Historic Ohio, Pt. 1

So about two or three weeks ago these really nice (or really crazy) people let me come walk around their house and take pictures. They partially did it because I came to their door with a story about how I was working on a project where I was photographing historic homes in ohio. This wasn’t, strictly speaking, true… I was working on a project…only I had just started it right then when I walked up to their front door and knocked on it to ask if I could barge into their house and take pictures. 

That’s not to say that this hadn’t been an idea in the making since I took pictures of a Cedarville professor’s 175 year old house about two years ago or so. But it wasn’t until I moved across the street from three amazing historic houses that I knew I had to get into. My explorations were not entirely prepared for. I confess, to the lovely people who owned the house of this post, that I was grossly unprepared for the task of appropriately photographing something of this sort. It’s one thing to photograph a person; where the subject is clear and obvious, and another thing to photograph some detail of something where (again) the subject is beating you in the face with it’s presence. It’s another thing entirely to photograph a house. Where do you even start? I wanted to get a picture of every square inch of this house. So I’ll preface this by say that I did not do this house justice. I hope as I start to travel more into this field you’ll be seeing better photographs. 

Oh and, that said, I plan to do more of these. I just need to work up the nerve to go knocking on strangers doors again. I’m pretty sure I’ve been thoroughly educated not to do that throughout my life. 

Why houses though? If you know me you know I’m not a history buff. Well, as it turns out: I am an enjoyer of history. It just has to be communicated through the right medium. Like houses.  Houses tell a story, they tell the real story in a sense (and perhaps one romanticized by my mind). I don’t care much for big events until they’re contemplated in context with the livelihood of the general populace. Houses are like  a time traveling experience. Buildings that have been around for centuries. They’ve seen death, and life; sorrow, and happiness. They communicate it not with words: but with visual stories. In a sense you can stand in a house and, for a moment, you’re part of countless stories.

Ok, I’ll shut up and show you the pictures of this house. (If you want to see the images larger you can click them)

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The House of William Henry Francis, Troy Ohio. “The subject of this image of of revolutionary stock. His grandfather. George Henry Francis was born in Pennsylvania and was a second lieutenant the war for independence. His father Jacob Francis, was a soldier in the War of 1812. William Henry was born on the farm in Butler county Ohio on January 31st 1840. After leaving the farm he taught school until his marriage with Ella Girford, on November 23 1876, from which union two children were born: Miss Opal Francis, the mistress of her father’s handsome home, shown above, and Dr. Jesse B. Francis, a practicing physician of Troy. The year after his marriage he moved to Arcanum Darke county, where he remained for the succeeding fourteen years, engaged in the lumber business, when he moved to Troy where he has lived for the past 28 years, engaged here also in the lumber business. The Wife of William Henry Francis was born in butler county on October 15, 1838, and died in Troy, Ohio on October 6th 1909, and buried in Riverside Cemetery. Mr Francis worships at the First Methodist church and for many years on the official board as well as teacher of the men;’s class in the Sunday school. He is one of Troy’s most substantial citizens.”

William Henry Francis is where our story begins. A farmboy and school teacher who found his wealth in banking, among other things. He was the last of three separate entrepreneurs to build along this same road and also the latest: building his his home some 40 years after the two adjacent homes in the year of 1919. The plot was especially elite and required a certain degree of prestige to build on, giving the block the pet name of “bankers row”. Certainly, this was a wealthy portion of the town. Each of the three houses had a lot the size of 1/3 a city block: each with a private carriage house and road to accompany it. While quickly banking towards an era free of servitude: the Francis’ indeed had at least a few assistants living with them and were not want for wealth. W.H. Francis was not only a banker: but the owner of the Francis-Montross Lumber company

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William Henry Francis founded his work with a good friend and colleague Frank Montross whom later purchased the house, for his daughter, Elizabeth: an avid partier. It was Elizabeth added the back addition of the house in the 1960’s in order to accommodate her dinner party guests,  as well as the large closet in the attic for her collection of fur coats. Sources quote her as being somewhat aloof and very concerned with grandeur.

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Along those lines: some more images from the attic. Unfortunately the attic was quite dark, but it featured some amazing construction in regards to the framing and such.

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This is the house’s boiler backup (also in the attic). Were the pressure to get too high in the basement it would be relieved up here. If this tank filled it drained into a basin nearby.
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Jessie B. Francis, wife of Opal Francis, is told to have once been kicked out of this house by his mother-in-law for walking up this front staircase in his work clothes from the lumber yard.   On a related note: the wood of choice here, oak, is representative of it’s time, the older homes on this same street feature a much darker wood popular some forty or so years previously. The darker stained pine wood would have been comparable to “Your parents style” for this home: not unlike that terrible tasseled lamp your mom keeps around. This would have been the trendiest wood to get, the “the bee’s knees” no doubt. It was obtained at a discount (read free, at least in a sense) from the family’s involvement in the lumber industry. It’s orange-ish color is also why a lot of these pictures are in black and white. As the outside light got bluer the contrast made it almost impossible to get a good white balance. If your curious on the color though: there are a few in color down further.

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Below left is the back staircase and servants quarters of the house. This would have led down to the kitchens and was accessible from the back of the house. I don’t believe the window was originally neon yellow though. Below right is the hallway approaching from the left in the first picture.

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The house is not unique for it’s era in that it has different door hardware depending on the room. As can been seen in the following images: the first doorknob is on the servants side of the upstairs hallway and the second is on the side usually viewed by the owners of the house. Similarly the third image, a keyhole for the inside of the sitting room door, differs from its outside counterpart. Each room had a unique design. Usually pertaining to it’s level of formality.

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The wood paneling is worth noting. It’s construction is notable in that each panel is floating (meaning that it is not physically attached to the frame) in order to allow for expansion and is carved, by hand, specifically to the wall. Frequently these panels employ the rule of thirds: rows and columns of three across the wall, again custom sized to the wall. There are around 230 of these individual panels throughout the lower floor. Similarly the moulding above the wainscot is comprised of three separate pieces of wood that work together to form the whole.

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The floor was similarly detailed and comprised of many hundreds of alternately colored squares.

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again above, the paneling and trim work can be seen, as well as the floor. This is inside the “turret” on the ground floor. Also the fireplace headpiece in the main sitting room.

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Here the front hallway and the view of the dining room from the study.

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All of the doors on the ground floor are pocket doors, and the main walls are close to two feet thick. The doors themselves employ a similar floating panel technique to that of the walls and weigh upwards of at least 100lbs, being solid wood. Their weight isn’t noticeable however, as they are balanced in their frames. Despite being almost 100 years old they still move easily.

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In case the sink didn’t give it away: this bathroom was also remodeled courtesy of miss Elizabeth Montross-Brown. (Spider-Man decor aside)

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This window (looking into the dining room) along with this kitchen window, were once on an outside wall, later when Elizabeth added the rear extension in the 60’s (shown adjacent) it was turned into a hallway of sorts.

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Lastly: this is my very gracious host (along with his wife, who wasn’t there at the time). He’s a real great guy who put up with a strange man entering his house to take pictures and who was willing to recite a lot of history he had researched. He and his wife are the third owners of the house, and the first public owners.

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-A.K.G

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