Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Ebenezer Gregg/Myron Foote House

Sometimes when I select a topic for this blog, I bite off more than I can chew. Such is the case with today's topic, the Ebenezer Gregg house.

I first saw the above picture in a 1959 souvenir book commemorating the 125th Anniversary of Lorain. Its caption read, "First big house on the East Side was the home of Ebenezer Gregg, who came to Ohio from Dorchester, New Hampshire in 1835. The house still stands at the corner of E. Erie Ave. and Idaho Avenue."

I didn't remember ever seeing this house on E. Erie Avenue, but I realized that sometimes old homes get renovated. So I headed over there anyway with my camera, hoping the house would still be there.

Eastlake Apartments at 960 E. Erie Avenue
However, the house was apparently gone. A large apartment house stood on the southwest corner of Idaho and E. Erie, and a very old house was on the southeast corner. Where Idaho Avenue crosses on the north side of E. Erie, a closed convenient store was on the west side and another old house was opposite it.

Neither of the two remaining old houses looked much like the illustration, unless extensive renovations had taken place. So I concluded that the Gregg house must have been where the apartment house was now. But I had to be sure.

Using the city directory, I checked all of the residential listings in the area from 1958 on, looking to see if any of them had disappeared before being replaced by either the apartment house or the convenient store. It turns out that before the Convenient Food Mart appeared in 1980, there had been a gas station or auto repair shop at that location dating back to the late 1920's. So the Gregg house definitely wasn't at that location.

I discovered that only one homeowner's address, 954 E. Erie, had disappeared around 1972 – and had been replaced by the Eastlake Apartments at 960 E. Erie in 1974. A gentleman named Myron Foote had lived at the 954 address, sometimes with other tenants, at least since 1919.

I was ready to conclude that the Gregg house had been at that location, but then I ran into trouble.

While checking the earliest city directories, I had found several listings of Greggs – but none of them at the 954 E. Erie Address. There was Mrs. E. Gregg at 93 E. Erie (1891), Arthur and Anna Gregg at 921 E. Erie (1903 & 1905), and Warren A. and Anna Gregg (the same couple?) at 1007 E. Erie (from 1912 to 1920). All on the north side of the street. And the 1007 E. Erie house was on the corner of Idaho and E. Erie!

The house at 1007 E. Erie
So I did some more research, and found out that according to Early Days in Lorain by William Wickens, Mr. Gregg had opened subdivisions on his farm in anticipation of the railroad coming to town in the 1870's. A book of county maps from the 1960's indicated that the lots that were part of the Gregg subdivision were on the lake side of E. Erie. 

So if the Gregg farm was on the lake side, would that include his house as well? Thoroughly confused, I decided that I was going to need some help with this.

And then a happy coincidence occurred. 

While visiting Loraine Ritchey's always thought-provoking blog, I happened to notice that someone left a comment on October 18th regarding a "beautiful 'older' home on the corner of Idaho Avenue and East Erie Avenue." The comment mentioned that "it was purchased and torn down to make way for an eyesore apartment building."

I excitedly emailed Loraine, asking her if she had ever heard of the Gregg mansion, and she kindly put out the word on her blog that I was looking for information.

Boy, did she get results – and fast!

The emails started pouring into my inbox, each one with another fantastic attachment.

Dennis Lamont provided an aerial view of the area from the 1920's, which enabled me to positively confirm that the house (with its distinctive roof and chimney) was where the apartments are now located.

Here's the "then (at top) and now" aerial view using Dennis' photo. (Click on it for a closer look.)

But it got even better. Renee Dore did extensive research and found an article with this great photo of the house and Mr. Myron Foote. It's amazing how little the house had changed over the years.

According to the March 2, 1966 newspaper article, Myron Foote and his wife were trying to get a zoning variance for the property so that they could sell it to a prospective buyer. (Foote and his wife were moving into the Kennedy Plaza apartments.) A neighborhood group, however, objected to the property being rezoned for business and circulated petitions.

A few days later, the Building and Lands Committee denied a City Planning Commission recommendation that the property at 954 E. Erie be rezoned from residential to business.

Just when I thought I had seen it all, I heard from Loraine again a few days later. "Did you get the picture with the bulldozer in front?" 

I couldn't believe it. I told her that finding that photo was like finding the Holy Grail! Renee had hit the jackpot!

Here it is.

At the time of this photo (May 16, 1969), the zoning change had finally been approved and the apartments were already planned for the site. A committee had been formed to try to save the house, but it was obviously to no avail.

I should also mention that other people also posted comments on Loraine's blog to help me out.

So while it was sad to know for sure that this great old building (and a big part of Lorain's history) fell victim to the wrecking ball more than four decades ago, it was great to find out that there are so many friendly people out there with a love for local history that were willing to help me. 

In conclusion, I want to thank Loraine RitcheyRenee DoreDennis Lamont, the reference librarians at the Lorain Public Library, and the volunteers at the Black River Historical Society for their help with the research on this subject. Because of their help, this short history is a lot more complete – and for that I am grateful!

Now, what should I write about next? Something easy, I hope! 


Drew Penfield said...

Cool story, and great research, Dan. Sometimes you can feel like the only person who cares about these obscure bits of local history, and then you meet people who are so knowledgeable, helpful and resourceful it's like finding buried treasure. I'm always amazed at the things Dennis pulls from his hat.

Loraine Ritchey said...

You are welcome Dan, and there is 'more a - foote" :) - it was fun and hopefully we can use the lesson that should be learned to save some of the other interesting properties in Lorain and by the way have I a house for you :) will be in touch Loraine

ge13031 said...

It is an old saw that it takes five people to name all the presidents ...it seems that it also works for old houses!

next we'll have to try;
Randalls Race Track
Glens Beach roller skating rink and dance hall
and see what happens

Candie Rossler said...

I can't believe that you've made it, Dan! What a job well done in researching for this house. It's so true that when you want to find more about a certain stuff, you'll make a lot of ways just for you to find them. I'm not that good when it comes to researching stuff, but I'm good in making my house more beautiful! Like fixing broken things at home, doing tons of household chores, cleaning our iron entry doors, and so much more! But maybe one day, I'll try to do some researching, also. Hope I can make it!

Debbie Zelek said...

I just wanted to add. I grew up on the block where this big old house stood. It was known as the Foote house and as kids, we all thought that it was haunted. Lots of the neighborhood kids would go into the house and walk around and come out screaming, stating they saw a ghost. I was always too chicken to go in there and I was scared to walk by it too. At that time it was really run down and scary looking. My principle at Fairhome Elementary School, Dr. Catherine Hicks tried to save the house when they were talking about tearing it down, because she said that Abraham Lincoln had slept there while passing through Lorain. I wish the house was still there now and that someone would have taken the time to renovate it. I am living back on Idaho Ave now and I would much rather see that beautiful old house there, instead of those apartments.