Preservation Ohio is looking for preservation-related stories from around Ohio. Our website features the link to “Share Your Ohio Preservation Story,” because “Preservation Ohio’s staff wants to help publicize a preservation story that’s near and dear to you and one you believe needs more attention.”
And that’s just what Sally Burnell from Kent, Ohio did recently. We are happy to share Sally’s submission with our readers, which profiles the rescue of a landmark house in that Portage County community, and its ongoing restoration:
“In early 2012, Kent State University was proceeding with plans to acquire and demolish houses for its planned “Esplanade” expansion project that would vacate at least one street and demolish quite a few older homes. One home had caught my eye many years ago. It was a obviously a Greek Revival home settled in among early 20th century homes, and it was on the list of homes to be demolished. I went to City Council wondering if they would consider sparing it, if only because of its possible age. They were unimpressed, so I decided to find out if the house had any kind of important history. I went to the Portage County Recorder’s Office and there discovered that this house was built in 1858 by Zenas Kent for his daughter Frances and her husband George Wells. Kent is named for the Kent family, so that meant that the house was historic and should be saved. A later resident, Dr. Aaron M. Sherman, was a Civil War doctor and a prominent civic leader.
Needless to say, after a long effort and gathering around me like minded friends, we were able to save the house by purchasing property on which to move the house to safety. We are now in the process of restoration of the house. The upper floor will be rented to an attorney for her office and the lower floor will become public meeting space.
We have dubbed the house the “Kent Wells Sherman House” and we hope to have restoration done by sometime in 2014. We need to do some fundraising in order to complete the work but that is something we are in the process of planning so we can proceed with our restoration efforts! It just took a lot of persistence and hard work to save this house, even prevailing against a lawsuit filed against us late last year that delayed the project by a full year. We’re very excited about this house’s future as a local landmark in downtown Kent, Ohio!
Here (right) is a photo of the 1858 Kent Wells Sherman House BEFORE we moved it. Right now, its windows are all boarded up because of the recent move, but this is what it looked like before that. This house has been on my radar screen my entire life. I’ve lived in this neighborhood literally my entire life and my mom taught us kids about architectural history by driving us around NE Ohio and teaching us how to identify historic homes by style, period, etc. So when this house became threatened, well, I knew that I had to spring into action to save it, and was downright gobsmacked when I discovered that it was so historic. I am also sending along a photo of a lithograph of the house (see below) that was published in a Centennial Atlas of Kent back in 1874. This book was republished in around 1976 and my mom has a copy and I used to spend a long time looking at it, so when I saw this picture in that book, I realized that I was looking at this very same house that I was working to save! I’m so thrilled that I was able to be a part of a team of people who have saved and are preserving and re-purposing this historic house for future generations.
This has been a hell of a long journey, but SO worth it! As we’ve torn out modern additions inside, we’ve discovered this house’s hidden history as we get down to the house’s guts. I uncovered what I believe to be late 19th century wallpaper in a back room of the first floor when pulling off drywall. I think that it was the wallpaper in the house when Dr. Aaron M. Sherman lived there (1868-1903), but I may be wrong. We pulled off some wainscoting and discovered what we are pretty sure is the wallpaper on it when its first residents lived there, George and Frances Kent Wells (1858-1863).
We have a long way to go, but we’re thrilled to find out what the house might have looked like when its early residents lived there. Can’t wait to find out what other secrets that this house has to reveal to us!”
Again, thank you for your submission, Sally, and best of luck to you all in your endeavor to safeguard a piece of Kent and Ohio history.