Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Lionel Sheldon’s Brick Barn in LaGrange – Part 1

One thing that I’ve noticed when scrolling through Lorain Journal microfilm of the 1950s is the preponderance of articles about old landmarks.

This is great for me, because back then the Journal had both the journalistic and photographic resources to cover these stories well. I like to feature these stories on the blog, because much of the information is not easily available anywhere today.

One article that I’ve had for many years (and finally decided to type up) is the one below about a vintage barn (actually a stable) on Route 303 just west of LaGrange with historical significance. The article by James Howard appeared in the Lorain Journal on Thursday, May 5, 1955.

West of LaGrange
Imposing Barn Symbol of Dream That Failed
By James Howard

A two-story brick stable, one and a half miles west of LaGrange, stands today as a memory of an unfinished dream.

The building, its imposing lines in sharp contrast to the ordinary farm construction, was erected more than 100 years ago by Lionel Sheldon, former Lorain county lawyer who achieved national fame before his death.

On Rt. 303
The stable is located on a farm now owned by Harry Thompkins, on Rt. 303, and is one of the oldest landmarks of the area. Neighbors still talk today of the stir created when Sheldon built the stable and announced further plans to construct a house, barn and other buildings all of brick made from clay on the farm and personally shaped in Sheldon’s own kiln.

Ralph Sanders, old time resident of the LaGrange area, lives across the road from the Thompkins farm in a brick home built by his father and Sheldon from the same kiln used for the stable.

“I remember my father talking about Lionel,” says Sanders, “and how the Sheldon estate was going to be the best farm in this part of the state. He would have done it too, only he reached for higher things and made them.”

Fame Changed His Mind
The fame that changed Sheldon’s mind about creating a farm estate began when he became a lawyer.

He had lived in LaGrange since 1833, when his father, Allen, moved the family from Worcester, N. Y., and gradually acquired a 500 acre farm in the LaGrange area.

Lionel was admitted to the Elyria bar in 1851, the year of his father’s death. For the first few years of his law practice he lived in Elyria, but always spent summers on the farm and began his plans for the building program.

His first public office came in 1856 when he held the office of Lorain county probate judge for two years.

But it was the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 which brought about the great change in Sheldon’s life. He entered 2nd Ohio Cavalry as a captain and later became a major in the same regiment.

Met James Garfield
At the organization of the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry he formed a lasting friendship with the colonel of the organization, James A. Garfield, later president of the United States. Sheldon became colonel and was a brigadier general before the close of the war.

After the war Sheldon resumed the practice of law in New Orleans, living through the exciting days of the reconstruction. His friendship with President Garfield helped him when he entered politics and was elected to Congress in 1868, 1870 and 1872. In 1878, he was one of the presidential electors of the state of Louisiana.

For the next 10 years, Sheldon’s career is unknown except he was known to have been legal counsel for the Texas and Pacific Railroad in 1887. To this day, his place of death and burial are unknown, due to incomplete records.

Throughout the years, Sheldon never forgot LaGrange and his deeds remain a pleasant memory to old time residents.

Donated To Church
Mrs. John King, who has compiled a personal history of the community tells of old Methodist church records mentioning Sheldon’s name. “I have seen the books where Lionel contributed $200 for the building of the church,” says Mrs. King, “and in those days, it was a lot of money.”

Today, Lionel Sheldon is not remembered in LaGrange for his national fame, but as a man who never completed his one personal dream. But his kindness and character had a far reaching effect, summed up perfectly by Mrs. Avery Wilcox, who at 96 is one of the oldest residents of LaGrange, and who remembers Lionel when she was a little girl.

“There is just one way to describe Lionel Sheldon,” says Mrs. Wilcox. “He was a real gentleman.”

Lionel Sheldon
(Courtesy Wikipedia)
Since the above 1955 Lorain Journal article, Lionel Sheldon’s date and location of death have apparently been documented, according to this Wiki article. He passed away on January 17, 1917 in Pasadena, California.

So is the brick stable still standing out there on Route 303? Did I end up driving through Sunday’s crummy and wacky weather to find out?

Come back here tomorrow for the answer!


Lisa Marconi said...

I lived in a Sheldon-constructed home on Indian Hollow Rd. in Grafton for 13 years. The house, built in 1842, was post and beam style with hand-made nails and beams still covered with bark. The steps had 10" risers. It stood on five acres, two were re-forested fields. During one of his many times of moving massive sandstone rocks, my husband discovered an 1842 coin made into a button. The front of the house had carriage stepping stones and hitches for horses. I found many old-fashioned marbles and turn-of-the century coins around the old mill stones. The park across the street was also part of the Sheldon property. I understood they had a "summer" cottage near Black River. The house itself was reputed to be part of the Underground Railroad. I found photos in the barn, curled into the rafters, of children from probably the early 1900s playing on the grounds, even a deceased toddler in a coffin laid out in a room I recognized as the dining area of my house. Very interesting location and rich in history!

Dan Brady said...

Hi Lisa!
Thanks for taking the time to post your comments and for sharing some of the history of your home. It’s great that the house has survived for so long, and that you and your husband appreciate its history. It sounds like a very interesting place to live!