Old houses have a language of their own, alas that it should be unintelligible to us. An occasional sleepless night would not be so unbearable if the creaking floors and groaning walls and rattling windows of our historic houses could convey to our dull senses what they try so hard to make us understand. This cannot be. With all their well meant efforts they only succeed in giving us Rheumatism. There are however still with us, white haired men, who count many, many more friends in the other world than in this, who, as they walk our streets, see there the houses of almost a century ago and people the side walks with the friends of other years, the pioneer men and women, who made the great State of Ohio a possibility. From these patriarchs, the connecting link of past and present, we have collected some facts, concerning our most interesting old homes and their early owners.
In the first years of the century, a young man, Henry P. Wilcox, moved to Marietta. He had some means, a most agreeable manner, and a handsome person, and besides being the protege of Governor Meigs was soon a favorite with all the best people in Marietta. Having prospered in business and married a Miss Willard, the daughter of an Episcopal clergyman, he looked about for a pleasant home. He soon purchased the square lying between 4th and 5th and Putnam and Scammel streets. The only building upon this ground was a small, frame house, which stood where the Mills residence now does. This was put up in 1797, by Dr. Wm. Putnam, grandson of Gen'l. Israel Putnam, and now stands on the plain, being occupied by Mr. Kerns, the expressman. This building gone, Mr. Wilcox proceeded to build the house which was been occupied for so many years by the family of the late Col. Mills.
This was in 1820-22. In the year 1832 the whole square sold to Mr. Swearengen, of Wheeling, for $1300. Mr. Wilcox and Gov. Meigs also built the store in which Mr. Brigham now has a grocery on the corner of Front and Putnam streets, and here Mr. Wilcox kept a store and the post office. In time there was brought against him a terrible charge. He was accused of opening letters and stealing money from them. A man named Morris, an applicant for the position which Mr. Wilcox held and the principal witness against him, said that looking through the window, one night, he saw Mr. Wilcox taking money from letters. The disgraced man at once fled the country leaving wife, children, property all behind. His family afterward joined him and his business was settled by his staunch friend Gov. Meigs. Some of his old comrades remained true to his memory; the many whom he had nursed through the long, terrible, sickly season of 1822-23, those who had admired his business ability and whose hearts he had won by his pleasant address. These all said that he was an honest man, though a timid one, and that he had been simply frightened away. The truth now will never be known. It is said that Mr. Wilcox prospered and was never accused of anything dishonorable in the new home to which he fled.
An interesting house is the one in which for so many years dwelt the late lamented A. T. Nye, Esq. Over its front door, in early times, was seen a stone with these words engraved upon it: "S. & P. Pool, 1806." Simon and Polly Pool were the first owners of the house and for many years it was used by them for a tavern. Mr. Nye used to say that one of his earliest recollections was of being sent there by handsome Colonel Sproat, our first Sheriff, to bring him a just of whisky. As was the habit of those days the reckoning was kept on the door, P standing for pints and Q for quarts, from which early custom of tavern keepers arose the old adage "Mind your p's and q's."
The place was sold to Nathaniel Dodge, grandfather of Mrs. A. T. Nye, who is the last remaining member, but one, of the old generation of the Dodges. Mrs. Nye still owns the property and keeps the ancient home a model of old fashioned comfort. Many have been the merry makings, the weddings, the Thanksgiving dinners, in this hospitable mansion, and also many the death beds, the funerals, the heartaches, as the sad procession so many times has wound its slow length from the crape marked door. Five generations have lived in the old house and a sunny haired girl and boy belonging to the sixth generation are never so happy as when under the roof of their great grandmother.
Next the Nye house stands the substantial brick residence of Dr. Hildreth. The back part of this dwelling was put up in 1804 or 1805 by Nathan McIntosh for Timothy Gates. In payment for the brick work Mr. McIntosh received one hundred acres of land near Beverly. The three story front was erected in 1823 by Dr. S. P. Hildreth, and it is said that much of the work was done by men in payment for the services of the good doctor in the dreadful, sickly season. Within these walls were written the invaluable accounts of the early history of Ohio and the first settlers, which form the foundation of all later works upon this subject, and without which the story of the pioneers would now be little better than a myth.
The home of the Ward family for so many years, now occupied by Geo. Rice, Esq., was built by Gen'l. E. W. Tupper, a gallant soldier of the War of 1812, about 1801, and made the finest appearance of any Marietta residence at that early day. Gen'l. Tupper occupied it till 1810 when he moved to Gallipolis. in 1817 it was sold to Nahum Ward, Esq. The house was celebrated during his life-time for its open doors and hospitable cheer. No one in Marietta enjoyed entertaining his friends more than Mr. Ward, and he never appeared to better advantage than when arrayed in his usual ruffled shirt and suit of broadcloth, he sat at the head of his long table, the picture of dignified hospitality. When court was in session the table was always laid for a company and many were the meals taken in the old dining hall, then one of the front rooms, by such men as Tom Ewing, Gen'l. Goddard, Thomas [Samuel] Vinton and Attorney Gen'l. Stanberry, who in those early days were very frequent attendants at court in Marietta.
Two very distinguished guests have been within the walls of this old house. In 1825 Gen'l. Lafayette was making a second tour of triumph through the United States. One peaceful May morning, almost sixty years ago, the citizens of Marietta were startled by the booming of cannon. A great concourse of people assembled at the riverbank, and soon a little steamer, "The Herald," was descried and across her bow, in great white letters, was seen the name of La Fayette.
It was Monday morning and Mrs. Ward, like all good house-wives, was busy superintending her home duties, when Mr. Ward hurried in, with the word that every thing must be dropped to prepare for La Fayette as he was coming and would soon be at the door. Mr. Ward met La Fayette, whom he had visited in Paris, at the boat and the Gen'l. drove with Mr. Ward at once to his house. The news had spread like wild fire and almost at once the house and grounds were filled with people. Even the upstairs rooms were crowded and one woman was discovered on the back stairs, almost breathless with excitement, enquiring eagerly for "the La Fayette" and declaring impetuously that she must see "it" as she had come expressly for that purpose. What she imagined the great Frenchman to be no one had time to find out.
Finally the people were prevailed upon to arrange themselves in lines on either side of the long, front walk and La Fayette walked up and down between them. Everybody was introduced and shaken hands with and even the babies kissed, by this great man, whom all Americans delighted to honor. As the boat could wait but a few hours, this soon came to an end and amid the booming of cannon and the cheers of the people "The Herald" steamed off and once more bore La Fayette over the blue waters of the Ohio. Among the most highly prized relics in the Ward family is a cane, which La Fayette carried at the time he was confined in Russia at the Olmutz prison, and which he presented to Mr. Ward when he met him in Paris.
Later, in 1843, the old house had within its walls, as a guest, a former President of the United States, John Quincy Adams. After an address at the Congregational Church by the distinguished visitor, he drove through the town with Mr. Ward and resting at his house for an hour, drank a glass of wine, as had also La Fayette, from the vintage of 1818.