I grew up with a strong love of old houses and buildings. I knew that they spoke of a bygone time, of history and the people who lived and worked in them. When I was young, our family spent enormous amounts of time traveling to places like Hale Farm and Village in Summit County and Century Village in Geauga County. I used to love touring the old houses and buildings there and I found myself making up stories in my head about the people who lived and worked in them. I could almost close my eyes and imagine life back in the 19th century as I walked through those wonderful historic structures. It was great fuel for my active imagination, which was helped along by being an avid reader of historical fiction.
We also used to take drives in the family car on weekends and my mom would point out old houses and educate us what style and era they were from. What I now know as "Greek Revival" we called "Western Reserve" style, as if it was unique to our part of the country only. Traveling later on as an adult, I learned that I was wrong, that Greek Revival could be seen all over Ohio and beyond, but calling it "Western Reserve" reinforced my understanding of how unique Northeast Ohio is in this country. We were bought by the State of Connecticut in the 18th century as a place to resettle Revolutionary War veterans, who brought their traditions to the wild frontier of Ohio, traces of which can still be seen and heard today. That makes us a particularly unique part of the country, a state in one part of the country transplanted into another part of the country.
Unfortunately, time has not been kind to historic homes and buildings. The past few decades have seen sharp declines in money toward preservation of historic homes and buildings and the poor economies of the past 30-40 years have been unkind to old houses in the countryside as people have abandoned farming as a lifestyle to move into the city to look for better paying work. Proud old farmhouses have fallen into decay and disrepair, and the recent housing bubble meant a massive flight out of older cores of inner cities and out into the 'burbs and McMansion developments. Inner cities have fallen prey to becoming cheap rental housing, often poorly cared for by low income tenants. Old homes and buildings have started to crumble and decay, without loving hands to rescue them from disappearing and becoming but a memory.
In Kent, I have seen more and more of our history erased by fire, neglect and development and I have felt the need to sound the clarion call to preserve what little of our history hasn't disappeared. We recently lost the 175 year old historic Olin House on Ravenna Road, victim to neglect, and we nearly lost the Historic Singletary House in Streetsboro, which I helped to save from the wrecking ball. Once I experienced success in saving a historic home, I felt that it was possible to continue fighting to preserve historic homes and buildings if success could be achieved with saving one house. Recently, when the Esplanade plan meant that all of East Erie Street would be vacated, I realized that one home on that street stood out, what was to me an obvious old Greek Revival house that I suspected was of mid-19th century vintage. A conversation on Facebook confirmed this when an 1874 lithograph of the same house was produced by local Kent historian Jon Ridinger. I knew this picture because our family owns the book out of which the picture was taken. Jon mentioned its owner in 1874 as being a Dr. Aaron M. Sherman, M.D., who I knew to be a prominent 19th century Kentite.
How I learned of Dr. Sherman was through the history of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Kent, the church to which I belong. I knew that Dr. Sherman had helped to found this particular church, so when Jon mentioned Sherman's having owned this house, I knew we had to spring into action to save it. Shortly thereafter, an article appeared in the Record-Courier about this house and how a woman who was alive in 1924 remembered it being lived in during the late 1850s by a man named George Wells. I knew from local history that his wife was Frances Wells, daughter to Zenas Kent and sister to Marvin Kent. Knowing the house's connection to Kent history, it became obvious that we must save what we dubbed the "Kent Wells Sherman House", and so, since March, a committed group of us have been working tirelessly to save it, and by all appearances, we will achieve this end.
It's very rewarding saving history for future generations to have a touchstone to our past. If I can make doing this my lasting legacy, I will feel fulfilled in life. You only get one chance to save history, and if you aren't successful, it is lost forever to people present and future to know where we came from. Hopefully this is just the beginning of a movement to preserve what is left our our town's historic architecture so that people can know who we were and where we came from as a town. After all, it has been said that you cannot know where you are going if you do not know where you have been, and I believe this to be true. History has a lot of lessons to impart and it is to our peril that we forget it.