Sunday, January 27, 2013

Langdon House - Columbia Tusculum

Another home on the National Register of Historic Places, this one is located on Eastern Avenue in the Columbia Tusculum neighborhood of Cincinnati. It was originally built in 1855 for Dr. Wesley Elstun but it was purchased in 1865 by Dr. Henry Archer Langdon. Its architectural style is called Steamboat Gothic and is believed to be one of the last remaining ones of this style in Cincinnati.

Dr. Langdon was born May 28, 1839, in Linwood, Ohio. He was the son of James Davenport Langdon and Sarah Phelps Langdon. He attended the Miami Medical College in Cincinnati and in 1862, he joined the Union Army to serve during the Civil War. That August, he was appointed as Assistant Surgeon to the 79th Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry. By February 1863, he was a Full Surgeon and served until the end of the war.

1869 Titus Map - Source
When Dr. Langdon returned to Cincinnati, he went into practice with Dr. Elstun and eventually bought the practice from Elstun. including the house and the small outbuilding used as his medically office. Dr. Langdon married Emeline Corbly in 1867 at her father's home in Mount Washington. The had five children:
Chester Stebbin Langdon (5 Sept 1867 - 20 Jul 1868)
Clara Langdon (5 May 1869 - 7 Dec 1874)
Anna Dawson Langdon (9 Sept 1870 - 21 Oct 1874)
Thomas Langdon (22 Jun 1874 - 4 Oct 1874)
William Langdon (22 Jun 1874 - 9 Feb 1955)

1870 Census -

As you can see, only one of their five children survived until adulthood. Emeline passed away in 1874, just two weeks after giving birth to twins. In December 1875, Dr. Langdon married Sydnie Edward, and she became William's mother. Just five months after their marriage, Dr. Henry A. Langdon passed away from a brain hemorrhage on May 13, 1876. (Source)

Cincinnati Enquirer; May 16, 1876; ProQuest Historical Newspapers

Whereas, Our friend and professional brother, Henry Langdon, has been removed from our midst by the hand death ; therefore be it
Resolved, That the Miami Medical Society has lost in o deceased friend one of its most useful and distinguished members, and the medical profession of Cincinnati one of its brightest ornaments.
Resolved, That in his sincere sympathy with suffering, in thorough and scientific medical knowledge, and the calm, strong spirit which at all times impelled him fearlessly to do his da Dr. Langdon possessed in a most uncommon degree those high qualities which makes a physician invaluable to a community
Resolved, That to the community which will vainly seek replace him, to the friends and relatives who have lost him. hereby respectfully tender our heartfelt sympathy, and min join our regrets with theirs.
W. W. Highlands. M. D.. Pres
George Conner, M. D., Secit
Sydnie and William moved to live with her family. The home remained in the Langdon family and became a rental property.
Click on the following to enlarge 
1880 Census -
1900 Census -
1910 Census -
1920 Census -
1930 Census -
1940 Census -
When William Langdon became an adult, he also studied medicine at Miami College and joined the Marine Corps. He worked as a doctor in Mount Washington. William's son, Henry H. Langdon, also became a doctor, served his country in World War I in France and at the time of his death in 1937 at the age of 40, was Chief of Staff at Cincinnati General Hospital.

When William passed away in 1955, the home was sold to private owners until 1966 when it was purchased by the Miami Purchase Association, predecessor to the Cincinnati Preservation Association. In 1969, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places and plans were made to remove the doctor's office building to the Heritage Village at Sharon Woods Park, where it still stands today.

Langdon Medical Office at the Heritage Village - Google Images
The Miami Purchase Association sold the home in 1976 to a couple who made plans to restore it to its former glory. Since then, other owners have maintained or improved the home to the beautiful place it is today.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Missed Named National Register House in Avondale

This home came to my attention because, like so many of our historic homes in Cincinnati, it has been neglected and is under its second review as a public nuisance.
965 Burton Avenue, Avondale
2005 Hamilton County Auditor
This home is on the National Register of Historic Places as the Mary A. Wolfe house, supposedly built in 1888 and designed by the Samuel Hannaford firm. So I went off digging to find out who else had owned it. I was in for a surprise...
CAGIS Map - 2013
The property is the large house in the upper left corner of the outlined area.
I always like to start with current maps, to see if I can line up the property or the parcel with an older map. So I went back to 1869...
1869 Titus Map - Source
The outlined portion lines up (mostly) with the present day CAGIS map.
Ok, first surprise! The land where the home at 965 Burton Avenue is today was once an African American cemetery. Something else to note, Burton Avenue was then called Clinton Street. Remember, at this time, Avondale was a separate village outside of Cincinnati. There was also a Clinton Street in Cincinnati, in the West End, near the new Taft Information Technology High School on Ezzard Charles Drive.

After looking through some city directories for Mary A. Wolfe in 1888, I figured out whomever placed the home on the National Register got the two Clinton Streets mixed up. Mary Wolfe did live on Clinton Street, but in the West End, not Avondale. Second surprise! So who built this home on an old cemetery and where were the beloved dead moved?

Cincinnati Enquirer, April 12, 1880
As you can read above, a controversy started in 1880, when an African American state representative presented a bill to the legislature to close the Colored American Cemetery in Avondale. Members of the African American community came together to oppose the closing. A portion of the speeches is below.
Excerpt from Cincinnati Enquirer ; Apr 13, 1880 
The bill was not passed and the cemetery remained open. That was until 1883 came along and I found the following articles:
Cincinnati Enquirer; April 30, 1883
Cincinnati Enquirer; May 27, 1883
Wow, the above article was shocking for me to read. I hope the bodies were all removed by their families and given a proper burial, not thrown in a trench! It appears from further research that the land was purchased by the neighbor next door, the Evans family, who appear on the 1869 map above.

The land stayed vacant until 1894, when the present home was built for George W. Dittman (sometimes also spelled Dittmann). He was co-owner of a prosperous shoe making business in Cincinnati, Krippendorf & Dittman. He was born in Missouri in 1849, was married to Abbie and had four children - Florence, George, Edmund and Ruth.

Cincinnati Enquirer; Sept 24, 1893
I confirmed the Dittman's owned this home by checking the city directories. They first listed their home on Clinton Street, Avondale in 1894 and then as Burton Avenue in 1896, and finally as 965 Burton Avenue in 1897.

Cincinnati Enquirer; February 27, 1895
This article state the home was recently built, disproving the  original build date of 1888.
The Dittman family lived in this home through the early 1900's. George passed away in 1925 and Abbie in 1926. They are buried in Spring Grove Cemetery, along with Florence and Ruth, who never married, and  Edmund and his wife Clara. The home was sold in 1928 to Jennie Erman, a widow, who lived with her son, Effie, an insurance agent. The Erman's lived here until at least 1940.
1917 Sanborn Insurance Map - Source
You can see from the ownership card below, the property changed hands quite a few times from 1940 until 1974. At some point in the 1990's it became a nursing home.
Ownership Card - Hamilton County Auditor
Cincinnati Magazine, August 2009
As you can see above, it seems interior details were removed when the home was converted. Recent reports from 2009 and 2010 state the home has a leaky roof with damage occurring to the floors, causing them to be ready to cave in and of course, because of the water, mold damage is also apparent. Other comments can be seen on this blog post from 2010. The home was condemned on September 24, 2012 for structural damage, vandalism, and neglect.

Even with obstacles to face, a home that has merited a place on the National Register of Historic Place should receive more care and attention. I will update this blog post after the hearing on January 25, 2013. If you would like to attend, the hearing will take place at 1:00 pm at 3300 Central Parkway.

2020 UPDATE - This home was demolished in 2019. Some of the architectural elements were saved for future use. Watch a tour of the building before it was torn down.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Benn Pitman House

I stumbled upon this home and I had no idea Cincinnati has such a treasure!
1999-2003 Hamilton County Auditor
This is the Benn Pitman House, built circa 1878 and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places on July 7, 1969. It is named for its builder and owner, Benn Pitman. His life is best described in his death notice from the Cincinnati Enquirer, December 29, 1910:
Benn Pitman: Dies at Age of 89 Years
Was Founder of Phonetic Shorthand in America,
And the First Official Stenographer of U.S. Government.
His House Full of Wonderful Wood Carving Done By Him and His Art Students.
 Benn Pitman, aged 89 years, one of Cincinnati’s most famous citizens, died last night in his home at 1852 Columbia avenue. Pitman was the founder of phonetic shorthand in America. He was also well known in art circles all over this country.
He was a national figure during and after the Civil War. He was one of the first shorthand reporters to be employed by the United States Government. For nearly a year he had been ill at his home, and some months ago he submitted to a very serious operation.
Benn Pitman was born in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, England, on December 24, 1822. He was a brother of Sir Isaac Pitman, the inventor of Pitman’s phonography, known as phonetic shorthand. In his early days, he toured Europe lecturing on and teaching his brother’s invention. In 1852 he came to America, and, after a short stay in Philadelphia, he located permanently in Cincinnati.
The same year he came to Cincinnati he established the Phonographic Institute for teaching phonography and publishing his books on that subject. Since the incorporation of this institution in 1895 he had been its President. Of late years the institute has been operated merely as a publishing house. He was associated with Jerome B. Howard, who acted as manager of the institute since 1881.
In the early seventies he was a teacher of the Cincinnati Art Academy, which was the foundation of the present Cincinnati Art School. It then adjoined the old McMicken University. He taught decorative art and wood carving.
Mr. Pitman had always been of an artistic disposition. His house on Columbia avenue is a wonderful example of his art. Each piece of furniture is wonderfully carved, as are also the woodwork and staircases. For many years it has been the subject of admiration by artists from all over the country. Much of the work he did himself, and the rest was done by his students in the old art academy.
He was twice married. In 1849 he married Miss Jane Bragg, of Manchester, England. They had one daughter, Miss Agnes Pitman. Some years after his first wife’s death he married Miss Adelaide Nourse, daughter of Caleb B. Nourse. She was a twin sister of Miss Elizabeth Nourse, who now lives in Paris, France, and occupies a prominent place in the world of art. The second Mrs. Pitman died some years ago. She was survived by a daughter, Miss Melrose Pitman, who is a student in Wellesley College. Miss Melrose Pitman is at home for the Christmas holidays and with her sister, she was at her father’s bedside when he died.
It was as a shorthand reporter that Mr. Pitman achieved national fame. In the early fifties there were very few shorthand reporters, and he was designated as an official reporter to record important Government litigation.
…One of the most famous cases he ever recorded was the trial of the Lincoln conspirators, Mrs. Suratt, Payne, Atzerodt, Dr. Mudd and others, charged with conspiring with Booth in the assassination of Lincoln. Mrs. Suratt was afterward hanged.
Pitman was one of the founders of the Cincinnati Crematory… 
Benn Pitman
For the Third Cincinnati Industrual Exposition, furniture, doors and baseboards made by Benn Pitman, along with his first wife Jane and their daughter Agnes were exhibited. A display was also sent to the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876 containing many pieces of wood carvings, such as bedsteads, mantels, bookcases plus much more. These were made all by women, since Pitman believed woodcarving could be a new artistic profession for women. The display received great acclamation. Source
Benn Pitman (1822-1910), designer; Adelaide Nourse Pitman (1859-1893), carver; and Elizabeth Nourse (1859-1938), painter
Bedstead, ca. 1882-83
While being well-known and successful, he left very little estate to his daughters and they sold the home by 1920 to Lulu M. Steward. The 1920 census lists her daughter Florence M. Steward as a teacher at a college (the city directory lists her as a musician) and Lulu's two sons, Harold and William.

2005 Hamilton County Auditor
By 1923, the house already changed ownership to James L. Pease and again was sold to Martin H. Urmer in 1927. The Urmer family remained owners until it was sold in 1940 to Robert Cavally, who was a flutist with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and a teacher at the College Conservatory of Music. It was sold by the Cavally's in 2000 to the present owner.

When the home was last for sale, a wonderful detailed article was written in the Cincinnati Post, March 27, 1999:
…Pitman, a woodcarver and transplanted Englishman, was influenced by the Aesthetic Movement, a reaction against industrialism that prized nature for its lack of artiface. He executed the Ohio Valley’s flora in the home’s woodwork.
Only two carvings, both in the entry parlor, veer from nature. On one door, a high-relief carving of birds taking flight is based on one in the Alhambra, the 15th-century Moorish castle in Granada, Spain. On another door, Pitman carved a pair of lions rampant, recognizing his country of birth.
Ceiling beams, baseboards, doors and doorways are all carved. Fruits and berries, ferns and flowers in dizzying numbers fill the woodwork – mahogany, oak, rosewood, hickory.
“After living here for year, I discovered a dragonfly behind a post on a fireplace.” Mrs. Cavally said.
Three of the home’s four first-floor fireplaces are in working order. In the entry parlor, the firebox is surrounded by hammered silver with the inscription, “Content is a crown which seldom kings enjoy.”
The tile on the hearth – indeed, all the tile in the house – was made on-site and fired in a kiln in the basement. Used now, for storage, “the kiln could be brought back to working order,” Mrs. Cavally said.
The Cathedral Room is named for its 27 foot ceiling. The room is long – 23 by 12 feet – and boasts a massive fireplace with carved marble and intricately detailed wooden surround. The room had been used as both living and dining room.
Intricately carved built-on cabinetry is tucked into either side of the fireplace.
Pitman had intended this space as son Emerson’s music room, so on the east wall is a triple-arched organ loft. The 14-by-8 foot loft makes a charming spot to read or to observe light passing through the stained glass gallery windows of the room below.
Back in the first floor, there is a 16-by-10 foot dining room or first floor bedroom. French doors from the latter open onto a terrace that leads down to a gazebo beside a flourishing magnolia tree on the landscaped grounds.
The 16-by-15 foot kitchen has been upgraded with oak cabinetry, Corian countertops and a center island with sink. There, one can prepare supper or eat a bite at the breakfast bar while observing the river traffic through the doorway.
Off the kitchen is a powder room tucked under the stairs to the second floor.
The large second floor hall is richly carved and offers access to the organ room, three bedrooms (all with river views), a full bath and the stairs to the tower room. Large closets, unusual for a house of this age, offer abundant storage.
The 10-by-8 foot bathroom is fitted with a ball and claw tub and pedestal sink, and it too had a view of the river. The blue and white tiles are metal.
“There are boxes of extras,” Mrs. Cavally said, should some be needed for alterations.
Up the stairs is the tower room, originally used by servants, with access to the tower platform, overlooking the river.
“We had some wonderful times up there,” Mrs. Cavally said. “After the opera, I would hoist drinks and ice up in a bucket.”
At about 3,000 square feet on 1.4 acres, the Pitman-Cavally Mansion remains a viable home for the ‘90’s and beyond. The plumbing and electrical systems have been upgraded, the oak floors refinished. The coal room in the basement is long gone, replaced with an efficient heating and air conditioning unit.
The full basement, with laundry room and another full bath, is bright and clean, with its white washed 26-inch stone walls and beaded board ceiling…  
 The following pictures show the amazing details Mr. Pitman and his fellow artists added to his home. These are from the University of Cincinnati Libraries Digital Collections.

Content is a crown which seldom kings enjoy