Monday, May 17, 2010

Potwin House Renovation recalls Professor who lived there

For the last several months, a major renovation has been going on at the historic Potwin Cottage on Hudson Street, probably the first total renovation in many years. An old marker that will likely be re-attached to the front of house proclaims that Professor Lemuel S. Potwin lived in the house from about 1873 until 1882 when he moved to Cleveland with the old college.

Born in Connecticut in 1832 and a graduate of Yale College in 1854, Potwin went on to theology school, was ordained, served as a Pastor, teacher, and editor of the New England magazine before coming to Hudson in 1871 to teach Latin and also English language and literature. He and his wife, Julia, lived in this house during most of their time at Western Reserve College, and Professor Potwin wrote a number of books and articles while living here. He wrote widely about the New Testament, free will, and the pronunciation of Latin. When the college moved to Cleveland, the Potwins followed and the Professor continued teaching up to the time of his death in 1907. A selection of his essays and reviews was published by a Cleveland bookstore shortly after his death.

In the summer of 1897 Professor Potwin and his wife, Julia, sailed for Europe for what appears to have been a sabbatical of sorts. They sailed on a small luxury liner, the S.S. Mohawk, and spent the next fourteen months in Europe, returning in September, 1898. The couple kept a journal of their travels and made a pact that the surviving spouse would publish the journal after one of them died. So after Potwin's death, his widow Julia edited their journal and published it privately in 1911 under the title Fourteen Months Abroad.

The house on Hudson Street was built around 1852 by the Kennedy family who sold it to the college several years later for use as a faculty residence. The house is Greek Revival in its basic design and originally had just one small wing off to the left which was raised to two stories in the early 1960's. Another addition was added to the rear of the house about the same time. When the college left the campus to the academy, our school continued to use the house as a faculty residence. So "dear old Professor Potwin", recalled by students of that era as being somewhat eccentric, has had his name attached to this delightful old house for more than 135 years.

Monday, May 03, 2010

WRA alumnus served as Governor of Ohio

Since this is the year when Ohioans will either re-elect our incumbent Governor, or elect a successor, I thought it might be of interest to look at the now-forgotten career of the one WRA alumnus who was twice elected Governor of Ohio.

George Kilbon Nash, born in 1842 in York Township in Medina County, grew up on a farm and came to Western Reserve Academy in 1859 during the era when Edwin S. Gregory was Principal of the school, and stayed for two years, enrolling in Oberlin College but dropping out in 1864 in order to enlist in the 150TH Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He served during the final year of the Civil War, after which he moved to Columbus, studied law, and was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1867. He served in the Secretary of State's office as a clerk, then was elected Franklin County prosecutor on the Republican ticket.

During the 1880's he served as Attorney General of Ohio during the two terms of Governor Charles Foster, and became associated with the wing of the Republican party dominated by Marcus Hanna (who had been expelled from our school in the 1850's), William McKinley, and U. S. Senator John Sherman. He became Chairman of the Republican Party in Ohio in 1897, and two years later was elected the 41st Governor of the Buckeye State. He took office in 1900, was re-elected for a second term in 1901, and served until 1904.

One of the most notable events during Governor Nash's administration occurred in May, 1901 when the battleship Ohio was launched on San Francisco Bay. A huge ceremony was held on the dock with President William McKinley on hand to make a dedication speech, and Governor Nash and his niece, Helen Deshler, christening the ship with a bottle of California champagne. The battleship Ohio went on to become the flagship of the Pacific Fleet, and remained in service until 1922. This happy event proved to be one of the last ceremonial events attended by President McKinley who would be assassinated in Buffalo a few months later.

The major event of Nash's years as Governor was the celebration of Ohio's centennial, marking 100 years since the state was admitted to the union. In his capacity as chief executive, Nash had appointed a Centennial Commission in 1901 of which he was Honorary Chairman, and he was the principal speaker at the big centennial celebration in Chillicothe, the original capital city of Ohio. The Governor also spoke at numerous centennial observances around the state. His accomplishments during those four years included the realignment of the state's taxation policy that led to a substantial reduction of the property tax. He also instituted the requirement that state agencies be regularly audited, and it was during his tenure that the legislature gave the governor his first authority to veto legislation. When he left office in 1904, Nash was praised as a hard working executive who had done much to advance the state.

It was too bad that his old school, Western Reserve Academy, did not seem to realize that an alumnus of the school was serving as Governor at the very time that Principal Charles T. Hickok was faced with the prospect of having to close the school. Perhaps it wouldn't have made much difference, but having a friend in high office might have persuaded the school's creditors and forestalled the closing of our doors in 1903, at the very moment when the state was extolling its centennial. Nash himself, a widower whose only daughter had also passed away, survived only a few months after he left office, dying in October, 1904.

Editor's note: This blog post is Tom Vince's 50th posting. Thank you all for your continued positive feedback concerning Western Reserve Academy's history. You are welcome to contact Tom at with story ideas and questions about WRA's history.

Monday, April 26, 2010

James A. Garfield and his Hudson connections

On April 26, 1981, "A Shooting Star", a play about the life and death of President James A. Garfield written by WRA alumnus John Shaw '40, was presented at Hudson High School performed by a cast from Hiram College. The play had already been successfully staged in Hiram, in Williamstown, MA and in Washington, D.C. when the production came to Hudson. It came here because John Shaw was a Hudson resident, and because of Garfield's connections with our town.

Born in a log cabin in Orange Township, north on Route 91 to present-day Moreland Hills, Garfield was associated with Hiram College, first as a student, then as its President. When he and Lucretia Rudolph were married in April, 1858 their wedding was solemnized by the Rev. Henry L. Hitchcock, President of Western Reserve College in Hudson, and a personal friend. Garfield himself kept a diary continuously from 1848 until his death in 1881, so his visits to Hudson can be traced. We learn that on October 3, 1859 he came to Hudson for a speaking engagement and stayed overnight with Dr. George P. Ashmun, a prominent Hudson physician who at that time was serving in the legislature as State Senator for Summit and Portage Counties. Ashmun's son had been our student, and was soon to be named to the cadet corps at West Point. Ashmun lived in a house on Aurora Street near Christ Church Episcopal which was demolished many years ago.

The following day Garfield spent on the campus of the old college visiting with President Henry L. Hitchcock at his suite in the President's House on Brick Row, and then with Professor Nathan P. Seymour at his home on Prospect Street. There is no evidence that Garfield ever met Hudson's John Brown, whose Raid at Harpers Ferry took place just two weeks later, but he certainly was very aware of him and wrote some impassioned entries in his diary about him. When Brown was executed later that year, Garfield wrote in his diary, "Brave man, Old Hero, Farewell. Your death shall be the dawn of a better day." Garfield went on to a distinguished career as a general in the Civil War, then was elected to Congress in 1863. He was one of the most important members of the House until his own election to the Presidency in 1880.

It is not surprising to learn that in 1873 while he was serving in Congress, Garfield was invited to give the commencement address at Western Reserve College in Hudson. It seems likely that he might have preached at the old Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) on Division Street at that time. Decades after his assassination and enshrinement at the impressive tomb at Cleveland's Lakeview Cemetery, Garfield's great grandson, Rudolph "Bob" Garfield '46 came to WRA as a student. He later served on WRA's Board of Trustees and was the winner of the Waring Prize in 2003. A copy of John Shaw's play, "A Shooting Star" can be found in the WRA Authors collection at the John D. Ong Library.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Apples, Maple Syrup, and Potatoes: WRA's Farm Years

Between 1916 and 1953, WRA offered a student "farm activity" that was part of the school curriculum. This was carried on at Evamere Farm on Aurora Street, the 300 acre estate that belonged to school benefactor James W. Ellsworth (1849-1925). When Ellsworth reopened the school in 1916 he had the farm option included to give students a chance to be outside one afternoon a week, and to contribute to the welfare of the school. Almost everything that was done on the farm benefited students and faculty alike. The large herd of cattle provided eggs and milk that were used in WRA's kitchen, as were the other crops that included corn, apples and potatoes. In the late winter students could go to the sugar bush at the north end of the farm and tap trees to produce maple syrup, also used for meals. In 1919 Ellsworth deeded the farm to the school and the school's agriculture teacher offered classes and accompanied the students to the farm for their hands-on experience.

Ralph Burl Simon, who had a degree in agriculture from Ohio State University, came to the school in 1919 as a teacher of biology and a few years later became manager of Evamere Farm. He would be in charge of the farm program for over thirty years, retiring in 1952, about a year before the program was discontinued. Students participated in a wide variety of tasks including milking the farm's herd of Ayrshire cattle (although much of the milking was done by machine), cleaning out the barns and chicken coops, plucking chickens, assisting the hog master, collecting milk cans, helping to clear the fields in the fall, and stocking the barns and silos. In the winter they could cut and store blocks of ice from the farm ponds at a time when the school and many faculty homes still used ice boxes instead of refrigerators. Students could learn how to use the ice-cutting saw while sliding across the ponds. In late winter they followed draft horses back into the sugar bush to tap maple trees, hang the buckets, and later retrieve the sap.

In the fall of 1949 Mr. Simon reported that the school had an abundant crop of apples and potatoes, and that both were largely harvested by the student body working in the fields and orchards. He noted that this was the best year for apples in about a decade, and many would be used for cider, applesauce or apple pies, all of which would be served in the dining hall. Many apples would go into cold storage. The fall crop of potatoes also proved to be an excellet one with more than a thousand bushels gathered and packed. By this time the farm activity was not a requirement, but many elected to work their afternoon at Evamere Farm. In 1951 Bert Szabo became the Evamere Farm Manager, the last one WRA would employ. He had a background in agriculture and was responsible for his student helpers. He later wrote that by the early '50's "students no longer were interested in donning work clothes and cleaning the barn or feeding chickens. They detested the odors of the barn and chicken-house." So the farm program came to an end in 1953.

Two years later, a huge auction and "complete dispersal" was held at Evamere Farm in May, 1955 at which the school sold off its herd of 74 Ayrshire cattle and lots of farm equipment. Evamere Hall itself was dismantled, and the farm was sold off in parcels, much of it to the Hudson Schools for their campus plan along North Hayden Parkway (named for WRA's Headmaster). In June, 1957 Bert Szabo left to take a position with the Akron Metropolitan Park District. Of all the buildings that made up Evamere Farm, only the Gate House survives.

Monday, April 19, 2010

"Famous Potatoes" had link to early missionary

Henry Harmon Spalding (1803-1874) and Marcus Whitman (1802-1847) were the two pioneer Protestant missionaries who brought the Gospel to the territory that is now Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. Their 1836 trip across the Rockies on the Oregon Trail with their young wives has a prominent place in the history of the American West. Both men hailed from Prattsburg in upstate New York, and while Marcus Whitman was educated in the east to follow a medical career, Henry Harmon Spalding completed his education by coming to Hudson to attend the old Western Reserve College and graduating with the class of 1833.

His betrothed, Eliza Hart, followed her fiance out to Hudson, lived with a relative, and attended the Ladies School conducted by Mrs. Nutting, wife of Rufus Nutting, at their home on Hudson Street, now known as the Nutting-Farrar House, used today as a faculty residence.

In November, 1833 Spalding and Eliza were married in the old Chapel on our campus, an event recorded in the diary of a fellow student, John Buss (1811-1879) who spent the rest of his life as a store keeper in Hudson. The young couple now went to Cincinnati so Henry could attend the Lane Seminary and be ordained in the Congregational/Presbyterian Church. Meantime, Marcus Whitman made plans to become a medical missionary in the Oregon Country, and on a chance meeting with his former neighbor, asked Spalding to join Whitman and his wife, Narcissa, as partners in this missionary endeavor to the Indian tribes of the Pacific Northwest. In 1836 the four went to St. Louis and eventually caught up with a large gathering of hunters and mountain men who were headed across the Rockies toward Oregon. Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Hart Spalding became the first American women to cross the Rocky Mountains, a notable accomplishment although neither were seeking notoriety, but instead were committed to bringing the Gospel of Christ to the "heathen" Indians.

While Marcus and Narcissa Whitman were posted to a mission station near present-day Walla Walla, Washington, the Spaldings had been asked to take the mission at Lapwa among the Nez Perce Indians in what is now Idaho. It was while he was trying to teach the skills of agriculture to his Indian followers that Spalding planted the first potatoes in the Clearfield River valley in 1837, thus initiating the crop for which the state of Idaho would later make its claim. Today, the state officially recognizes Henry Harmon Spalding as the pioneer missionary who first introduced "famous potatoes" to Idaho. Less successful were his efforts at conversion, although Spalding had more success than his counterpart, Marcus Whitman. In November, 1847 the Whitmans were among fourteen mission workers to be massacred by the Cayuse Indians to whom they had ministered for eleven years. The Mission Board then recalled the Spaldings who settled in what is now Oregon and where Eliza died a few years later leaving Henry with the care of their four young children. Late in his life, Henry returned to his old post at Lapwa where he died in 1874 and which is now known as Spalding, Idaho.

Better remembered are the Whitmans, probably because they gave their lives to the cause, and Whitman College in Walla Walla, a highly regarded liberal arts school, was founded as a seminary and dedicated to the memory of the Whitmans and their colleagues. Marcus Whitman is also represented in Statuary Hall at the U. S. Capitol. We should be proud of the contribution made by Henry and Eliza Spalding who both lived and studied in Hudson, and were married at our old Chapel, and who went on to lead model lives of courage and Christian dedication.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

North Hall: Classic Brick Row Dorm

In the fall of 1837, construction began on a four-story dormitory that was placed between the newly-dedicated Chapel and the President's House. Originally called Theological Hall, since it was intended for the college's divinity students, the dorm opened in October, 1838 with its official name, North College. Its original sixteen rooms were designed to house 32 divinity students, but from the start, college students were allowed to live here. By 1853 the college had closed its divinity school, but North remained the dormitory of choice.

North Hall, as it was renamed after the old college moved to Cleveland in 1882, had no amenities until the 20th century. For decades residents had to use an outhouse located several yards behind the dorm, bathed in Brandywine Creek or used a bucket at the hand pump, and had to carry firewood up to their rooms to feed their pot-bellied stoves. Electricity was not installed until 1916.

The earliest photo of Brick Row shows North Hall with a weather vane on the roof. The weather vane was actually the property of the U.S. Weather Bureau, and the student who occupied the northwest room on the third floor received free board for keeping a record of the wind's direction and a barometric reading twice a day which was reported to Washington on a weekly basis. This practice continued into the 1880's.

The number of suites in North Hall was reduced when plumbing was installed, and still later, when the faculty apartment on the first floor was expanded. The building has been remodeled and renovated several times but retains the simple Greek Revival character that its architect, Simeon Porter, had intended. North Hall was selected for inclusion in the Historic American Building Survey in 1934 at which time measured drawings of its interior and exterior were made and filed with the U. S. Department of the Interior. An incomplete room-by-room list of students who have lived at North Hall is kept in WRA Archives.

For the last few decades, North Hall has consisted of eleven suites, each with two small bedrooms with a maximum occupancy of 33. This year there are 26 residents. In addition to the faculty apartment on the first floor, a smaller suite on the third floor is usually occupied by another faculty member.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The President's House: Classic house on Brick Row

Almost as soon as the new Western Reserve College was founded in 1826, the trustees hired carpenter / builder Lemuel Porter (1775-1829) to design and build the first buildings on our campus. Porter, who had begun his career as a chair maker in Connecticut, proved his talent as a gifted architect when he designed the splendid Congregational Church on Tallmadge Circle, opened in 1825. He borrowed the patterns for his first two campus buildings, Middle College and South College, both long gone. Then to anchor the north end of the planned Brick Row, Porter outdid himself in producing a grand double house that we call the President's House.

Lemuel Porter designed a sophisticated Federal-style house that incorporated all the finest architectural details of the early Republic. He manged to build a duplex with signature Bulfinch-style doorways that have no rivals elsewhere in Hudson. The chimneys on each end of the house, the large windows, and the elliptical fan lights on either side of the house near the roof gable are all details that mark this as a high style Georgian (or Federal) house. The crew that built it had to haul limestone slabs for the foundation, and there was very likely a clay pit on the back property where the bricks were fired. Originally there were hand-carved fireplace mantels in every room, but only one seems to have survived. Porter died while the house was being built, and his son, Simeon, succeeded him and completed the project in 1830, just in time for the arrival of the first President of Western Reserve College, the Rev. Charles Backus Storrs.

Storrs moved into the north suite of the house, and lived there until his untimely death in the fall of 1833. His widow stayed on for several months, but when the trustees named George E. Pierce to be the college's new President in 1834, she returned to New England and Pierce and his family moved into the house. Usually a key member of the Board of Trustees or the Professor of Theology occupied the south suite of the house in these early years. Pierce resided here until 1855 when he retired to his newly-built retirement home just up the street, Pierce House. Henry L. Hitchcock, the college's third President, then moved in and remained there until his retirement in 1871, and because his successor, President Carroll Cutler, decided to live elsewhere, Hitchcock stayed in the house until is death in 1873. For many years the house was actually called the Hitchcock House in honor of the last college President to live there.

In the 1920's, Charlotte Pierce Gallup, who had spent part of her childhood in the house, wrote a letter to the school telling about a fire that destroyed a wooden addition to the rear of the house in 1836. Her family had gone to Painesville to visit relatives when the fire broke out on a winter night, and Rev. Caleb Pitkin, a trustee who lived across the street, came to the rescue and called for the students to help. "Boys, snowball!" he reportedly called out, and the fire was put out by this means. The addition was demolished, but the house itself was spared.

Once girls were admitted to WRA, the north end of the house was used as a small dorm, with the school's preceptress living in the adjacent suite. In the 1920's (after girls were no longer admitted), the house reverted to a faculty residence. For many years, the beloved Dean of WRA, Harlan Nims Wood, lived in the north suite. During the two years that he served as Acting Headmaster, this became the Headmaster's house. Two faculty families have occupied the house for the last 85 years. In the 1930's, the President's House was one of several Brick Row buildings added to the Historic American Buildings Survey, a prestigious list of historically significant structures, which required measured drawings to be filed with the U.S. Department of the Interior. The house has been renovated and restored several times in the last 100 years, and just a few years ago had a major roof replacement project. Many architectural historians consider WRA's President's House to be one of the most elegant early houses in the 12-county area of the old Connecticut Western Reserve. It is the oldest remaining building on our campus.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Noted Scientist John Strong Newberry was WRA alumnus

Although born in Connecticut in 1822, John Strong Newberry was only two years old when his family emigrated to Ohio and his father became a founder and pioneer settler in Cuyahoga Falls. As the youngest of eight children, John and his siblings wandered through the Cuyahoga Valley and his early interest in geology was formed by his youthful ramblings in what is now a National Park. When he was about 15, his parents sent him to attend the Preparatory School that we now call WRA. His arrival in 1838 coincided with the opening of the Loomis Observatory and the stellar science faculty that was made up of Elias Loomis and Samuel St. John. He then spent a few years at leisure before returning to Hudson to enroll at Western Reserve College where he graduated with the class of 1846. He went on the the Medical College in Cleveland where he earned a medical degree in 1848, married Sarah Gaylord, and sailed for France where he spent two years studying botany, geology, and medicine in Paris.

Returning to Cleveland in 1850, Dr. Newberry practiced medicine, became active in the Cleveland Academy of Natural Science, and was the first President of the Cleveland YMCA. In the mid-1850's he was selected to join three major expeditions in the West and was responsible for making a number of important geological discoveries. The most dramatic was an expedition led by Lt. Joseph C. Ives (organized by th
e U.S. Army) to sail up the Colorado River from the Gulf of California in 1857-58. Their steamboat broke up near the present site of Hoover Dam, but they went on anyway to the Grand Canyon, making the descent from the south rim, and Newberry became the first scientist to do geological work there. In 1859 Newberry was the scientist for the expedition led by Capt. J. N. Macomb that left from Santa Fe to explore the Grand and Green Rivers that feed into the Colorado. In the mid-1850's he had helped map central Oregon where a volcano crater was later named in his honor.

Although a doctor by profession, Newberry won renown as a geologist and scientist. During the Civil War he held an appointment with the Sanitary Commission in the Mississippi Valley and was on hand to witness the battles around Chattanooga. He later filed an extensive report of his activities and observations. In 1866 he joined the faculty of the School of Mines at Columbia University where he remained for 24 years, although maintaining a home in Cleveland as well. He headed the Ohio Geological Survey for many years, and published a notable Geological Map of Ohio in 1872. In 1888 he became a founder of the Geological Society of America. He published over 200 scientific papers and reports during his lifetime. He died in New Haven in 1892, but was buried at Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland. Dr. Newberry was survived by seven children. Some of his papers are at the New York Botanical Society and others at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. A definitive biography of this important 19TH century scientist has yet to be written.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Historic campus photos

I received an email recently from a college-age alumnus currently studying history. He asked about 19th and early 20th century photographs of Western Reserve Academy campus buildings, as well as expressing an interest in a photo gallery of these buildings. My response to this gentleman follows:

We are fortunate to have a wonderful selection of vintage photos of all our buildings taken at various times over the last two centuries, and that would include the buildings that were on the location of Seymour Hall and the John D. Ong Library.

The first photo ever taken of the campus was around 1868 or ’69 when Hudson photographer John Markillie took one standing down near the Loomis Observatory and aimed his camera up the walk. Markillie was probably the first photographer to have a studio in town, on the second floor above the bank at the corner of Aurora and North Main Streets. He took his photo showing the Chapel with the third tier in its tower and a flagpole on top, and this photograph was taken about a year before the tower was struck by lightning and the third tier had to be pulled down.

It took the school about 120 years to to replace that element of the Chapel tower, but it finally was done in the early 1990’s.

There are many good stories about the campus plan, its historic buildings, and how they have been altered, renovated and restored over the decades. Some of the same issues that people were concerned about 100 years ago are the same questions that are often raised about the upkeep of these treasured structures.

I am glad that you are among a large group of WRA alumni who truly appreciate them, and I’ll make an effort to tell their stories online.

In the meantime, this post contains three historic photographs of the Loomis Observatory, the Chapel and Seymour Hall, recently donated by Alice Heath Baker to the WRA Archives. The photos were taken by her grandfather, George W. Saywell, Class of 1897.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Hudson Life magazine features Thomas Vince

Hudson Life's Jan. '10 issue featured Hudson's Citizen of the Year, Mr. Thomas Vince.

Read the article here...

Mr. Vince is working on new stories to publish, so check back soon for the latest postings!