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.