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.