Outdoor Gems | September 2018
by Mark Schweitzer, photos by Charlotte Gintert
Writing about Akron’s old houses and buildings can involve a lot of detective work. Sometimes you get a good lead, but it doesn’t pan out. You might get a witness who turns out to be unreliable. Solid evidence can be hard to find—so you may have to go with your best hunch.
That’s what happened with this fascinating old house. We’ll call it the Chamberlin House, since I believe that was the family who built it (probably in 1870) in what was then part of Tallmadge. Today, it’s in Goodyear Heights, just off Six Corners, where it stands out among a neighborhood full of 1940s-1960s bungalows, Cape Cod and ranch-style houses.
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I grew up just two blocks away, and I can still remember my older brothers referring to it as The Haunted House, not only because of its very formal and austere façade, but also because we never saw anyone outside. Even during Halloween trick-or-treating, it seemed like everyone stayed away.
Years later, the old federal-style house—with its elegant front porch, narrow first-floor windows and eyebrow dormers up in the attic—caught my attention as I browsed through a copy of the Akron Historic Inventory, compiled by city researchers around 1978. It said the house dated to 1813, which was a surprise, since that would make it one of the oldest houses in the city.
The house was old, to be sure, but it didn’t look that old. Could it have been remodeled at some point? Had some of the fabric of a much older house been used as part of a newer home?
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I asked our architectural photographer, Charlotte Gintert, to take a look. She noted that the online tax record had the house dating to about 1870. That seemed more in line with the visual appearance of the house, but I had to wonder: Where did that 1813 date come from?
The Akron Historic Inventory noted that the date of 1813 came from an interview with the homeowner, whose family had been long-time residents. She told the researcher that the property was originally part of a tract owned by the Rev. Elizur Wright, a prominent early settler of Tallmadge. That sounded feasible—he moved his family to Tallmadge in 1813—but a further search of The Akron-Summit County Public Library’s online history resources indicated that the acreage owned by Wright was a few blocks further north.
More online resources, including old atlases and plat books, revealed that the Osage Avenue property was later owned by Capt. Amos Seward, who was an Ohio legislator. Those maps dated from 1854, and Seward died in 1859. The map shows a structure at or near the current location, but it’s impossible to know if it was this house or a precursor.
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An 1874 county atlas shows the current house on the property built by another prominent Tallmadge resident, Lorenzo D. Chamberlin, who died in 1888. At that time, Osage Avenue did not exist (the neighborhood had not been platted), and the Chamberlins would have accessed the property from a drive off Brittain Road.
Over the years, as Akron annexed this part of Tallmadge and Goodyear Heights was built around it, the house quietly maintained its dignity as the modern age advanced.
Today, the house sits on two stone-terraced lots with a spacious side yard hidden behind evergreen bushes. Broad concrete steps and a walkway rise gracefully in three tiers as you approach the front door.
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Though the house doesn’t feel “haunted” to me anymore, it still remains mysterious. I doubt the previous owner’s tale that it dates from 1813. As we all know, family legends can be distorted or misinterpreted over the years. Sometimes, they’re just plain wrong. It’s highly likely that there was an earlier house—or perhaps a cabin—somewhere on this site in 1813. It’s also possible that parts of it ended up under, or in, this 1870 house.
At least, that’s this house detective’s best hunch.
Mark Schweitzer is a writer, publisher, and member of Akron’s Urban Design and Historic Preservation Commission. He is leading the charge to have Goodyear Heights listed in the National Register of Historic Places.