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.

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.