|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.|