words by Mark Schweitzer, photos by Charlotte Gintert
Traveling through Akron’s densely packed older neighborhoods and busy commercial streets, it may be hard to visualize that much of it was once farmland. But if you look at old city plat maps from the mid-to-late 1800s, you can see that this was precisely the case. The names you see are no longer associated with the original family farms, but continue to live on — names like Vaniman, Brown, Bartges, Miller, Mull, Sumner, Barber and Brittain. Some lend their identity to whole neighborhoods, like the Merriman Valley, Spicertown or Ellet. Other names appear on dozens of streets that crisscross the city.
One of the largest landowners on the east side of town, particularly in what is now Ellet, was the Hilbish family who owned more than 300 acres that ran south from Mogadore Road, along the Hilbish Avenue, almost reaching Triplett Boulevard and the Akron Municipal Airport.
The family patriarch, Benjamin Hilbish, settled in the area around 1849. At that time, the tiny community was still known as Brittain, after being established by that family in 1832 about a mile east of Middlebury.
After developing a successful agricultural living in the area, Hilbish decided to build a house befitting a gentleman farmer. In 1869, he constructed a substantial brick home near the north end of his property, not far from East Market Street.
While the farm was eventually sold off for housing allotments and commercial purposes, the original homestead still remains on shady Eastholm Avenue. It seems just slightly out of place, surrounded by a neighborhood full of modest Cape Cod homes and early 20th century bungalows.
The tall Victorian house has had much of its decorative wood detailing removed from the exterior. When it was entered into Akron’s landmark inventory in 1978, it still featured decorative bargeboards in the projecting gables and fancy scrollwork and brackets on the two front porches.
While the house is still in generally good shape, it was converted to two-family use many years ago by previous owners who probably had much of the detailed exterior woodwork removed to simplify maintenance. Overall, the house is over 3,000 square feet in size and features 11 rooms, including six bedrooms.
In the 19th century, the Ellet-Springfield area was known for its rich clay deposits, so it’s no surprise that the house was built with brick that was made on the family farm. They used plenty of it, too — as the historical survey notes, the home’s walls are approximately 15 inches thick. The brick exterior still features all of its original stonework, with decorative keystones around the narrow Victorian sash windows. The window bay at the front of the house is perhaps its most striking detail, topped by a projecting upper gable that would have originally featured decorative wooden stick-work and probably some fancy shingle cladding.
The historic survey also notes that the home’s massive front porch slabs were added later — and came from the old Akron City Hall that was destroyed in the riots of 1900.
While the house has unfortunately had much of its architectural detail removed, it could be easily researched and re-added should a future owner decide to take on a restoration.
Today, this grand old dame offers no broad views of farmland or agricultural outbuildings but simply peers down upon its little neighbors—a handsome landmark standing in the midst of Akron’s 20th century urban sprawl.
Mark Schweitzer is a lifelong Akron resident and proud of it. Speak ill of his hometown and he will fight you. Or at least sic one of his fat, lazy cats on you.