Friday, October 2, 2009

Our Old Homes - Number 2

Marietta Semi-Weekly Register, May 23,1884.

One of the most interesting of all our historic houses is the present residence of C. B. Hall, Esq.  This is one of the oldest, if not the very oldest, house in Marietta, being erected some time during the Indian war, 1791-1795, by Col. Sproat.  The late Colonel Battelle, of Newport, the drummer boy of Farmer's Castle during the Indian war, once gave Mr. Hall an account of the first time he saw the house.  He was passing from the block houses at the Point to the garrison on the Stockade, and when about midway heard the sound of hammers.  This unusual noise in what was then still a forest surprised him greatly.  Stooping down and parting the underbrush, he soon spied the tall figure of Col. Sproat and his assistants, who, hammers in hand, were driving the wooden pegs, then used for nails, putting up what is now the kitchen of Mr. Hall's house.  Col. Battelle said the building was formed entirely of logs obtained from one of the block houses at the Point, which stood near the spot where Nye's Foundry now is.

Additions were afterwards made including the first story of the present houses and a South wing which has since been pulled down.  Here resided for a number of years with Mr. and Mrs. Sproat, Commodore and Mrs. Whipple, the parents of Mrs. Sproat.  Commodore Whipple, it will be remembered, was one of the heroes of the Revolution.  It was he who burned the hated British steamer "The Gaspe," in 1772, and who when Sir James Wallace wrote him a letter, intimating that he would hang him for it, exasperatingly and laconically replied:  "Sir: Always catch a man before you hang him.  Abraham Whipple."

It was also Commodore Whipple who fired the first gun upon the ocean, in the Revolution, and who first unfurled the American flag upon the Thames, after the Peace.

During the Indian War, Commodore Whipple cultivated a garden at Col. Sproat's place and was specially proud of his watermelons.  The old gentleman regretfully saw, hosever, each morning, that during the night his finest specimens disappeared.  he decided, one night, to stand guard and catch the mischievous boys from the garrison, whom he supposed to be the depredators.  So the old soldier took his place, and patiently, as so often he had done during the Revolution, stood sentry, his ancient musket loaded, resting in one of the loop-holes of the logs, ready to give the boys a good scare.  Presently he heard the steps he was listening for, but instead of boys playing their pranks, he was surprised to see three Indians step solemnly over the fence and begin gathering his favorite fruit.  It would have been an easy thing to shoot one or more of them, but, as he said, the melons were not worth the life of a man, even an Indian, so he allowed them to depart in peace and stood guard no more over his melon patch.  Commodore Whipple, having exhausted his means in the service of his country, died in May, 1819, poor but honest, on a farm on the banks of Duck Creek,now owned by Mr. Pape.

Col. Sproat, the builder of this old home, was the first Sheriff of the Northwest Territory.  He was an extremely handsome man, very tall and straight, standing six feet four inches in height.  The Indians always called him "Big Buckeye," and Dr. Hildreth gives this as the origin of the nickname of Ohioans.

In this house was married Col. Sproat's only child to a Mr. Sibley, of Detroit, Michigan.

Col. Sproat was extremely fond of cultivating the ground, and owning to Putnam street, his garden occupied almost an acre.  This was laid out tastefully in walks and squares, shaded with ornamental trees.  He also had here quite an orchard of pear, apple and peach trees.  Boys would be boys then as well as now, and these fruit trees were a great temptation to the students of the Academy which stood near by. The late Mr. James Lawton used to tell with a great deal of glee of his going to steal apples from here and how valiantly old Black Sucke, Col. Sproat's domestic for many years, defended the garden against their attacks.  In 1805 Col. Sproat died at his home, quite suddenly, at the age of fifty-five years, and his wife leaving the old house lived with her parents.

The place was then occupied by several different persons, among others by Dr. S. P. Hildreth, and here was born his oldest daughter afterwards Mrs. Douglas Putnam.  Finally in 1809 the property was bought by Captain Greene, a cousin of the great Gen'l. Greene of Revolutionary memory, by whom it was improved in 1812, the logs being weather-boarded and a second frame story added.  Capt. Greene came from New England and had been a sea captain for many years, trading to those far off points in the old world, rich in rare old china, beautiful shawls and other beautiful things, a lucrative business at one time, but finally broken up by our troubles with foreign nations.  Captain Greene once had a desperate encounter with pirates upon one of those voyages, the marks of which he bore to his dying day.   In the thick of the encounter, while giving an order, a musket ball passed through his face, going through both cheeks but not injuring his tongue.  Captain Greene was a merchant and a down river trader, a man of enterprise and public spirit, highly respected by all who know him.

The handsome old structure now owned by Judge Follett was built in 1802 by Governor Meigs, who previous to this time, when in Marietta, had lived on the Point, on the Muskingum bank.  In 1805 the building was not finished, but the upstairs was fitted up temporarily for the Congregational Society, though their usual services were held in the Academy.  Jan. 8th, 1806, the Rev. S. P. Robbins, one of the most devoted ministers any church every had, was ordained in this house.  From a very rare old pamphlet by Dr. S. P. Hildreth, some interesting facts concerning this occasion have been gleaned.

The various pastors, living at a distance, who were to officiate, arrived on horseback some days previous to the great day and were hospitably entertained.  At this date there were only six or seven Congregational or Presbyterian ministers in Ohio, the State having a population of ninety thousand.  Reverend Jacob Lindsley came from Waterford and upon the ordination day made the opening prayer.  Rev. Thomas Robbins, cousin of the candidate, came from New Connecticut or the Western Reserve, and delivered the sermon from the words "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come."  Matt. 24, 14.  The address was afterwards printed.  Rev. Lyman Potter, of Steubenville, made the consecrating prayer; Rev. Mr. Badger, from Austinville, Pa., gave the charge; Rev. Stephen Lindsley, pastor of the Presbyterian church at marietta, presented the right hand of fellowship and Rev. Mr. Badger made the concluding prayer.  After the services the pastor and people renewed the covenant and gave their assent to the confession of faith.

About this time Gov. Meigs returned from the South, where he had filled the position of Colonel and Commandant of the upper district of Louisiana, to accept the office of Judge of the Northwest Territory.  He some time after finished his residence, even now one of the handsomest in town, which was then surrounded with extensive grounds, reaching to the property owned by Col. Sproat.  The principal workman upon the house was Loftus Katon.

The militia training was often held upon the commons in front of Gov. Meig's residence.  The Governor not satisfied with the drill the men went through on that occasion, always had the boys form in line also with wooden guns and swords, under the command of Dudley Dodge, one of their own number, and go through with the same training.  Much to the disgust of Mrs. Meigs and Daphne Squire (the latter of whom was born in Gov. Meigs' house and lived there for forty years), at the close of the training the boys were always marched through the great hall, leaving all the mud possible, to the back yard, where they were treated to apples, pears, melons and ginger bread, then with a right about face were marched back through the hall and dismissed.  At the close of training day the militia were always drawn up in front of the Meigs residence and a salute given the Governor.

Governor Meigs, although a staunch Democrat, was fond of a good deal of display.  In this old home was placed the first Brussels carpet ever brought to Marietta and also the first of those abominations, considered in those days the height of elegance, a hair-cloth sofa.  These were all brought, with what trouble we can imagine at that early day, from Washington City.  At one time the paper in the parlor was a beautiful shade of pink.

The Governor also used a handsome carriage and cream colored horses.  The footman always accompanied the carriage, riding upon a horse the exact match of the ones which drew the carriage of his master and mistress.

During the time that Gov. Meigs was Postmaster General, from 1814-1823, Mrs. Meigs spent much of her time in Washington.  Then the house was left in some one's charge, and three maiden ladies, Miss Clarissa, Miss Catherine and Miss Mary Stone, at one time lived there under these circumstances.  In traveling to the Capital the Governor and Mrs. Meigs went much of the way on horseback, with Mrs. Meigs' reception and party dresses crushed into saddle bags in a way to drive a modern belle distracted.  During this time the Governor's salary, as a cabinet officer, was three thousand dollars, while their bill for board was twenty dollars a week.

The old house saw a good deal of gayety in those early days.  The Governor was a great favorite with youngmen and enjoyed their society.  Besides he had a pretty and interesting daughter, an only child, who was very much admired.  Royal Prentiss, connected with the first paper published in Marietta, "The Ohio Gazette and Territorial and Virginia Herald," afterwards one of the editors of "The American Friend," was one of the beaux of pretty Mary Meigs.  Lieutenant Danielson, who was in Marietta from 1804-1812, teaching much of the time and the leader of gay society, was also one of her admirers.  He went into the war of 1812 (was it on account of her unkindness to him?) and after a long illness of malarial fever (so the doctors called it), died at Fort Winchester, five months after he had put on a lieutenant's epaulets in the service of his country.  A Mr. Jeffers was also one of the victims to her bright, black eyes and raven hair and pale, fair complexion.  (Do you wonder she wanted the parlor pink?)  But probably the most distinguished of her lovers was Samuel Huntington, afterwards Governor of Ohio.  Finally, after working all the woe she could, with her sweet face and winning ways, when she was nineteen, a nuptial ceremony was solemnized by Rev. Mr. Robbins in the North parlor, and Mary Meigs married John G. Jackson of Virginia.

During the winter of 1812, several quite severe earthquakes occurred at Marietta.  Mr. Meigs was at that time Governor of the State and the family were alone in the great house.  The shocks occurred at night, once at least, the doors and windows in the stout mansion rattled viciously, the dishes danced in the closets and half the inhabitants of Marietta were in the streets in their night clothes.

Finally, after filling many of the most prominent offices in the State and Nation, having been Supreme Judge, Senator, Governor, Postmaster General, the old home witnessed a solemn scene, when its master, after months of suffering with consumption, was carried from its portals and laid to rest in Mound Cemetery.  His daughter was called to grieve for not only her father but her husband also, as both died the same day, March 29th, 1825.  Mrs. Meigs continued to live at the old home.  Usually some of her grandchildren were with her and Daphne Squier now was able to return some of the kindness with which the Governor and Mrs. Meigs had always treated her.

After Mrs. Meigs' death, in 1838, a number of persons occupied the house.  Among others were Mrs. and Miss Julia Miller and Mrs. Betsey Lovell.  In 1865 the house was purchased by Judge Follett.

Strange to say, the first owner, Governor Meigs, filled the first State office to which any citizen of Washington county was ever elected, and after a lapse of seventy years, the last owner of the house, Judge Follett, holds the second State office to which any one from Washington county has been summoned by the suffrages of the people.

No comments: