Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Inside Our Most Important Early Industrial Landmark

The Luster Tannery

Luster Tannery

In March of 2010, I provided a detailed history of the Luster Tannery, a finely-crafted stone building at 16360 Euclid Avenue. The structure, built circa 1850, was used for tanning animal hides into leather. Samuel Luster chose this location to built the tannery because of the proximity to Nine Mile Creek, which he divereted to provide the water needed for the tanning vats in the basement.

The building is especially large, given the time it was built - about 4400 square feet - twice as large (or more) than any stone building (churches excepted) this old in Cleveland or any of the immediately surrounding communities. It was surely a major landmark when built - and today, represents an important landmark of the transition between an agricultural and industrial economy. It is, quite simply, the most important unrecognized 19th century structure in Cuyahoga County.

When I first wrote about it, I noted that the building seemed abandoned, and that the back taxes, now more than $30,000, were the biggest obstacle to doing anything with the property.

The biggest obstacle I faced, however, was that I had no idea as to the interior condition of the property. What did it look like? What historic details remained? How could this information help me to better illuminate this significant piece of our history?

First floor, front room, Luster Tannery

A couple of Cleveland Area History readers did a considerable amount of legwork and tracked down the owner of the property and obtained the owner's permission to go inside. Further, these colleagues found someone with a key to the building!

I'd been waiting for this day for ages. I knew that the tannery itself would reveal all sorts of heretofore details, and that the clues present would help explain so many unanswered questions. The way the basement was built would help reveal the path of the diverted stream. Perhaps the tanning vats, too difficult to remove, would still be present!

Structural detail, attic, Luster Tannery

My quest for historic detail took me to the attic. Here, part of the original structure was revealed - in the form of a beam cut out to make for more storage space. This was not an isolated case - it was done to most of the beams supporting the roof. Said beams were replaced with lighter-weight lumber, which, with one exception (where there was a leak)seemed to be holding up well.

Structural detail, attic, Luster Tannery

Other structural details were revealed here - though I'm not sure quite what they mean.

Astute readers will notice that I haven't talked much about the rest of the interior. That's because, while I have plenty of photographs, there really isn't much to see. The interior has been remodeled so many times that much of the historic detail has been obliterated. Even the ceiling joists on the first and second floors are replacements.

The basement, which I had such high hopes for, is covered with concrete block. Elsewhere, walls are covered by paneling or drywall, concealing some part of the story.

In some ways, the lack of remaining detail might be seen as an asset - as one might make it serve any number of uses without loss of historic material. That said, I'm sure that, underneath the various remodelings, there's original material that will help tell the story of the Luster Tannery - and whoever does the demolition will need to be sensitive to this.

This building could be repurposed in any number number of ways while retaining its historic presence.

View The Luster Tannery in a larger map

This map may help to illustrate the landscape as it was in 1926. In red there's the Luster Tannery, on the parcels currently owned by Immaculate Dry Cleaning. In blue, one can see Nine Mile Creek, coming down from the Heights and then heading under Euclid Avenue. (At an unknown date, but before 1950, Nine Mile Creek was put into a culvert and covered with fill.)

Nine Mile Creek was not a tiny stream. If the scale on the Sanborn fire insurance maps I've utized is correct (and I have no reason to believe it isn't - they're generally quite accurate), it was a good 20+ feet wide.

Detail of concrete block wing, Luster Tannery

Try to imagine the tannery itself as it might have been then. The first floor would have had a row of windows, just like the second floor. And below the first floor, there would have been another story! This basement, half exposed on the hillside, is where the tanning vats would have been located. The stream would have been diverted through the wall at one point and out at another. This structure is probably all still present - it's just covered by dirt and fill.

Here's my vision: A new owner could obtain the tannery, at very low cost, through the Cuyahoga County Land Bank. He or she would replace the roof and gutters and remove the additions to the structure, as they are now quite deteriorated.

Over time, as they became available, he or she could obtain the other parcels that make up this block, bordered by Euclid, Hillsboro, and Belvoir - an acre all told. After removing the existing structures on the other parcels, the new owner could remove the fill that's been added over the years, daylighting Nine Mile Creek and revealing the hidden parts of the tannery.

You'd have a historic structure and the recreation of a historic landscape - it's an intresting vision. Further, you'd be almost next door to the most impressive early cemetery in the city or any of the inner-ring suburbs - First Presbyterian (Nelaview). Surely some benefit could come from the proximity between the cemetery and this industrial landmark.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

FOUR, Yes, FOUR Historic Structures Nominated for Landmark Status

Detail of a photograph, used courtesy of the Cleveland Landmarks Commission.

You may have heard about one structure that will be proposed for landmark status at the Cleveland Landmark Commission's meeting this Thursday, the Wolfe Music Store Building. The building, at 2112 Euclid Avenue, was designed in 1927 by noted Cleveland architects Walker and Weeks. The ornate terra cotta facade remains a reminder of the care that was put into the ornament and design of this building, built more than 80 years ago. Cleveland State University wants to replace it with a new building - will that building remain a part of the landscape in 80 years? If so, will it be so visually striking?

There are three more Euclid Avenue structures on the agenda - all true landmarks and all worth considering.

Stager-Beckwith house
One is the Stager-Beckwith house, at 3813 Euclid Avenue. This mansion is one of five or so remaining from what was once "Millionaires Row". It was built 1866, by Joseph Ireland, architect.

431d Residence of T.S. Beckwith, Esquire
Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library

The house was illustrated in the Atlas of Cuyahoga County in 1874, just eight years after it was built. Note the ornate porch, now missing - and note how otherwise, it retains much of the original beauty.

431c Residence of T.S. Beckwith, Esquire - View of the Rear Grounds From the Library
Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library

The gardens were quite extensive - try to imagine a house being built today with an estate like this at East 38th and Euclid. Today, the house is vacant.

National Town and Country Club (Fenn Tower)
The National Town and Country Club (Fenn Tower) is a residential complex at 1983 East 24th Street (on the north side of Euclid Avenue). It was built 1929-1930. George B. Post and Sons, architects, designed the structure. It is owned by Cleveland State University. I covered it in depth, back in December, 2009. Take a look at that story - the interior detail is impressive. The structure is an Art Deco landmark.

George W. Howe residence

Finally, there's the George W. Howe house, at 2258 Euclid Avenue - also owned by Cleveland State University. It was built 1894, with Coburn and Barnum as the architects. It's one of five or so remaining residences built when this street was known as Millionaires Row. The front entryway to the house has some impressive detail.

The Cleveland Landmarks Commission meets on Thursday, at 9:00 am in room 514 of Cleveland City Hall.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

New Blog Content In Search Of Preservation-related Questions

I would like to take a moment and introduce myself to the readership of Cleveland Area History:

My name is Jessica Ugarte, and I am an enthusiastic new resident of the Cleveland area. I am also a preservationist at the Cleveland Restoration Society, with both Bachelor of Arts and Master of Science degrees in the field of historic preservation. Through a combination of classroom studies and preservation-related employment I have had the opportunity to be involved in stabilizing and restoring many different types of built culture. Over the past decade I have worked on projects like repairing the interior plaster of a 1920s theater, leading a project to stabilize an important 1890s home shortly after Hurricane Katrina, participating in the restoration of a 1910 steam locomotive engine, and heading a project for the National Park Service to stabilize and repair marble funerary monuments on remote islands on the Outer Banks. While I haven’t seen or worked on it all (yet), my years of focus on material conservation and science usually enables me to have a good idea of what needs to be done and even how to do it.

Cleveland Area History has asked me to start writing a regular column on this website where I will be answering reader questions about the materials, deterioration, repair, and even construction of their older or historic Cleveland-area buildings.
But in order for this to get started, I need to hear from you! Please email your inquiries along with your name, phone number, the property address and an image if possible to:
You can send me old building-related questions like “how do I repair a historic wood window,” “why do I see what looks like chunks of chalk in my home’s mortar,” “what is the best way to clean and restore a clear finish on historic wood” or even “so what’s the big deal with using vinyl siding on a historic home?”

While I promise to respond to all requests for information and assist in any way possible, not all questions and answers will be able to be posted here on Cleveland Area History. Additionally, depending on your particular question and needs, a more in-depth follow-up may be required.

I look forward to hearing from Cleveland Area History’s readers and finding out what questions may be on their minds.

Thank you!

Jessica Ugarte is employed by the Cleveland Restoration Society, a nonprofit that uses the powerful tool of historic preservation to revitalize our diverse communities, strengthen the regional economy, and enhance the quality of life in northeastern Ohio.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Condemned: The Best Frame Italianate House on Cleveland's East Side

The best frame Italianate house on the east side

Two weeks ago, I brought public attention again to this impressive historic home, built in 1874. The response was impressive. I first detailed this massive 3,500 square foot house back on November 9, 2009 (The best frame Italianate house I've seen in Cleveland). It's also covered in Hidden History of Cleveland (History Press, 2011), pages 119-120.

When I drove by today, I saw that the property had been condemned. This means that if the code violations named in the condemnation notice are not corrected by the date specified (December 25, 2011) the structure may be demolished to abate the nuisances specified in the condemnation notice. I've reproduced the notice in full below. The code violations themselves are on pages 3 and 4.

Condemnation notice, 6512 Superior Avenue, page 1

Condemnation notice, 6512 Superior Avenue, page 2

Condemnation notice, 6512 Superior Avenue, page 3

Condemnation notice, 6512 Superior Avenue, page 4

Condemnation notice, 6512 Superior Avenue, page 5

The question at this point is whether housing court is able to reach the owner and take action there, perhaps transferring the house either to a third party or the county land bank before the city moves forward to demolish it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Mystery Painting: Win a Signed Copy of Hidden History of Cleveland!

Under the Bridge by Willard Combes

Since I first saw this watercolor painting, Under the Bridge by Willard Combes in the book Masterworks from the Cleveland Artists Foundation, I've liked it. The image, painted in the 1930s, is said to be of a Cleveland neighborhood. But where, exactly, is that neighborhood?

The combination of a high-level bridge and residential street ought to provide enough information for one to identify the site where Combes found this composition - there aren't that many high-level bridges in this town - yet it remains unknown. The various maps available through the Cleveland Public Library might contain the clues you need.

Be the first to identify the site, either by posting a comment here or to the Cleveland Area History Facebook page, and you'll win a signed copy of Hidden History of Cleveland. If you can, a link to the map showing the location would be most helpful for the rest of us

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Vanishing Forties - No Longer Quite So Vanished

Rudolph Stanley-Brown (American, 1889-1944). The Vanishing Forties, Cleveland, Ohio. Etching. The Cleveland Museum of Art. In memory of Rudolph Stanley-Brown 1950.185

In my quest for compelling historic imagery, I come across plenty of things that I can't use, simply because I can't figure out where the scene portrayed was physically located. This print, The Vanishing Forties, Cleveland, Ohio, by Rudolph Stanley-Brown, is one such case - one that's been bugging me since I first saw it, more than a year ago.

It's likely that Stanley-Brown made the print in 1924 or 1925 - he entered The Thirties and The Fifties into the Cleveland Museum of Art's May Show that year (May Show Database).

Photograph by Carl Waite for the Historic American Buildings Survey, November 2, 1936. Detail of the original, used courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The style of the house is very similar to two Cleveland structures, both now lost - the H. Mould house, at 2637 Cedar Avenue, and the Leonard Case homestead - documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), one of the many make-work projects that came under the auspices of WPA in the 1930s.

Leonard Case Homestead, 1295 East Twentieth Street, Cleveland, Cuyahoga, OH
Photograph by Carl Waite for the Historic American Buildings Survey, November 2, 1936. Detail of the original, used courtesy of the Library of Congress.

I covered the Leonard Case house, which was built c. 1820, in detail, back in 2009. The H. Mould house is said to have been built later - 1860 - but the large central chimney makes me suspect an earlier date. I would guess, based on the title of the work, The Vanishing Forties, that the house was built in the 1840s - or at least that's when the artist thought it was built.

Detail, T.P. May residence
Detail, T.P. May residence. Rendered in 1935 by Isadore Wasserstrom for the Historic American Buildings Survey.

Yesterday, I was browsing through the HABS drawings for this region, when I came across the T.P. May residence, at 1458 East 12th Street, Cleveland, Ohio.

Detail, T.P. May residence
Detail, T.P. May residence. Rendered in 1935 by Isadore Wasserstrom for the Historic American Buildings Survey.

It looked similar to the house in Stanley-Brown's print - but only similar - there were several significant differences. The bases of the columns were different, as were the windows. The roof lacks the vertical lines, too, but that could be the artist's choice.

I was going to dismiss the possibility of the HABS drawings being of the same structure that Stanley-Brown depicted, but, out of stubbornness - I really wanted it to be the same one - I persisted, trying to identify details that were the same.

The tops of the columns and the trim above them are the same. So are the proportions of the porch. The same can be said for the spacing of the windows and the pitch of the roof. Both have brick foundations, at a time when stone would have been more common.

Detail, T.P. May residence
Detail, T.P. May residence. Rendered in 1935 by Isadore Wasserstrom for the Historic American Buildings Survey.

The front steps cemented my opinion that The Vanishing Forties does, in fact, depict this house. This detail, of the floorplan, illustrates them clearly. It can also be seen, in less detail, in the renderings above. Note that the steps aren't entirely in front of the porch, as would usually be the case, but partially set into it. Perhaps this was done when the sidewalk was widened, or perhaps the house was originally this way, allowing the builder to make the house a little bigger than he might have otherwise. Whatever the cause, it's an uncommon detail, one that confirms the identity.

I've seen other houses where the HABS architects reconstructed the original appearance of structures that have been changed considerably. One example is the H. M. Gillette residence, near Wellington, Ohio. In that case, a porch had been added around most of the house, concealing much of the detail. They were able to make measured drawings to show it as it was, and used an earlier photograph, by I.T. Frary, to aid in the illustration.

The HABS documentation includes some background information about the house:
The East Twelfth Street House was built previous to 1865 on the easterly end of T.P. May's sub-division. T.P. May was an influential early settler of Cleveland and a member of the first Board of Health. His sub-division extended from Erie Street (E. 9th) to Muirson Street (E. 12th) along the northerly side of what in 1865 became the extension of Superior Street...

The house while still having evidence of good design and sturdy construction has been used in recent years as a ware house and consequently many of the better details have been destroyed.

T.P. May residence, sheet 1 T.P. May residence, sheet 2
T.P. May residence, sheet 3 T.P. May residence, sheet 4
T.P. May residence. Rendered in 1935 by Isadore Wasserstrom for the Historic American Buildings Survey.

The four pages of renderings provide an incredible amount of detail - the hardware is included, as is the exact dimensions of the seam on the metal roof. With the information present here, one could build a house virtually identical to the original. The biggest obstacle would likely replicating the method of construction - modern tools simply don't leave the same tool marks as tools used in the 1840s.

One final note: the building in the background is the Hotel Statler, at the corner of Euclid Avenue and East 12th Street.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pioneer Post and Beam House - Threatened

Greek Revival house McIlrath residence

Back in January, I identified this pair of historically significant homes in the Collinwood neighborhood of Cleveland, 15002 Sylvia Avenue (left) and 15006 Westropp Avenue (right). Both were built in the 1840s or 1850s, making them some of the very oldest in the area, and, to make them more significant, both seemed to have been built by the same builder, for the same family. The pair even made their way into Hidden History of Cleveland (History Press, 2011).

The McIlrath residence

A few days ago, I saw that the one on Westropp Avenue had been condemned. I took a closer look. Someone had started to remove the aluminum siding. The yard looked overgrown. The doors had been broken down, presumably by city inspectors, seeking to gain access to the property. And there was a ton of stuff inside.

But did I see anything that really justified condemning the structure? No.

A typical farmhouse of the Western Reserve.
Photograph by I.T. Frary, from Ohio in Homespun and Calico, page 16.

Perhaps this photograph will make it easier to visualize the house as it was and may again be. The house in this photo is similar, save that the wing on our house was on the left side of the house and that ours has no second floor windows on the front of the house. There's a lot of great detail, I'm sure, hiding underneath the aluminum siding, cement shingles, and asphalt composition siding. How am I so sure of this? I'll reveal what I've been able to determine about original details in the structure later, once I've explained the history behind it.

The Dille and McIlrath families were some of the earliest settlers to the Collinwood area. They played a major part in the growth and development of the town.


Ninety years ago, there was no family name in this locality more familiar than that of Dille, and no other family so numerically numerous. There were three separate branches of the Dille in the county, headed by two brothers and their nephew. David Dille, Jr., came in 1797 from Washington County, Pa., to spy out the land. He was a farmer and was looking for fertile soil upon which to locate. He did not find what he wanted in or near the hamlet at the mouth of the Cuyahoga, and finally decided upon a 100-acre lot in Euclid. This decision would seem to have barred him and his family from this local history, were it not that they sojourned six weeks in town while their log-cabin in Euclid was being built, and that the children and grandchildren intermarried into Cleveland families, so that David's descendants today - many of them of much local importance - are distributed over the length and breadth of this city. His brother, Asa Dille, Settled in East Cleveland, on Mayfield Road, and the nephew, Samuel Dille, Sr., on Broadway.
(Wickham. The Pioneer Families of Cleveland, 1796-1840, pages 68-69.)

Asa Dille, Sr., brother of David Dille, married Frances Saylor. His log-cabin was on Euclid Avenue, just south of Mayfield Road. When Cuyahoga County was organized in 1810, he was elected its first treasurer. His name appears in connection with societies organized in Cleveland for philanthropic efforts, but nothing else is found concerning him. He had ten children, nine of whom attained majority.
(Wickham, page 71)

There are many family reunions held every year in Cleveland, but none of them were organized so early or have so large a membership as that of McIlrath. Furthermore, this big clan has another point of superiority over others which is a matter of great local pride. Adult McIlraths in some of its branches, that of Alexander, for instance, can visit the McIlrath cemetery in East Cleveland and stand by the graves of their great-great-grandmother, their great-grandparents, and their grandparents, all of whom lived and died in that locality.

Can any Cleveland family beat that record?


One of the sons, Alexander, and his brother in law, John Shaw, came on in 1803, and each purchased 640 acres of land, much of it fronting on Euclid Ave., and extending north to the lake.

Samuel and Isabella McIlrath, the parents, started for East Cleveland in 1808. With other members of the family, they came in ox-teams, drawing household furniture, farming utensils, and the younger and frailer members of the party. They were six months making the journey, therefore must have traveled at their leisure. They settled in a log-house opposite Lake View Cemetery.
(Wickham, page 72)
Abner C. and Eliza McIlrath kept a tavern on Euclid Avenue, in East Cleveland, where they lived all their married lives, and raised 13 children. Their four sons served in the Civil War, and their names can be read on the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument on the Public Square.


It will be noted that the elder McIlraths, children of Samuel and Isabel, were middle-aged when they came to Cleveland. Andrew, the oldest son, was 50 years old; Samuel, his son, and fifth child, married in 1810, Betsy Carlton. Her maiden name was Davis, and she had Carlton children, Davis and Sherman Carlton - both fine men who removed to Elkhart, Ind.

Samuel McIlrath was address as "Squire" by the neighbors, and probably was a justice of the peace. Both Samuel and Betsey were warm-hearted and open-handed. There never was a time when their own household of children was not supplemented by tow or three children bearing other surnames, waifs who had lost one or both children in one of the fatal epidemics that occasionally prevailed.
(Wickham, page 73)

Note: Pioneer Families of Cleveland is worth a look, if you're interested in the histories of these or any of the other early families of Cleveland - especially the ones that may not have received so much attention. The full text is available through Heritage Quest, one of the many databases that the Cleveland Public Library subscribes to.

The eldest of Samuel and Betsey McIlrath's children, Hiram (born circa 1814), married Katherine (or Catherine) Day (born c. 1812), daughter of Hiram Day (Wickham, page 73). By 1840, they had two children, Nancy (born c. 1837) and Morris (born c. 1839) (1850 U.S. Census). This growing family likely needed more space. To that end, in 1843, he purchased a three acre parcel from his parents, for $50 (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 184412120002). This is where he built the house, fronting on what is now East 152nd Street. A few years later, in 1853, he expanded the parcel by a half acre, for the same price again as the original purchase (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 185303210005).

The McIlraths were farmers, like most of families in the area.

One might presume that Hiram McIlrath would have built a house on this parcel as soon as possible - probably in 1844 - but the evidence suggests otherwise. The tax duplicates, available in the county archives, show Hiram's three acres being worth $26 in 1846 and $110 in 1848. The appropriate record for 1847 could not be located.

It's quite reasonable that the house was constructed in 1846, or possibly even 1845, and it just didn't make it onto the tax rolls. We know that it was built by 1848, so while we can't give an exact year, we can solidly place the date between 1844 and 1847.

By 1850, the value of their property had appreciated to $500 - a solid indicator of an improved house. Hiram and Catherine had had two more children, Cassius (born c. 1845) and Mary (born c. 1847).

Catherine McIlrath died, sometime between 1850 and 1856. By that year, Hiram had remarried. He and Mercy (or Mary) (born c. 1817) had two more children, Catherine E. (born c. 1856) and Harriet M. (born c. 1858) (1860 U.S. Census and Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 185604290010). Their other children were not living with them at the time - it's not immediately obvious what became of them.

As of 1860, Hiram was justice of the peace for Euclid Township (1860 U.S. Census).

In April, 1856, Hiram and Mercy sold the parcel (3.5 acres) and the house to Samuel and Sarah McIlrath, for either $500 or $600 (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 185604290010). The exact relationship between Samuel and Hiram is unclear.

Eight months later, Samuel and Sarah McIlrath sold the property to Asa Dille, for $600 (AFN: 185612220011). Earlier in same year (May, 1856), Dille had purchased two other parcels - 93.25 acres, at a cost of $5,653.50 - from Samuel and Sarah McIlrath. The land was adjacent to this house. (The boundaries and surviving neighborhood farmhouses will be addressed in a future post.)

Polly (born c. 1797) and Asa (born c. 1782) Dille were farmers. While they'd been farming in this vicinity for quite a while, but with the purchase of the land from the McIlraths, they likely moved into this house. (They are adjacent to Thomas McIlrath in the 1860 U.S. Census - and the land his house is on is adjacent to this one on the 1858 Hopkins Map of Cuyahoga County.) Several members of the Dille family were laborers on the farm: Chas (born c. 1820); Darwin (born c. 1832); Henry C. (born c. 1838); Thos C. (born c. 1841); and Lucy (born c. 1834). It's unclear whether these were children or other relatives. One Fannie Dare (born c. 1839, a teacher, also lived with them at the time. The farm was said to be worth $8,000, and they had personal property worth $1,000 (1860 U.S. Census).

In 1867, Asa Dille's estate sold the property to Henry Westropp (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 186702220011). Henry (born c. 1813 or 1818) and his wife, Catherine (born c. 1822) immigrated to Ohio from Ireland in 1852 (1900 U.S. Census for Mary A. Westropp). As of 1870, ten of their children were living with them on this farm, said to be worth $8,000. The list on the 1870 U.S. Census notes: Mary A. (born c. 1842); Margaret (born c. 1850); Kate (born c. 1853); Ralph (born c. 1854); James H. (born c. 1856); John (born c. 1858); Patrick (born c. 1860); Bridget E. (Elizabeth?) (born c. 1862); William (born c. 1864); and Ellen (born c. 1866). Ralph, James H., and John worked on the farm with their father.

A decade later, Mary, James, Elizabeth, and William were still living on the farm. James was helping to run the farm while William was in school (1880 U.S. Census).

Henry Westropp remained in the house for the remainder of his life. The property was split among his heirs, after his death, in 1884. The fractional parts and splits are too numerous to document in the space available here.

In 1880, Catherine Westropp married William J. Busby (born March, 1852), an Irish immigrant who came to the U.S. in 1875. As of 1900, they occupied a house at 50 Westropp Road, adjacent to the house of her brothers, Patrick and John P, and her sister, Mary A. - 37 Westropp Road. The men were all farmers (1900 U.S. Census).

Detail, 1898 Flynn plate 5
Detail, Plate 5, Flynn Atlas of the Suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, 1898. Used courtesy of Cleveland Public Library.

In this map detail, north is at the top. Erie Street (now East 152nd Street) runs top to bottom. From left to right, at the bottom, is Scott Avenue (now Hale Avenue, and mostly covered by Interstate 90). The street north of Scott is now known as Westropp. Between these two roads is a parcel, labeled "Cath. A. Westropp et al. 2 35/100 A" - the yellow shape between "Cath" and "A." is our subject house - 15006 Westropp Avenue. On the other side of the road is a parcel belonging to John A. Westropp - this was part of the farm.

The yellow shapes with Xs on them are barns or other outbuildings. One was likely a carriage house, while others may have been for chickens or cows. The one on the north side of the road, running parallel to it, was two stories high - all the rest of the outbuildings that survived to 1913 were only 1 story (1912-1913 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for Cleveland, Ohio, Volume 8, Plate 13).

In 1910, Patrick S. Westropp, John P. Westrop, and Katherine C. Busby were all living in their childhood home, 15006 Westropp. Patrick was noted to still be working as a farmer (1910 U.S. Census).

Detail, 1912 Plat Book of the City of Cleveland Volume 1 plate 40
Detail, 1912 Plat Book of the City of Cleveland, Volume 1, Plate 40. Used courtesy of Cleveland Public Library.

By 1912, the outbuilding with the biggest footprint on the 1898 map was gone.

Detail, 1912 Plat Book of the City of Cleveland Volume 1 plate 40
Detail, 1912 Plat Book of the City of Cleveland, Volume 1, Plate 40. Used courtesy of Cleveland Public Library.

A wider angle view illustrates how much the neighborhood had changed by that date. The massive Collinwood rail yards, with their associated roundhouse and other buildings sit imposingly to the south. The Collinwood Memorial School - the red structure to the north of our house - had been built. Almost all of the blocks had been platted for houses, many of which had been built. Yet slightly off-center, shaded in red and blue, remains the undeveloped farmland, owned by the Busbys and Westropps.

John P. Westropp died Sunday, October 10, 1915, at 15006 Westropp. A funeral was held at St. Joseph's Church on the 13th, and he was buried at St. John's cemetery (Cleveland Necrology File).

By 1920, part of the house was being rented to Frank Kays, a pharmacist (born c. 1882) and his wife Ida M. Kays(born c. 1882) Kays. The U.S. Census taken that year has Katherine Busby as a resident, along with a nephew, Harold Westropp (born c. 1906) and two nieces, Margaret M. Westropp (born c. 1908) and Henrietta A. Westropp (born c. 1908). The three were born in Indiana.

One Elizabeth Gregory evidenly also a tenant, judging from this entry in the Cleveland Necrology File, dated January 5, 1924:
Gregory-Elizabeth, wife of the late Thomas E. Gregory, sister of Mrs. Mamie McNeil, Mrs. Rose M. Edwards and Mrs. Clara George, suddenly at her residence, 15006 Westropp avenue. Funeral from late residence and St. Jerome's church, Lake Shore Boulevard, at 9 a. m. Wednesday.
Though he is not listed in the 1920 Census, Patrick Westropp seems to have remained a resident of this house - at least he was at the time of his death, April 13, 1929. His funeral was held at St. Jerome's Church on Tuesday, April 16 (Cleveland Necrology File).

A husband and wife, Frank and Josephine Borkovac (both born c. 1872) rented part of the house as of 1930. Frank worked on a punch machine, in the steel industry, while Josephine worked cleaning private homes (1930 U.S. Census).

Henriette Westropp married John Martick. After the wedding, he moved into this house. Henriette lived here until her death, on July 31, 1934. A funeral was held at St. Jerome's Church, at East 152nd Street and Lakeshore Boulevard (Cleveland Necrology File).

Catherine retained ownership of the property - and probably lived here - for the rest of her life. In 1934, it was transferred to her nieces and nephews (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 193410090075). Her heirs sold it to Dewey and Edna Pettit, in 1944 (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 193711160003 and 194408030076).

The Pettits lived here for the rest of their lives. It wasn't until 1985 that the property transferred, through Edna Pettit's estate, to Richard L. Pettit (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 00021263).

Richard Pettit sold the house to James R. Major, in 1987 (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 00369967). In 2002, Major sold it to the current owners, Sandra H. King and Henry King (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 200207031082).

There's much more to be unearthed regarding all of the families who called 15006 Westropp home. I've only cut it as short as I have due to limited time.

A typical farmhouse of the Western Reserve.
Photograph by I.T. Frary, from Ohio in Homespun and Calico, page 16.

As I mentioned above, the original appearance of the house on Westropp was likely very similar to this one. A wing, similar to the one here, existed on left side of the house, when facing the house from the exterior, rather than the right, as on this example. It was removed between 1920 and the mid 1950s.

The McIlrath residence

The lines of the Westropp house don't look so sharp, mostly due to several layers of material hiding the original lines - aluminum siding over cement shingles over asphalt composition shingles over the wood siding. I'm sure that with these removed, it would look a lot more appealing.

Brainard residence front door

The front doorway probably looked like the one in Frary's photograph, with a massive pediment balancing the (visually) empty space on the second floor. Ignoring the space above the door, ours would have probably looked something like the entrance on the Brainard Residence (demolished 2010).

Original door, south wall, McIlrath residence

The front door itself was likely similar to, if not identical, to this original door, found on the first floor, south wall.

Detail, front doorway, McIlrath residence

This moulding, a relatively common shape for the period, surrounds the front door and the sidelights (the small vertical windows on either side of the door).

Detail, front doorway, McIlrath residence

In this shot, a wider angle, one gets a better idea of the look of the doorway. Note that the sidelights have been boarded up, and that a wall now covers some of the trim.

A large chimney runs through the center of the house.

Detail, parlor (northeast room), McIlrath residence

To your right, from the entrance, is the parlor. The three windows in that room retain the original trim and paneling, as shown here. The large quantity of material left in the house prevented an effective wider angle shot.

Structural beam with beaded edge, southeast corner, McIlrath residence

The beams that make up the frame of the house protrude from the four corners - in each case, about 5 inches. They were covered, at the time of construction or soon after, trim with a rounded edge. At some later date, this was concealed with plaster.

Basement, McIlrath residence

In the basement, the beams, some hand-hewn, that make up the structure of the house, are still visible.

Chimney, McIlrath residence

The massive chimney, perhaps five feet wide, which once provided heat for the house still remains. Wood beams were added later for support.

Structural detail, northeast room, second floor, McIlrath residence

Structural elements are also visible on the second floor.

Gable detail, McIlrath residence

On the outside, this nice trim, part of the gable end, remains, hinting at what might be present underneath.

Overall, there doesn't appear to be anything especially wrong with the house, other than the level of debris, both inside and outside the house, and the half-removed aluminum siding. There isn't any evidence of water getting in, and there don't seem to be any structural issues. It's a solid house, with good lines, and plenty of historic interior detail.

What happens next?

I have not yet seen the list of code violations - I've requested these, and any other public records associated with the condemnation of the property, and I expect to have them in hand next week. I'll share them at that time.

While the busy intersection may not make this the best location for a private residence, it could work quite well for an office, I would think. That would as an excellent way to preserve the structure.

Historic photographs of this house or the surroundings would be most welcome, as would any additional history of this structure and the families that called it home.

This house, built by Hiram McIlrath, between 1844 and 1848, factored into the lives of two of the earliest families to settle this area, the McIlraths and the Dilles. To quote I.T. Frary (Early Homes of Ohio, page 61),
We build monuments to the memory of heroes. These structures are monuments erected by the heroes themselves.

Correction: The story previously referred to the outermost layer of siding on the house as being vinyl siding. It is, in fact, aluminum siding. While this may suggest the motivations for the removal of some of the siding, it does not change any of the other facts, nor the conclusions reached.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Threatened: The best frame Italianate house on Cleveland's east side

The best frame Italianate house on the east side

I first detailed this massive 3,500 square foot house back on November 9, 2009 (The best frame Italianate house I've seen in Cleveland). It's also covered in Hidden History of Cleveland (History Press, 2011), pages 119-120.

The house was built in 1874. We can learn some details of the construction, thanks to a court case involving payment involving the contract for the house:

"Agreement entered into this 8th day of October, 1874, between Jan Zoeter and A.W. Lamson, whereby said Jan Zoeter this day agrees to sell to A.W. Lamson a certain house and lot situated upon the south side of Superior street between Norwood street and Denham avenue, being the first lot east" [east of an existing house belonging to one Mr. Griffin (AFN: 188111190002) - actually Ernest Giffhorn] and so on describing the property.

Then follows: "Said house being now in course of erection and completion, said house to be finished in every respect by said Zoeter in a good workmanlike manner, with inside walk and fences, well and cistern, lot graded and sodded, and barn, all to be conveyed to said Lamson by a good warranty deed free from incumbrances when finished. Said A.W. Lamson agrees to pay the said Zoeter for the same the sum of $8,000, $2,000 down, the balance, $6,000, in four equal annual payments, secured by a mortgage on said premises, and at 7 per cent interest; said payments to bear date the day when possession is given of said Lamson. This contract is subject to verbal arrangements between the parties as to the manner of finishing said house.

Reprint of Decisions of Ohio Courts (Below Supreme Court): Contained in the Cleveland Law Reporter, Volumes 1 & 2 (1878-1879), Cleveland Law Record, 1856. Cleveland Law Register, 1893.
Weekly Law Bulletin, 1897, pages 235-237.

Alfred W. Lamson was a principal in the law firm of Pennewell & Lamson. He later served as a judge on the court of common pleas in Cleveland. (Special thanks to Craig Bobby for his work in tracking down this information and several other small but important facts that would have otherwise been omitted.)

The best frame Italianate house on Cleveland's east side
Circa 1956. Photograph courtesy of the Cuyahoga County Archives

Here's a photo of the house from the 1950s. Virtually all of the detail present in this historic photo remains.

The best frame Italianate house on the east side

A recent photo from a similar angle illustrates just how much the trees and bushes hide the beauty of the house.

Alfred W. Lamson lived in this house until 1879.

As a result of the lawsuit mentioned above, wherein which Lamson owed Jan Zoeter $7,063.41 on this house, the property was sold at sheriff's sale, in 1881, and returned to Jan Zoeter (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 188111190002).

Jan and Jane Zoeter remained owners of the property for a decade, until 1891, when they sold the house to Stephen Taylor, for $7,000 (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 189106130002). In 1895, Taylor sold the house to Byron E. Helman, for $8,500 (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 189508130036). Two years later, Helman sold the house to Phillip Platten, for the same price (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 18970721001).

Phillip Platten sold the property to George W. Ford, in 1906 (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 190602130007). Later the same year, Ford sold the property to John J. and Rosa J. Fischer, Swiss immigrants (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 190611160053, 1920 U.S. Census). The Fischers would remain in the house for the rest of their lives (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 190902270025 and 192903140066). After Rosa's death in 1929, the property transferred to their children, Otto J. Fisher, Ernest J. Fischer, and Johanna R. Fischer.

Otto worked as a superintendent in a steel mill, while his brother, Ernest, worked in one as a toolmaker (1920 U.S. Census).

Otto, Ernest, and Johanna kept the house as their residence for the next 30 years. It only transferred out of the family after the last of three, Johanna, died in 1961 (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 195703020029; 196104080041; 196109060005).

Johanna Fischer's estate sold the house to Francis and Adele Neimanas, who also lived their for the rest of their lives, April 29, 200, and March 26, 1994, respectively. In 2004, their heirs sold the house to James Baker (Cuyahoga County Recorder, AFN: 200304030916; AFN: 200405041037; AFN: 200405041038; AFN: 200405041039).

The best frame Italianate house on Cleveland's east side

Let's take a look at the house itself. As you approach the front porch, you notice that the front of the house appears to be stone. This is, in fact, not stone or faux painting, but wood carved to look like stone.

The best frame Italianate house on the east side

The columns that support the front porch feature incredibly detailed carvings.

The best frame Italianate house on the east side

The windows also feature intricate carvings.

The best frame Italianate house on the east side

Here's a detail of one of the windows. Imagine how expensive it would be to have just one piece like this made today.

The best frame Italianate house on the east side

You'r greeted by the massive front doors, which somehow have remained intact.

Banister, the best frame Italianate house on Cleveland's east side

Once you step inside, you can see the stairs to the second floor. This massive bannister provides both visual and physical support for the railing. Note the trim on the side of the stairs, as well as the faux painting on the baseboard in the background. It's rare for such a surface treatment to remain intact.

The spindles have been replaced,yes, but I'm sure suitable replacements could be found at a reasonable price from Buffalo ReUse.

The best frame Italianate house on the east side

When you step into the front room and look back at the stairs, you notice that the trim and doorway here, too, remain original and even retain their original finish - the only thing marring the door is a deadbolt lock.

The best frame Italianate house on the east side

An arched doorway with pocket doors separates the front room from the one behind it.

Plaster ceiling medallion, the best frame Italianate house on the east side

Even the plaster ceiling medallion - which would have had a light fixture hanging from the center - remains intact. There are similar ceiling medallions, in similar condition, in many of the rooms.

The best frame Italianate house on the east side

The pocket doors remain functional, as demonstrated so ably by my assistant.

The best frame Italianate house on the east side

Then you step back into this room. Like the front room, it had a fireplace.

Photograph by Tim Barrett

I suspect that the fireplaces were marble, like those in the Beckenbach residence, just across the street, shown here. It's worth noting that the Beckenbach residence and St. George's Lithuanian Church have been saved, which bodes well for this community.

The best frame Italianate house on the east side

If we take the stairs up to the second floor, we observe similarly high finish quality.

The best frame Italianate house on the east side

A hallway leads from the front to the back of the house. Toward the end of the hallway, a curved wall provides a visual separation between the front of the house and the area where the help would have lived.

Yes, there are some problems that become obvious here, the most notable being falling plaster in the rear rooms. The roof will likely need to be redone. I don't expect there to be significant structural issues - there is no evidence of water inside right now.

The best frame Italianate house on the east side

The little details are worth noting, too, like this doorknob, one of a few different varieties in the house, all correct to the period.

The best frame Italianate house on Cleveland's east side

Even the latches on the windows are beautifully detailed.

The best frame Italianate house on Cleveland's east side

Another look at the exterior reveals more impressive trim. Here, we can see the original wood gutters and the fine detail present.

The best frame Italianate house on Cleveland's east side

The house, while quite large, at 3,500 square feet, sits comfortably on the lot.

The best frame Italianate house on the east side

And just when you thought that's all there was to see, something else catches your attention, hidden behind the trees - a carriage house! The structure, with the beautiful arched doorways, for both people and carriages, is an extremely rare example at best. A view from the rear reveals large holes in the roofing material. While it can and should be saved, it will take some work.

For a house that has sat vacant for so long, the condition is impressive. (According to the neighbors I spoke with, it's been empty for at least seven years.)

Why is it threatened? Because the city is trying to condemn as many houses as possible. Vacant structures like this one, no matter how impressive, are easy targets - especially when their owners are uninterested in doing anything with them.

The Lamson house is the best frame Italianate house on Cleveland's east side - this isn't an exaggeration. For the price of new plumbing and a new roof, you could call it home.

Need more information? Check out my full set of photos of the house.