first at the old college, then as a kind of adjunct to the Academy after the college moved to Cleveland.
Nathan P. Seymour House
Nathan's son, Thomas Day Seymour (1848-1907) was born here in Hudson and was a year older than his boyhood friend, James W. Ellsworth, and probably attended the old Prep School with him in the 1860's. We know that they were close friends from a memoir written by Thomas Day Seymour's sister. He taught classics at the old Western Reserve College from 1872 to 1880 before moving on to Yale where he spent the rest of his life. He died at New Haven about the same time that his friend, James W. Ellsworth, returned to Hudson and determined on a course that would give him control of the WRA campus. There is no question that Ellsworth intended to honor the memory of the two Seymours with the construction of this academic building.

Ellsworth also was responsible for the restoring of all the historic buildings on our campus, and besides the erection of Seymour Hall, he also built the Bicknell Gym (1920), named for his close associate and WRA Board President Warren Bicknell, and Cutler Hall (1922), the large dining hall and dormitory at the corner of College and Prospect which Ellsworth wanted to be named for Carroll Cutler, President of the old Western Reserve College (1871-1886). Trustees decided to name this building in honor of the man who saved the school, James W. Ellsworth.

His insistence that these new buildings honor the great instructors of the 19th century was part of his way to instill a sense of tradition into his new venture.

Charles Seymour, the son of Thomas Day Seymour (1848-1907) became President of Yale University in 1937 and visited our campus while he was in office in order to see the house built by his grandfather and where his father had been born and grew up. At the time the Seymour House was owned by the Spangler family (1907-1948) not by the school itself. But his visit to the campus is noted in the Reserve Record. Charles Seymour served as President of Yale until 1950.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013



Recently, I received an inquiry about faculty member Robbie Robinson as the result of a gift received by Western Reserve Academy.


Irving L."Robbie" Robinson was on the WRA faculty as a master of French from 1953 to 1967, and left the same year that Headmaster John W. Hallowell retired to New England. Robbie went on to Groton School in MA and taught there for four years, resigning in 1971 and going off to France where he turned up dead on a beach in Corsica. He was 44 at the time of his death, and was much mourned on this campus where he was a very popular teacher and dorm master.






George Birnbaum '66 wrote a fine article about Robinson that was published in the Alumni Record along with five photos of this "forever young" teacher. Former Headmaster John W. Hallowell, who would die in a mysterious car accident in 1980, led the mourners in a service at WRA Chapel on October 30, 1971. A memorial grove of trees near the intersection of Oviatt Street and Aurora Street was to be his permanent memorial on campus. According to the article in WRA's Alumni Magazine, there were 178 donors to the fund (all are listed), an outpouring of admiration for a former faculty member that is almost unprecedented.



Born in 1927, Irving L. Robinson grew up in Olympia, Washington, where he went to high school, followed by college at Yale University. He graduated in 1947 at the age of 20. He would later enter Laval University at Quebec City in 1955 and spend the next several years working summers toward a master's degree (maybe some doctoral work as well). According to records in WRA Archives he was awarded a master's at Laval in 1966 just a year before he left WRA. It is interesting to note that Headmaster John W. Hallowell had identified Robinson as a likely faculty candidate while Robbie was still a resident at Jonathan Edwards College at Yale. Robbie came out to Hudson in April, 1947 to meet some faculty and to look at the campus, but ultimately he accepted a position at the Menlo School (independent school) in Menlo Park, California.

But Hallowell kept pursuing Robinson who finally agreed to join the faculty in 1953 and where he became quite a legendary character both as a teacher of French and as master at North Hall. I found the connection with John W. Hallowell an unusual one, and in 2009 contacted Groton School in MA regarding Hallowell's teaching years there before World War II in preparation for an article I wrote for the Alumni Magazine. I happened to speak with Doug Brown, Archivist for Groton, who had started there as a teacher in the 1970-71 year and had known Irving Robinson. He brought up the subject because he knew that Robbie had come to Groton from WRA. Brown reported that Robbie had resigned from Groton in the spring of 1971 and had "sold all his worldly goods" before departing for France where he died a few days after his arrival on a beach in Corsica.

Doug Brown of Groton posed the question about whether it was suicide or perhaps a drug deal gone wrong. In any case Robbie was known to be a strong swimmer, yet he died of drowning. The U.S. State Department ordered his remains be cremated without any positive identification by a family member or friend. Doug Brown stated that Robinson's case is still a mystery. He told me that someone with a WRA connection had inquired about Robbie, probably in 2008. My contact with Groton was in October 2009.

There used to be a marker inside the lobby of Wilson Hall before it was renovated in 2001. This marker (I have two photos of it in the Archives) is headed The Irving Lind Robinson Grove, and notes that a grove of trees was planted in his memory "to the east of this building" in the spring of 1972. The marker is now attached to a boulder and sitting under one of the trees in the Irving Lind Robinson Grove. You can see the marker just a few feet from where you turn into the parking lot off Oviatt Street to go behind Wilson Hall. I checked it out on my lunch hour and will add this information to the Robinson file.

I also took note that during his residency on the WRA campus, Robinson planted ivy outside the Chapel door and the plantings around North Hall where he lived. They have since been replaced, but the grove of trees looks healthy and strong.

In any case there are plenty of alumni who still have fond memories of Irving L. "Robbie" Robinson. A Plain Dealer article and a similar one in the Akron Beacon Journal, both dated July 8, 1971, note that Robinson's death in Corsica was being investigated. The Beacon reported his family as his mother, Mrs. John S. Robinson of Seattle, widow of a Washington Supreme Court justice; brothers Sam W. of Mercer Island, WA and John S. Jr. of Olympia.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Papal letter finds home in WRA Archives

Archivist Tom Vince with Papal letter
When the Mary B. Eilbeck Graphic Arts Collection was established by WRA Board of Trustees member and school benefactor William D. Shilts in 1962, he intended for the school to acquire examples of printed materials from every age. For many years this collection, which honored the first librarian of the school, Mary B. Eilbeck, who served from 1924 to 1945, was housed in the Lucien Price Room on the upper floor of Wilson Hall. Although most of that collection was disbanded in the late ‘90s, a few items remain and are housed in WRA Archives.

One of the most interesting items is the Papal letter on 27 pages of vellum manuscript, written in Latin, signed and dated by Pope Martin V (1417-1431). The folio manuscript was written for the Congregation of San Bernardo in Spain which had split from the Cistercian Order in 1425. Although we are uncertain about exactly when this came to the WRA Library, it is certain that either art instructor Bill Moos or history legend J. Fred Waring acquired this item as they were the two faculty members authorized to find and purchase such treasures for the school.
View from the 27-page vellum manuscript

What makes this late medieval manuscript even more interesting is that Pope Martin V was the pope who succeeded Gregory XII, the last pope to resign prior to the recent resignation by Benedict XVI. The references to the last time a pope had resigned are to this leadership change nearly 600 years ago. Pope Martin V was a member of the distinguished Colonna family, a man of integrity, a former Papal diplomat, and brought an air of stability to the papacy which had been subject to schism and scandal. Pope Martin began the restoration of the city of Rome and ushered in the Renaissance style. His letter to the monks in Spain is unfinished, which may account for the reason why it was on the market rather than in the Vatican Library.

The appraiser who examined this manuscript in 2009 declared it to be “unique and important” as well as “an excellent calligraphic example of medieval writing with many flourishes above and below the text and with much marginalia”. Although its value is nominal, we consider this item to be one of the amazing treasures of the school. It has never been translated into English, a project some student of Latin may wish to do one of these days.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The David Hudson Portrait

David Hudson portrait
The story of the David Hudson portrait by J. O. Osborne, painted in 1851, is one of unusual dimensions and locations. It was commissioned by Hudson’s daughter, Anner Maria Hudson Baldwin (1800-1892) for a place of honor in the old Board Room on the upper floor of the Athenaeum, where the college trustees met until the college moved to Cleveland in 1882. The portrait was probably not taken to Cleveland, as there is documentation that the trustees voted to return the portrait to David Hudson’s daughter and her daughter, Mrs. Edwin S. Gregory “in deference to their wishes."

How it was found for sale in a Florida antiques shop some 85 years later is something of a mystery.

In 1967, Mr & Mrs. Benton F. Murphy of Chagrin Falls found the portrait at an antiques shop in St.
Dr. Henry Flanagan and Mr. Benton Murphy
with the David Hudson portrait in 1991.
Augustine, Florida, and saw the back of the portrait was identified as David Hudson. The Murphys recognized the founder of Hudson, Ohio, and purchased the portrait, which remained in their home until 1991. They decided to present the portrait as a gift to Headmaster Henry “Skip” Flanagan of Western Reserve Academy. The Murphys had had the portrait restored and learned from the Bonfoey Gallery in Cleveland that it had been painted by noted portrait painter J. O. Osborne at “the request of the trustees of Western Reserve College for use of the cabinet.” Although the Murphys themselves had no previous connection with the school, they wanted the portrait to come home to the campus for which it had been created in 1851.

Archivist Tom Vince showing off the
David Hudson portrait's new home in the
John D. Ong Library.
The portrait shows David Hudson (1761-1836), presumably at the height of his career as Hudson’s founder, township trustee, Postmaster, real estate baron and founding trustee of the Western Reserve College. He is about the age of 60 and is shown standing next to a book-laden desk holding a document that suggests his civic importance. It is a far more sophisticated portrait than the one done by James Beard in 1829, the large matching portraits now owned by the Hudson Library and Historical Society. The smaller bust portrait, originally owned by Miss Virginia Lee, last Hudson descendant to live in the David Hudson House, was given to the school in 1967. That earlier portrait hangs in Ellsworth Hall. The Osborne portrait, given by the Murphy family in 1991, hung for many years in the hallway opposite the former Headmaster’s Office in Seymour Hall. It was later taken to the attic of Seymour where it languished until being rescued by Archivist Tom Vince in the spring of 2013 and hung on the lower level of the John D. Ong Library next to the large 1856 map of Hudson that this same archivist discovered several years ago, tucked under the eaves of the attic in the Knight Fine Arts Center. The large David Hudson portrait now has a place of honor sharing the wall with a historic map of the town he founded.