One historical goose chase deserves another…and another…and another…
Yet another labyrinthian research project!
So a few weeks ago I stumbled across an 1870 census listing of a “House of Ill Repute” in Chillicothe, and challenged anyone on Facebook to figure out where it was.
The best evidence is that it was a two-storied brick house with a bay window (and enclosed two-tier porch) on the Western Avenue hillside, between Vine and Gerber…recently demolished after a November 2017 fire.
Another similar house was suggested as the culprit, but has pretty much been disproven. It was also a two-storied masonry house on the Western Avenue hillside, but a little past Gerber.
A photo of it has circulated a little on YKYFCOW (thanks to David Coyle), and it was brought up again. But this was a less elegant, earlier “barn-like” house, set farther back from Western, with a large stone-block ground floor set into the hillside.*
That photo has intrigued me, mainly because the house is an early or mid-19th century construct – a straight-lined brashly utilitarian block that is artistic in its simplicity…right down (up) to its crow-stepped gables that overshadow the only angled part of the building, its roof.
Unfortunately, it disappeared long before my time, which is probably why I romanticize it.
I believe Martha Gerber Rittinger, whose family developed the Gerber Addition across the street, told me that it had to be demolished because the hillside was creeping down, and was demolishing it gradually.
I would say that happened because of a huge amount of fill irresponsibly dumped uphill for a newer house…which destroyed houses below it, as well as bowed up Western Avenue.
The old photo was borrowed from the online photo archive of the Ross County Historical Society, who deserve credit for gradually scanning their photo collection, and sharing at least a small and watermarked version of each archived photo.
That led to my trying to learn more about that photo. The RCHS online photo record includes:
Image of: WEIGANT HOME, WESTERN AVE., 1930
Title: HOUSE ON WESTERN AVENUE AT GERBER AVENUE
Object ID: 1990.4.466
Description: WEIGANT HOME ON WESTERN AVENUE ACROSS FROM GERBER AVENUE. RAZED.
Apparently there are two other copies of the photo. On one:
Description: CASPER WEIGANT HOME, WESTERN AVENUE, ON THE CINCINNATI PIKE, OPPOSITE GERBER AVENUE. RAZED SHORTLY AFTER.
MR. WEIGANT WAS A BOOT & SHOEMAKER IN THIS HOUSE IN THE 1870S.
Date: C. 1930
Photographer: BRIOL, PAUL
…Ok, so that date is not cast in stone, and now we know the photographer.
Data on the other copy:
Description: OPPOSITE GERBER AVENUE.
LOWER PART MADE OF STONE QUARRIED FROM THE HILL BEHIND THE HOME. THE UPPER PART WAS BRICK. MR. WEIGANT WAS A BOOT & SHOEMAKER IN THIS HOUSE IN THE 1870S. OPINION FOR DATE OF RAZING VARIES FROM 1930S TO AROUND 1980.
…So there is little more context – probably recorded as a caption on the print, and probably gathered by the photographer.
Who was photographer Paul Briol? Well, Siri and Google doubted my spelling, but he was a prominent, popular, and “unconventional” Cincinnati photographer active from about 1908 to 1955.
The Cincinnati Museum Center published a few monologues on him which were apparently consolidated into a 1989 paperback acompanying a showing of his prints, “The Photography of Paul Briol: A Centennial Tribute”:
Lisa in the archives of the Ross County Heritage Center graciously shared her copy of that book when I bought a hard-copy print of Briol’s Weigant House from her a few days ago. (If anyone visits Cincy and wants to pick up a $1 copy for me, I’ll be grateful!)**
While leafing through it, I noticed, among the 60+ photos, one looked familiar. In my winter browsing through the depression-era c1940 Farm Security Administration genré photos of Chillicothe and Ross County (most, I now realize, by different photographer Arthur Rosthstein), I recalled a few photos of corn shocks standing in fields.
Page 64 looked similar, with the anonymous title of “Corn Shocks”:
But, no cigar – not a match to any local FSA photos I had downloaded. But the hills here look similar! Though that doesn’t mean much in a land of hills.
I did not need to see the title of another Briol print to know where it was – the Ross County Courthouse is unmistakable.
I think I’ve seen this photo used in depression-era publications…maybe the 1940 “Ohio Guide” in the America Guide series. Or was it a 1938 paperback, of which I can’t find my copy?
…Nope. Close but no cigar.
Oh, look…Google has led me to another depression-era alphabet agency publication, by the Workers of the Writers’ Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of Ohio / The Ohio Writers’ Project (huh? who?). The 32-page “Chillicothe, Ohio’s First Capital” (1941) is free as a PDF…downloaded.
And that led me to a 2013 Landscape Architecture thesis(?), “Revitalizing the village of Clarksburg in rural Ohio” by Hilary Buskirk. Hmmm, later…
Oh, THERE’S my copy of the 1938 Chillicothe Northwest Territory Celebration. Nope – right view of the courthouse from Paint and Main, but wrong photo (and from the second or third floor of the Carlisle Building.)
Here’s the original photo for that (with a few touch-ups), in the OHS online image archives. Er, OHC.
So…um…what was I looking for?
*The 1925 Sanborn Fire Insurance mapping shows the stone and brick double house, with elements of the Federal style, is 266 and 268 Western Avenue (and the little unstyled banked stone and wood-frame cottage is 264).
**He is listed with 174 photos of Chillicothe, far more than any other locations (other than Cincinnati).