Friday, February 23, 2018

Clermont County's Collins Farm

Reservoir-building is necessarily destructive. Foliage must be cleared, and topography graded, before water floods the site in question. Fields and fences drown, and entire landscapes disappear under muddy water. Worst of all (if I may flaunt my bias), the construction of dams tends to disproportionately affect historic buildings. Why? Because — in southwestern Ohio, especially — any locale's earliest settlements tended to cluster around its watercourses. Valleys often shelter a particular community's oldest homes and wealthiest farms. Inevitably, dam construction involves the obliteration of these things. One such casualty was a cluster of homes in southeastern Batavia Township, Clermont County, in and around the now-submerged hamlet of Elk Lick. William H. Harsha Lake, created in 1978, now covers the site of Elk Lick, itself commemorated only by an eponymous local road.

The Richard Collins House's front (east) facade, viewed from Elk Lick Road.

I discovered the Collins Farm by accident, one day, while browsing the University of Cincinnati's DAAPSpace media library. (In the 1990s, the university acquired the defunct Miami Purchase Association for Historic Preservation's collection, which it has partly digitized.) Among photos of familiar Clermont County structures, I found an intriguing cluster of images labeled "McGrath Complex." A bit of digging confirmed my suspicion — the buildings were long ago razed. Oddly enough, they receive no mention in the Ohio Historical Society's 1970 "Southwest Ohio Survey" report (which includes one Elk Lick house). More useful, but no less perplexing, is the error-laden East Fork Environmental Impact Statement issued by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1974. According to the report, the homes within the "McGrath Complex" were "[r]emoved from the site according to standard real estate procedures," with some hope for future preservation. This, alas, is nonsense. In reality, they were unceremoniously bulldozed.

The houses in question stood on a terrace overlooking the East Fork of the Miami River, just south of Elk Lick proper. Both were constructed by members of the Collins family, whose progenitor, John, relocated to Ohio from Gloucester County, New Jersey, in 1802. John Collins (1769–1845) was born to Quaker parents, but converted to Methodism well before his arrival in the Buckeye State. (I wonder whether he had something to do with Clermont County's preponderance of New Jerseyans.)

A few years after moving to Ohio — in either 1803 or 1805 — John funded the construction of a two-story stone residence. The structure was strikingly ancient-looking, with its two-bay facade and single-pen plan, and it scarcely differed, in form, from the log homes built by less-wealthy Ohioans of the same generation. Like a few other stone buildings in Clermont County, the John Collins House featured a massive interior-end chimney, a narrow frieze board, and rather skimpy boards which, as far as I can tell, simulated cornice returns.

The John Collins House (circa 1805). Despite what local lore claims, this was not Ohio's oldest stone building.

A stone's throw (no pun intended) from John Collins's statehood-era dwelling stood a much larger, grandiose residence — reportedly commissioned by Richard Collins (1797–1855), John's son, who acquired the family farm in 1853 after a storied career. (The younger Collins practiced law in Hillsboro, Ohio; represented Highland County in Ohio's government; and operated a dry-goods store in Maysville, Kentucky.) Assuming the linked obituary's chronology is correct, Collins built his home in 1853, 1854, or 1855 — all believable construction dates, given the building's appearance.

Richard Collins's grand Grecian edifice.

The house's builder made use of a plan common enough in southwestern Ohio — four rooms arranged around a central hallway, with chimneys placed at the periphery (and, thus, a fireplace in each major room). Here, though, the mundaneness stops. Rather than being two stories in height, the Richard Collins House squeezed an additional half-story, lit by low windows, under its bizarrely shallow gable roof. The home's dominant feature was, of course, its massive Ionic portico, which sheltered first- and second-floor doorways ornamented in typical Greek Revival fashion, with sidelights, transoms, pilasters, and entablatures. The second-floor entrance led onto a small, iron-balustraded balcony structurally independent from the portico itself — not an uncommon arrangement among grander classically inspired homes. Brickwork underneath the eaves simulated an denticulate entablature.


As a work of art, the Richard Collins House was, I think, less successful than a great many Greek Revival homes in northeastern Ohio. (In general, the New Englanders who inhabited the Western Reserve built more faithfully in the Greek idiom than did their southern-Ohio counterparts.) Its size made it ponderous, and its sparsely adorned eaves (i.e., the absence of a proper entablature) rendered it bottom-heavy. Still, it overshadowed almost every building in the vicinity, and its ambitious design placed it among the great Greek Revival homes of the Cincinnati region.

Both John's and Richard's houses were well worth preserving, as even the Army Corps of Engineers noted, but their destruction isn't surprising. Relocating a masonry building is a bloody difficult task; I've heard stories of brick homes crumbling to pieces despite movers' best efforts.

What replaced the dwellings of John and Richard Collins? Have a look.

William H. Harsha Lake (looking north), seen from the East Fork State Park Beach. Photo sourced from Google Maps. The Collins family's farm occupied land near the center of the image.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Limits of Grecian Grandeur; or, When Entablatures Metastasize

Sturgis, Michigan, is a peculiar city — it's county-seat-sized, with an appropriately healthy economy and a splendid stock of nineteenth-century buildings, but it lies at the corner of its county, rather far from the usual sources of vitality. (More than likely, the community's survival is a consequence of its proximity to the Indiana Toll Road.) Just south of the business district, on a charming brick-paved street, stands an equally head-scratching home.


They say that the Greek Revival is a masculine style. (1) If so, this is the Arnold Schwarzenegger of Greco-American homes, with a great rippling, bulging bicep of an entablature. Now, most Greek Revival homes — whether or not their builders adhered rigidly to classical models — possess some grace; but others collapse (metaphorically, of course) under the weight of their ponderous entablatures. This house, it seems, falls into the latter category (though I'm rather partial to the doorway).

The standard Doric entablature consists of three parts: cornice, frieze, and architrave. The adventurous carpenter who constructed this home eschewed the last two, and instead stacked cornice molding atop cornice molding atop cornice molding, creating, in effect, the architectural equivalent of a multi-tiered wedding cake. The result is . . . interesting. It makes me chuckle with delight. Any well-trained classicist or Athenian architect, though, would surely retch in disgust. (I can hear the great I.T. Frary writhing in his grave.)


The doorway is also a purist's nightmare. The columns are too slender, their capitals are too large, and the engaged, semicircular pilasters slam awkwardly into the flat pilasters supporting the entablature.


What do I know about the house's history? Relatively little. In 1893, it belonged to a "Mrs. H. Church." Mrs. Church may have been Emma (1834–1912), wife of Henry Seymour Church (1831–1910), a native of upstate New York (America's Greek Revival capital, if I may say so). At the time of the 1880 census, the Churches lived alone, and Henry worked as a grocer. In all likelihood, Henry was too young to have commissioned this home, (2) so the identity of its builder remains a mystery. Kathryn Eckert's excellent Buildings of Michigan neglects to mention it, and I have no access to the Michigan Historic Preservation Office's archives. So, as with so many blog posts, I'll end with a shrug of bewilderment.

1) I can't entirely agree with this assertion. The Greek Revival mode indeed emphasizes massiveness and stolidity — at least, more than, say, the Gothic and late Victorian styles do. But Davis, Eastlake, and Shaw would surely object to our labeling their work unmanly.

2) I'd estimate a construction date in the 1840s (at the earliest) or the early 1850s (more likely). Given that Henry Church reached adulthood about 1850, it's conceivable — but, again, unlikely — that he bore responsibility for erecting the house.

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Cluxton Log House

Unlike Kentucky, Tennessee, and other states south of the Ohio River and west of the Appalachians, Ohio boasts relatively few double-pen log buildings. (For those unversed in the arcane art of log-divining, a double-pen building is one which contains two structurally independent units, or pens.*) One of the Buckeye State's finest double-pen dwellings stood, appropriately enough, in one of its most "Southern" counties (geographically and culturally) — Adams — just north of West Union, the county seat. Nestled among billowing pastureland within an agriculturally deficient region known, historically, as the "white oak barrens," the house languished in obscurity and decrepitude until Stephen Kelley, president of the Adams County Historical Society, photographed it in 1977. Kelley's images found their way into Donald Hutslar's hands, and thence into two books (this and this). It's scarcely surprising, then, that state and national surveys of historic buildings neglected to include it — and shall always neglect to include it, since the house disappeared in the 1990s.

The house's front (northwest) elevation. Image by Stephen Kelley, 1977, from the collection of Donald and Jean Hutslar.

The home was an utterly classic double-pen structure — precisely the sort of building I'd expect to find within the earlier-settled portions of the Upland South. It made use of two one-and-a-half-story pens, each constructed of steeple-notched logs and adorned with a single window opening. It featured two massive rubble-stone chimneys — one exterior, and one interior (with an exposed firebox). In all likelihood, the passage between the pens was always enclosed (unlike in the case of the archetypal "dogtrot" house), and the braced-frame rear rooms, which lent the structure a "saltbox" roofline, might have been planned at the time of construction.

The rear (southeast) and side elevations. Note the square attic windows, rake boards, and cantilevered porch framing. I must say, I'm a bit baffled by the pole-mounted hoop. Was it a DIY television antenna? A massive dream-catcher? A homing device for extraterrestrial spacecraft?

Kelley, it seems, failed to photograph the interior, but he did have the foresight to sketch a floor plan, which I've adapted into a proper CAD rendering.


In some ways, the house's oddest feature was its staircase. More often than not, early inhabitants of Ohio's southern half jammed their stairways into the space between the fireplace and exterior wall. This house's builder, by contrast, placed the staircase within the "breezeway," but left it accessible only from the home's rear room. This suggests two possibilities — that (a) the building underwent a massive interior remodeling sometime in the nineteenth century, or that (b) the frame rear portion and the log pens were contemporaneous. Either possibility seems perfectly likely.




Dating the house is a tricky affair. Given its existence in Adams County, site of some of Ohio's earliest permanent settlements, it could have been a statehood-era structure. Then again, its placement on less-than-desirable land may mark it as a late survival of archaic building techniques. Tracing its ownership, alas, provides few answers. In 1880, it belonged to one S.P. Cluxton — perhaps Samuel Page Cluxton (b. 1838), a middle-aged farmer of Scots-Irish descent. It's unlikely that Samuel built or inherited the house; if mid-century census data is any indication, members of the Cluxton family lived exclusively in nearby Liberty Township, and their first place of settlement was the Brush Creek valley, several miles distant. (ApparentlyCluxton is a variant of Clugston, a "habitational name from the barony of Clugston in Wigtownshire," Scotland.)

So, the house's origin will remain a mystery — at least, until someone pays a visit to Adams County's courthouse and slogs through nineteenth-century tax records. I'll end my post with a rendering of how the house may have appeared in better days.

The house reconstructed in SketchUp, from the floor plan pictured above.

* Like all definitions, this one is subject to exception. Some of Ohio's seeming double-pen buildings — Brown County's Erastus Atkins House, for instance — are, in reality, unified structures whose rooms are divided by interlocked log walls.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Warren County Puzzle

Perched on a hillside northeast of Waynesville, in Warren County, is a curious brick farmhouse. It's obviously an ancient structure (by Ohio's standards), with its flush chimneys and rake boards, and it fronts an early thoroughfare connecting Waynesville and cities farther north. Like a few other homes in the vicinity, it makes stupendous use of its sloping site; the basement is at once a first floor, a quirk which allowed the builder to attach a two-story gallery to what seems, from one angle, a single-story structure.

My lone, woefully inadequate photo of the building.

Alas, someone, at some time (perhaps in the finest decade for tasteful design — the 1970s), thought it wise to seal half the window and door openings, then reface the entire building, including its porch's columns (!), with stones of varied size and shape. The result looks, to my jaundiced eye, like the architectural equivalent of type-I neurofibromatosis (or some other tumor-inducing disease). Thankfully, staff from the Ohio Historical Society photographed the house in 1969 or 1970, well before the remodeling. At the time, the building retained its original six-over-nine windows.

Image, 1969 or 1970, from the "Southwest Ohio Survey" collection; held by the Ohio Historical Society.

Obviously, the house is early and noteworthy, but researching its history proved more difficult than I anticipated. The earliest digitized map of Warren County land ownership, published in 1856, lists "J. Parkhill" as owner of the 204-acre tract where this home stands. As is so often the case, Parkhill seemingly left no literary footprint — he receives no mention in county histories, and grave records are equally scanty. (The closest match in Find A Grave's database is James Parkhill (d. 1896), interred in Deerfield Township's Rose Hill Cemetery.) The 1850 census, though, records a Joseph Parkhill, born about 1815 in Ohio, as a resident of Wayne Township. Parkhill had a large family, and he provided room and board for at least three non-family-members — evidence, perhaps, that local tradition has correctly identified the building as an inn or tavern.

Some time between 1856 and 1874, Parkhill's property passed to Israel Hopkins Harris (1823–1897), a Waynesville banker and member of a locally prominent family. If the postcard pictured below is any indication, Harris's name — and not Parkhill's — became attached to the house, no doubt because of the Harris family's considerable cachet.

Postcard, undated, from the collection of Donald and Jean Hutslar.

Assuming the building did function as a "wayside inn," it did so during Parkhill's occupancy (or earlier), and not Harris's. But Parkhill was reasonably young in 1850, and it's unlikely that he commissioned or built the structure. (Given that Waynesville itself was platted in 1796, and that Warren County comprises one of Ohio's wealthiest, earliest-settled regions, a construction date in the 1810s or 1820s seems perfectly believable.) But, alack, tracing Warren County property ownership beyond Franklin Pierce's presidency requires (a) good literary sources or (b) a trip to the county courthouse, so, for now, the Parkhill–Harris residence's ultimate identity will remain a mystery.

A slightly later (?) photo gives an even finer glimpse of the house's two-story porch, its twin entrances, and its most distinctive feature — a semicircular stone staircase, which partly provides ground-level access to the gallery's upper story.

Image, undated, from the collection of Donald and Jean Hutslar.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Christian Sipe's Log House

Once again, Greene County provides fodder for a post — albeit a brief one.


I've known about the above abode for a few years, and I long ago included it in my list of likely log buildings. (If houses could talk, this one would holler, "Look at me! Look at my thick walls! Look at my boxy proportions! I'm log! For Pete's sake, I'm log!) Remodeling has spoiled its purity, but it remains a splendid example of early-nineteenth-century building practices in southwestern Ohio; the box cornice, rake boards, and asymmetrical facade are all traits peculiar to the period.

Yesterday, I decided to research its history. I must say, I expected to find little — perhaps the name of its owner at mid-century, and whatever information I could glean from census records and Find A Grave's ever-handy database. But I struck gold. First, I turned to an 1855 map of Greene County, which clearly labels the house with the name "N. Sipe." A quick Google Books search revealed this passage (in G.F. Robinson's 1902 History of Greene County, Ohio):
In 1856, Mr. [Noah] Sipe erected a brick house upon the old home farm, where he now resides. There was but one other house anywhere in the locality at the time the old home had been erected. The first structure was a log cabin, which was succeeded by a fine log house built when Mr. Sipe was a young lad, and is still standing, one of the mute reminders of pioneer days . . .
Eureka! Not only does Robinson mention Sipe's log house (a rarity in county histories), but he also gives a construction date (Sipe was born in 1820) and, more importantly, draws a distinction between the Sipe family's first-generation cabin and its better-finished, second-generation log house. Examples of this distinction are numerous in nineteenth-century writings, but I can't recall ever finding such a description of an extant building.

Christian Sipe (d. 1855), Noah's father and (I presume) the log house's builder, emigrated from Rockingham County, Virginia, in 1814. Sipe spent two years with family in Clark County, Ohio, then purchased his Bath Township tract and cobbled together a cabin. Sipe spent anywhere from, say, five to ten years in this cabin, then contented himself, for the remainder of his years, with his "fine" two-story log house.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Hartsook House and the Trustworthiness of Atlas Illustrations

In Ohio, the overwhelming majority of nineteenth-century log houses followed a simple plan — a single log pen, divided into one or two first-floor rooms and a loft, with minimal ornamentation (save, perhaps, for a mantel and the omnipresent enclosed staircase) and as many window and door openings as were absolutely necessary. Of course, homes often accreted additions, wings, and lean-tos, all of which lent a bit of variety to the architectural landscape; but, for the most part, one log house looked — to the untrained eye, at least — very much like another. But every rule has its exception, (1) and I relish finding them.

One of Ohio's more inventive variants of the single-pen log dwelling stood at the southern periphery of Greene County, in Caesar's Creek Township (2). The home belonged to James Frederick Hartsook (1831–1912) in the 1870s, and it stood, in almost unaltered condition, well into the 1970s. Donald Hutslar describes (and illustrates) it in his Architecture of Migration.

Photo by Donald Hutslar, 1971, published in The Architecture of Migration.

The house's distinctive features were numerous: overhanging plates, a centered second-floor tripartite window, a twelve-over-eight sash pattern, scalloped rake boards (barely visible in the photo above), a partly enclosed storage area adjoining the house proper, and, most notably, two front entries. Now, such paired doorways are a common sight in Ohio — particularly in regions settled by Pennsylvanians and Germans — but they tend not to adorn log buildings (no doubt because of the interior divisions they presuppose). As its fenestration suggests, the house was divided into two rooms, albeit not by the usual board or frame partition; instead, the builder opted for a central log wall. This wall, of course, terminated at the upper floor, just below the window. I'd love to know how the second floor was arranged, but, alas, Hutslar's description falls just short. I can say that the interior contained an enclosed staircase, placed against the central log wall. The six-panel doors are standard Federal-era fare.

Much to my surprise, researching the house's history was a breeze. An 1855 map of Greene County lists "E.B. Hartsook" as the property's owner. "E.B." was no doubt Elijah Benjamin Hartsook (1798–1863), father of James (mentioned above), who must have inherited the farm after Elijah's death. The Hartsooks hailed from Hagerstown, Maryland (though they seem to have tarried in eastern West Virginia), and their family farmhouse appears to have Mid-Atlantic antecedents. Attached to Elijah's Find A Grave page is this helpful note:
Eleazer United Methodist Church, 1765 E. Spring Valley-Paintersville Road — Elijah Hartsook bought land in Caesars Creek Township in 1834 to build a home. He donated a plot of land for the church and cemetery. The church was probably finished around 1846, at a cost of $600.
This corroborates nicely with Hutslar's estimated construction date of 1833. Elijah Hartsook, then, built or commissioned the house in 1833 or 1834, in a style amenable to his central-Maryland origin. There. Simple. Case closed.

Like a few dozen other Greene County landowners, James Hartsook enjoyed the honor of his residence's inclusion in the Combination Atlas–Map of Greene County, Ohio (1874). The lithographer tasked with capturing the Hartsook farm's likeness did much justice to reality (and equal injustice to perspective). The illustration faithfully reproduces all that made Hartsook's abode distinctive: its second-floor window, its overhanging plates, and even its scalloped trim.


This raises an interesting point. Instinct and cynicism inform me that I ought to treat such illustrations with skepticism. After all, citizens paid for these engravings, and what homeowner wouldn't forgive a bit of artistic license, provided that it flattered him? Evidence and experience, though, suggest that the hundreds of illustrations adorning Ohio's nineteenth-century atlases are, for the most part, accurate depictions of reality. And we architectural historians ought to study them.

1) Does the rule that every rule has an exception itself have an exception?

2) No other Ohio township name is so inconsistently spelled. Some nineteenth- and twentieth-century documents use Caesar Creek (without a possessive), whereas others add that lovely English vestigial genitive, but omit the conventional apostrophe (making Caesars Creek). Wikipedia smashes together the two words in horrifying (but oddly trendy) fashion — hence Caesarscreek. (Gesundheit!) I'd throw my support behind the one variant that seems not to appear in print: Caesar's Creek.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Another Regional Quirk: Southwestern Ohio's Conspicuous Built-In Gutters

As I've said ad nauseum, every locale has its own architectural flavor (if you will), and that flavor tends to be a function of certain circumstances — when the community happened to develop, where its inhabitants originated, and so on. Often, clusters of distinctively similar structures betray the influence of a particular builder or carpenter. Other times, though, the origin of a locally (or regionally) distinctive architectural quirk can be more difficult to trace. The "monk-bond"-brick farmhouses near Bellevue, Ohio, are one such enigma; so are the myriad southwestern-Ohio homes adorned with built-in gutters.

Gutter, John Elliott House (1802); Symmes Township, Hamilton County, Ohio. This NRHP-listed stone dwelling was built within a year of Ohio's statehood. The frieze board, cornice, and gutter likely date from mid-century.

Describing these gutters — and what differentiates them from their counterparts elsewhere — is a bit of a challenge. They're scattered widely across Ohio's southwestern counties (historically, the state's wealthiest region), from Preble and Darke (in the northwest) to Clermont and Brown (in the southeast), with the densest concentration in the Cincinnati orbit; occasionally, though, examples appear farther north. They're formed when a cornice reaches its wall's plane, then juts out horizontally, creating a distinctive "kick." As far as I can tell, they seem to be a mid-nineteenth-century innovation — most common to Italianate-era structures, but sufficiently abundant in other contexts to leave me scratching my head.

House; Eaton, Preble County, Ohio. This building's cornice is more developed than the John Elliott House's, but the integral gutter remains equally striking.

South gable, Van Ausdal House; Eaton, Preble County, Ohio.

Lest anyone think I'm inventing my assertion, I searched my database of historic rural residences; the distribution of built-in gutters is striking: 48 examples in Warren County, 17 in Butler, at least a dozen in Hamilton,* 10 in Clermont, and nine in Preble; but three in Greene and Montgomery, one in Brown, and none in Clinton and Adams.

Workers' cottages in Columbus's German Village neighborhood — well outside the integral gutter's core region of popularity. Compare the foreground home's eaves with those of its neighbors.

Now, whenever I happen upon such a localized — nay, regionalized — quirk of architecture, I begin wondering about the origin (regional or ethnic) of those who employed it. (Of course, in this case, the method seems less useful, given the great temporal gap between the element's appearance and the settlement of the region in question.) The built-in gutter seems to correlate with concentrations of New Jerseyans, who flocked to the Symmes Purchase and surrounding lands. But such gutters aren't common in Ohio's other significant region of New Jersey settlement — the southwestern portion of the U.S. Military District. And, obviously, plenty of non-New Jerseyans employed the method, too. (It appears in Columbus's German Village, for goodness' sake!)

So, why are built-in gutters concentrated in Cincinnati and bordering counties? I don't know. A bit of meticulous research — tracing particular buildings' owners' immigration and combing through other states' NRHP listings — might reveal something, but I'll leave that research for the future.

* As of October 11, 2017, I've finished only part of my Hamilton County survey.