The Cuyahoga River’s Greatest Love Story

The Home Place

THERE’S A HOUSE by the side of the river in Bath, that’s been building for 141 years. It’s the way a house should be built, and I hope it’s not finished in my lifetime. They call the house “Old Brick.”

Five windows across, three stories high, red brick with white trim, it compels that second and third look. But everyone sees it a little differently. With the sun glancing off rippled glass, it gives back to every man a reflection of what he set out to be.

Having outlived many builders, it’s a house which should be studied by all architects and builders who want to know what their business is all about, and by anyone who wants to know the architecture of a love story.

The next to last builder on the job was a lady named Clara Belle Ritchie. Her first move in 1938 was to buy some more of the land around the house. Then she had some workmen replace some bricks that were crumbling, and replace the old stone floor in the basement. The basement mantelpiece was rotting. She had that replaced.

Some newcomers around town thought Miss Ritchie would do better to tear it down and build a modern new ranch. Easier to heat.

“She’ll put a lot of money in it.”

At first very few knew she was putting back together a love story. She was a single woman for whom love was a fresh and wonderful thing, and she had a lot left over.

The story is there in the structure today to read. It starts with the river road in front of the house, which looks as if a thousand miles of tributary roads were built only to bring someone to this door.

On August 14, 1810, Jonathan Hale, an eagle-faced giant, wrote a letter from this valley back to Glastonbury, Connecticut.

Dear Wife,
This is my fourth letter that I have wrote you since I left home ... and the last one was dated 30th stating my safe arrival, my success, of my Land, etc.
Purchase such articles as you want for yourself in wareing apparel ... medicines, Essences of peppermint, opium which is good in fever & ague. Get a Copper Kettle and get a Plow Share ... a few pounds of nails ...
The best way for you to come, to take Lenox Turnpike to Albany from there to Skenectady & then on to Utica & then to Canandaigue, & then to Buffaloe & put your things on Board a vessel, and come on the shores of Lake Erie ...
Send us word if you can when you get to Buffaloe we will come with oxen and horses (to the mouth of the Cuyahoga) to help you. I’ll try to write again before you set out if I can ...
J. Hale
To my beloved wife, Mercy Hale

So Jonathan Hale needed a road into his clearing. He went to the county seat at Ravenna.

The record in the county books contains the item:

Jonathan Hale presented a petition signed by Timothy Bishop and others praying for a road beginning at Pontey’s Camp on Columbia Road, thence on the most eligible ground to the Cuyahoga Portage ... and said Jonathan having given bond to pay costs ...

The road they cut came down along the river and is called River Road; it turned off to become the present Oak Hill Road that runs past the house now called Old Brick, then turned back to the river at Botzum, which at this writing (1998) is the name of a road.

The road was ready in time for the three wagons which were coming on from Glastonbury, Connecticut.

Mercy Hale was in one ox-drawn wagon with Sophronia, six; William, four; and one on lap, Pamelia, two. Jonathan’s sister, Sarah, was along and her husband (and cousin), Elijah Hale, with two children, Eveline and Mary.And there were three chickens.

The third wagon held Jason Hammond, his wife and their children, Rachel, Mary, Lewis, and Horatio.

Jonathan had a cabin ready for them. The cabin has quite a lot to do with the construction of Old Brick - and why it is made of brick.

Out of a snug house in Connecticut with a store close by, Mercy came into a wilderness where she must raise five children with just what she found on the land, with her hands and the copper kettle and needles and thread she had brought. A year from her arrival her son, Andrew, was born, the first child born to settlers at this place. In 1813, she had a daughter named Abigail who lived only ten days, and in 1815 she had a son named James Madison.

That translated into fast deepening lines in a soft complexion and premature stiffening of the fingers and swelling of the knuckles of a gentle young woman lugging a huge copper kettle of water and acting as if her husband had brought her to the kind of paradise he had described.

She did not register the shock of seeing her husband thinned down by the ague, with his Connecticut clothes already worn out, and his friends needing clothes and looking to her to make them out of brittle strings of flax they brought her.

She acted very pleased when things improved by 1817 to where she could get imported cloth, a little of it. She was good with the needle and shears and the valley needed her and kept her bent over her sewing many hours; for example:

a great coat for Mrs. Miller - $1.25

a jacet for a squatter’s son - $3.00

a wedding coat for a groom - $2.50

two pairs pantaloons @ $1.00

two jacets @ $1.50

She was good to the Indians and the squatters and the neighbors and taught her children some reading, but she lost weight.

She saw her husband working from sunup to sundown. In addition to farming for survival food, he had found limestone on the place, a deposit of lime-bearing rocks washed down by the streams that fed Hale Run. John J. Horton, the author who knows this story best, writes that Jonathan piled these rocks up, covered them with dead timber cut by himself and his boys; then he burned the rick for 24 hours, pulled off the debris, sifted the lime from the ashes, packed it in tierces and swapped these casks of lime up and down the river for cloth for Mercy and for iron nails and bar iron, and for glass, some livestock, and for hard money when he could get it or when he was willing to sell that cheap.

Translated into dollars he was doing this work for about three dollars a barrel, and delivering up to Hudson and beyond. But he was better off than most of his neighbors because he was getting a little cash ahead.

All the while he was watching his wife go from a handsome young woman in 1810 to a work-brittle invalid by 1825.

He wrote her a note:

Mrs. Mercy Hale, she is my true and loving wife
She’s been a slave to me a great part of my life.
I hope she’ll be rewarded here before she dies
And then receive a mansion in Heaven above the skies.

But actually he meant the mansion to be under the skies right there in Bath by the Cuyahoga River. Therefore at a time when it was a big thing just to plaster between the logs of a cabin and puncheon the floor and plank the loft, Jonathan Hale set out to build a mansion.

In 1825, at a time when there was not a brick house on the Cuyahoga south of Cleveland and many people were moving back east, Jonathan Hale took his sons across Oak Hill Road to dig clay.

Jonathan had built only log sheds. But there was a Colonel Lemuel Porter going to build a brick building up at the school in Hudson. It would be nice if Hale could wait until he could afford to hire a contractor like Porter. But if Mercy Hale was ever to have a mansion on earth ...

Well, Jonathan and his sons, Andrew and James soaked the clay, puddled it into large frames, let it partly dry then sliced it and fired it.

Some of these bricks came out light and powdery, some glassy blue and brittle from too much fire. But a few out of each batch seemed all right. The sides of some bricks bowed out, many had cracks where the clay pulled apart when wet. But the mortar could cover a lot of learning.

Meanwhile, up on the slope they thinned out the woods, cutting large timbers that they squared up with the ax. The family’s cash money went to a sawmill on Yellow Creek for sawed planks for flooring.

For heavy jobs like cutting stone for the cellar walls, Jonathan hired some neighbors.

They cut a cellar into the side of the hill, put four great cornerstones in place, and laid up stone to the grade level. Then the heavy timbers went into place.

Because of the slope of the hill, the front of this excavation required no digging. To observers who didn’t know Jonathan’s pretensions, it looked merely like a one-story house cut into the side of the hill to get the warmth of the ground on three sides.

“Jonathan, you’re putting too much weight in those ceiling beams. You don’t need it to support the roof.”

“They’re not roof supports. They’re foundation timber.”

Then a surprised settlement saw the frame go up two stories, then three.

Jonathan traded lime to Captain Thorndike of Tallmadge for iron nails. And he traded to Dudley Griswold and Mr. Jerrod for raw iron. He had some iron hinges cast in Tallmadge.

The canal came by and Jonathan was able to sell a lot of lime to Samuel Cozad, the lock contractor, for Johnnycake Lock and the Double Lock and the Pancake Lock. And the Irish canal workers had to be fed, from Hale’s farm. It was to become important in time that one of the contractors was a man named Cozad from Cleveland, who had a sister, Sarah.

Jonathan Hale erected a three-story brick mansion. Even before it was finished, land jobbers took new settlers by it on Oak Hill Road.

It stood out in the valley like a man’s declaration.

Jonathan Hale took Mercy Hale out of the cabin into the mansion. It had the clean unnatural smell of wood shavings and slaked lime.

The second and third floors were still building. But the “cellar,” which wasn’t really a cellar but the first floor, was livable. It was a giant stone-floored room, with a cooking fireplace, a dining room and living room area, and a root cellar cut into the hillside in back. The back wall, of course, was blind, cut into the hill. But the front had four large windows and a door opening to the valley.

John Horton’s book supposes the whole family moved into that floor the first year. It would not have been too crowded because Sophronia moved out. She married Ward K. Hammond of the Hammond family who had driven with the Hales from Glastonbury and worked beside them for 17 years in this clearing.

Meanwhile a small section of the canal opened for business between Akron and Cleveland. What most settlers had not been able to see came true overnight; a steady commerce opened immediately from Akron to New York City.

A bushel of corn jumped from 25 cents to 75 cents.

More important, a heavy export traffic floated north carrying Hale’s lime. And there was some call for brick, special kinds of timber, and for flax and wool and whiskey. Hale produced these.

There was even a call for some homemade money, which was being manufactured a half mile from the Hale farm by Hale’s friends, the Mallett Brothers and Latta and Brown at Moneyshop Hill.

The wall of hardship was breaking down. But Mercy Hale had a feeling about herself.

“Jonathan, I would like to see our kin in Glastonbury once more.”

Hale went out and watched his son, William, at work. He was grown now.

To Mercy, he said one day, “I’ll finish off the upstairs parlor for William’s marriage and we’ll go.”

So today in the Hale house one sees a small upstairs parlor. Jonathan Hale could now afford milled boards from Yellow Creek. Mercy liked the room. That’s how you design a house.

They liked sparkling Sally Upson whom William was to marry.

“She’ll sit and talk with us, Jonathan, but not as a guest. She’ll want to be hostess.”

“I’ll build a family living room that belongs to all.” So at the rear of the house, the walls of the root cellar were raised with brick. A living room was built above grade with a small attic over it.

Jonathan Hale went to see Captain Thorndike about trans-portation to the east. He came back to the house to explain to Mercy. She answered, “But Pamelia and William Oviatt will be married.”

“I’ll plaster the upstairs parlor and partition a bedroom on the third floor.”

That’s how a house is designed.

Sally and William Hale moved to the basement. They had now been married long enough to be out among the rest of the family, and the basement was a rather public place. The whole family cooked and dined there. And Sally was the kind who could be hostess all day to the whole family. Pamelia and William Oviatt had the privacy of upstairs.

Jonathan and Mercy packed the new clothes which Mercy had tailored. As the settlers watched, he took her by the arm and stepped aboard the canal packet to Cleveland. There they transferred to the schooner Eclipse. Jonathan wrote back to his son-in-law, “Mr. Oviatt” -

My dear children:

Your mother has stood this journey better than I expected. Still she is subject to those painful turns. She is impatient to get into the salt water country which I hope by the day after tomorrow ... We feel very troubled about Sally (illness) and the rest of our children. I hope they will see to all things. I know not how they will manage affairs, but have reason to believe they will get along ...

Jona. Hale

Jonathan and Mercy Hale reached Glastonbury apparently on the 15th of June. Near the end of July, he received the letter from his son, William, announcing Sally’s death. It was a sad letter; but in the way of the eldest son in charge of the home place, he felt it important to report: “The wheat looks very well, but the corn, oats and grass will be very high. Our meadows are light.” When Jonathan broke the news to Mercy, she wanted to go back to Bath. On the way she worsened. They were coming across the New York canal when Mercy needed some water in the night. Jonathan went topside to fetch it, slipped on the deck and gashed his thigh on an iron boat hook so seriously that, when they transferred off Lake Erie onto a southbound Ohio Canal packet down the Cuyahoga valley, both were ailing.

In October, Mercy died. Jonathan could not get up to attend her funeral.

As you look at Old Brick, you find some interesting reeded mantelpieces. They are there because the house had a prematurely old man in it, puttering around.

Six-foot, 180-pound Jonathan Hale stopped being the driving force in this part of the Cuyahoga valley. Right in front of everyone he grew old; and they all knew he was planning to leave the valley.

And if you look at the land titles to Old Brick, you see that two months after Mercy’s death Jonathan Hale sold all of his Lot 13 to Sophronia, his eldest, and her husband, Ward K. Hammond, for $400.

Then Lots 11 and 12, the main farm and meadow and orchard, to his oldest boy, William, the young widower. Jonathan took a trip to Cleveland. The construction of the house would seem to be finished.

But as you look at Old Brick today you’ll find a wonderful inconsistency. Even the ornate parts are frontier built from wood and clay and lime and stone right off the land.

But here and there is a carved molding where you can’t detect knifemarks at all, a more perfect piece, a milled piece from the city, or a carved pillar head, called for by someone who wouldn’t seem to be a Hale or a Hammond.

That brings Sarah.

You’ll remember that back when the canal was building a Cleveland contractor named Samuel Cozad built the Johnnycake Lock near the Hale house. He bought lime of Jonathan Hale, and he brought with him his sister, the widowed Sarah Mather, who boarded and kept house for his Irish construction crew. Her presence brightened the town.

When the lock was finished, Sarah went back to Cleveland with her three children, George, Jane, and Betsey, all carrying-size, plus an adopted niece, Harriet.

Back in Cleveland at Doan’s Corners Sarah taught school and raised her family.

She was still there when the widowed Jonathan Hale arrived. To our knowledge there is no record of the next events, but we do know that in the parlor of Sarah’s father’s house, on what is now Western Reserve University, Jonathan Hale and Sarah Cozad Mather were married.

They returned to Old Brick.

Today, visitors note that the bedrooms upstairs in the Hale House are strangely partitioned. But it’s not really strange at all. You see, Old Brick tried hard to welcome the new couple. But this was not an easy homecoming.

Old Brick was now more of a men’s barracks - the widowed William, and the maturing Andrew. Even young James Madison Hale was four years older than Sarah’s oldest child, George Mather. Jane and Betsey Mather were nine and seven.

These were difficult ages under one roof; but even more difficult was Sarah Mather Hale. Frankly accustomed to the sophistication of Cleveland society, a now quite real and exhilarating one, she was a city woman. And she was surrounded by the sons of Mercy Hale, a hard woman to follow.

Jonathan Hale was aware of Sarah’s loneliness at Old Brick and the reason for her coolness. He wrote her a poem:

To A Stranger

Far from the land that gave the (e) birth!
Oh! Cans’t thou find a spot on earth,
So fondly dear to the (e)
As the heart-woven land thou left behind?

Thou’st left behind thy social train;
Will thy fond spirit rest again,
And feel security
In the bosom of strangers thou ne’er has tried,
By the ebb and flow of prosperity’s tide
Or will it retreat on the soft wings of regret
To that frequent bower where so lovingly met
All by friendship made sacred to me.

Believe me here are friends as kind
As those whom thou has left behind.
But cans’t thou not the fairy chase
Which binds the (e) to thy native place;
Rather than be unblest,
To the friends of thy children - thy country - thy home
Go - go and be happy, tis folly to roam.

Then something happened. William Hale fell in love with Sarah’s niece. They were married in the parlor; then as man and wife they moved to the “cellar” which had been the bridal suite twice before. Within two years they had two children.

Jonathan Hale and Sarah also had two boys and a girl. And now we see what a woman Sarah was. She named the girl Mercy.

Jonathan Hale’s powerful body healed. He worked the farm with the strong help of Andrew. Andrew, he could see, was the one who would stay.

In 1836, something stranger still. Andrew Hale married Sarah’s daughter Jane - in the parlor. It was Andrew’s turn to have the bridal suite. William and Harriet built a frame house across the road. Andrew and Jane moved into the basement.

And Sarah Hale, now deeply involved with both her families became actively the matriarch of the house. Old Brick was back in order. But construction wasn’t finished.

In Old Brick is a set of ledgers. Young Andrew gradually took over the farm, and changed the accent. He hired more hands and changed some of the crops from large staples to smaller, higher-priced specialties: honey, vinegar, wool, onions, in addition to the old staples - corn, beef, potatoes, apples, flour, and a decided bent toward apples.

Andrew’s family was outgrowing the basement. Therefore, he built a story and a half clapboard wing onto the basement on the south.

Old Jonathan meanwhile had moved heavily into wool. He built a large barn across the road to house their increasing flock of sheep.

In 1854, at the age of 77, Jonathan Hale wrote to Sophronia that he didn’t think he would stay much longer, and he died. Sarah followed him.

Construction of Old Brick would seem to be over. Old Jonathan had felt he must divide up his land among his sons and daughters fairly. He left the heart of it to Andrew who had stayed on the farm and was working it. But he willed land to the other sons and daughters.

Therefore Andrew began to buy back these lands and put Old Brick back together again. He loved this place.

He moved the wooden wing he’d built around to the rear of the house, attaching it to the living room. He built a wooden north wing for storage of coal, with a corn room above it, and on the front a delicate, highly trimmed porch with a hipped roof. On this porch, his family watched the valley develop in the evenings. The Valley Railroad came snorting down by the Hale House.

Years rolled. Andrew grew sick with a painful illness. A series of operations failed to relieve the pain. One day Jane found him trying to shoot himself, and was able to stop him. In a second attempt in 1884, be wounded himself seriously, and died soon after. Jane lived on in the front room for 20 years to see the century turn.

Like Jonathan, Andrew divided up the farm in his will.

Old Brick was quiet and lonely. Grass grew up in the driveway. Older people in town watched it ruefully, “Shame to see it run down like that.”

“Yes. But it’s too big. A fortune just to heat it.”

The Hales were strong men. Although they indulged in flashes of humor and some music, they were for the most part hawkfaced earnest pioneers, hard-working, effective leaders. Life was work.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, came a happy-hearted Hale.

Andrew’s son, Charles Oviatt Hale, inherited the heartland of Old Brick. Like Andrew, he began to buy back the fringes from his brothers and sisters and cousins.

Now C.O., as he was called, was not a man to make life hard; and he was not a working farmer. He was a hobby farmer, flowers and the like. For the real staple crops, he brought onto the home place his wife’s nephew, Carl Cranz, a man who knew what the land was about.

C.O., with more formal education than any Hale thus far, went into the affairs, politics and industry of the valley.

But he loved the home place.

So viewing Old Brick today one wonders about the large number of small rooms in it. Well, C.O. began to turn Old Brick into the showplace of the valley. He planted the grounds beautifully and he invited paying guests from Akron and Cleveland for weekends.

Then families began coming for summer vacations from Cleveland. It was a fashionable thing to do.

C.O.’s wife, Pauline Cranz Hale, cooked and served meals in the south wing with the help of her daughters, home from college.

As the crowds increased in the summer, the stove had to be moved to the adjoining north wing in summer and back in winter.

The place had an easy manner. It was hard to tell the proprietor’s family from the guests. And, in fact, the host and hostesses seemed to be the ones on vacation.

The affection for the place was amazing and the guests distinguished: W. T. Holliday, Seiberling of tires, Hoover of vacuum cleaners, Severance of Severance Hall, Judge Day, Victor Morgan, Rabbi Gries.

A tally-ho party of horses from Akron would be likely to charge in for breakfast at 7:00 a.m. of a Sunday.

C.O. Hale sold timber to an aggressive young man named Samuel J. Ritchie, who cut it himself off the Hale slopes. Watching him was Andrew’s daughter, Sophronia. They married, but did not move into the basement. Ritchie went on out into the world to great lumber enterprises, then copper, iron, land. He became wealthy. Ultimately they settled in Tallmadge. But he was away a lot. That’s important to this story, because it meant that his daughter Clara Belle Ritchie was home with her mother, Sophronia, listening to stories of life at Old Brick.

When C.O. Hale, “The Squire,” died, Clara Belle bought Old Brick. She named it The Hale Farm, and she began to repair it. People said it was too much house for a single woman. She’d find it hard to heat.

But Clara Belle Ritchie was putting back together a love story.

In the middle of her work on it, she died in 1956. In her will she gave the house to the Western Reserve Historical Society to be open to the public.

To many it is a museum of the frontier.

But actually Old Brick is a love story ... which the reader can see.