Thursday, October 23, 2014

1923 Swift House Fire as Reported by the Mansfield News

Driving out on Gore Orphanage Road over the weekend reminded me that I had this old article. It is about the fire that destroyed the Joseph Swift House on the evening of December 6, 1923 – and ultimately gave birth to the legend of Gore Orphanage.

The article (at left) appeared in the Mansfield News on Friday, December 14, 1923. Unfortunately, it contains much misinformation – so much that I was a little hesitant to post it. (It's similar to one that appeared in the Chronicle, which I posted here.)

The Mansfield News article implies that Mill Hollow and Swift's Hollow are the same place. It identifies Joseph Swift as a Virginia planter – a Southerner – instead of a New Englander. It also includes a few fanciful ghost stories that have little to do with the actual history of the house.

But the article does have some kernels of truth, so it's evident that the author of the piece probably did visit the house, or at least was familiar with it.

Here is the article (below) as it appeared in the Mansfield News.



Many Mansfield people will remember the old colonial house – said to be haunted – which stood in Mill Hollow, or Swift's Hollow in the Vermilion river valley, several miles south of Vermilion. The place was visited yearly by cottagers from Ruggles Beach and Mitiwanga, as well as by other people from the country round. The house was destroyed by fire recently, according to news from Lorain.

The mansion was said to have been erected about 1818 by a Virginia planter, and was built in typical colonial style. The timbers were hewn out of heavy wood, largely walnut with much of elaborate carving which ornamented the beautiful doorway and full length windows, was carried there on ox carts all the way from Connecticut. Four imposing pillars, which gave the place a southern atmosphere, graced the porch extending across the front of the house.

There were about twelve rooms in the place, all on one floor. Most of them contained large fireplaces. The ceilings were very high, and the halls spacious and dark. Large cupboards and numerous closets contributed to the spooky atmosphere of the house. Names of visitors from all over the country, including autographs of some of the Mansfield young people had been written over the walls.

The colonial house was the only one left standing in the valley, a very lonesome but beautiful place. High hills, once river banks, overhang the hollow. A stately entrance to the estate has its traces left in the old stone posts that stand at the edge of the yard now overgrown with brambles.

At this place many years ago, the young folks of the whole country round used to gather to enjoy the hospitality of the Swift family. The commodious residence was well fitted for entertaining of all kinds, and help was so plentiful, if one may judge from the large servant quarters built, southern style, at the rear of the mansion.

There are several stories as to the ghost that "haunted" the house, and had kept people from living there for many years. One tale runs that the southerner who built the house and brought his family there lost three of his children soon after arriving, when they contacted a contagious disease from handling goods of a peddler's pack. The family were said to have left the place immediately afterward, and never to have been heard of afterward.

Another story is that the Swift family, of prominence in that part of the country, occupied the farm a great while ago, Mr. Swift owning many acres of rich river bottom land. His son, only a short time before his wedding day, went to his new home in that same valley to clean the well, and was overcome by "black damp" and died. The whole hollow was said to have been haunted from that time on.

The mansion in ruins was a famous spot for tourists as well as people living nearby. Several artists have used it in studies. College hikers from Oberlin were fond of the place. All will regret to hear of its destruction, as it was indeed an unusual spot of northern Ohio.

Tomorrow, I'll post a newspaper article about a 1948 visit to the Swift house ruins.

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