Wooster’s Condemned: 605 Spruce St.

605 Spruce St. Wooster, OH

The once grand house on the SW corner of Spruce and Vine streets has a date with the wrecking ball and will soon vanish from the Wooster landscape. Photo by author.

At the southwest corner of Spruce and W. Vine streets sits a massive Italianate romantic-styled wood frame building that obviously used to possess some grandeur and class in the prime of its lifespan. However, the house known in the neighborhood as “Big Blue” has long since lost its luster. Over the years, age and neglect have contributed to its demise and the end of life is near.

Decorative Cornices

This photo shows the decorative detailed work that once adorned the house at 605 Spruce St. in Wooster, Ohio. Photo by the author.

Despite the awkward covered-stairway additions leading to the upper floors on the east and north sides of the house, many of the original decorative details could still be seen and admired after many years of neglect. The wood shingle siding is currently painted a light blue color, while white was used to highlight the trim around the windows, decorative rake, cornice, and cornice brackets. Over the Summer of 2012 the house was stripped of many of its windows and decorative components and only a skeleton of a once grand house remains. Soon these bones will be buried but hopefully not forgotten.

The craftsmanship and skill put into the original construction of this old house makes it worthy to take a closer look at its history. The house was built on lot #1190 in Thomas S. Johnsons Addition. It is among the earliest land additions to Wooster. In fact, when the Thomas S. Johnson Addition was added in June of 1868, Wooster had not yet reached the necessary population plateau of 5,000 people to become recognized as a city and was still known as the Incorporated Village of Wooster. It was not until September of 1868 that the State of Ohio certified Wooster as a City of the Second Class after the Village Trustees showed the population had exceeded 5,000 inhabitants. Perhaps it was even Thomas Johnson that pushed for the Village of Wooster to become a city as he was serving as the village Recorder in 1868.

Johnsons subdivision located along the new street he named, Vine, proved to be popular and was quickly developed. Between 1868 and the time Caldwells 1873 Wayne County and Wooster City map was published it showed that out of the 22 lots in Johnson’s Addition, 17 houses had been built and were standing by 1873. One of the houses shown on Caldwells map was the big blue house standing at the SW corner of Spruce and Vine streets. It was one of two show-piece houses that marked the entrance to the Vine street development. Standing on the NW corner of Spruce and Vine streets, where Okeys Alignment and Spring Shop stands today, was Thomas S. Johnsons grand mansion. By following the deed records back in time it was possible to narrow down the date the big blue house was likely built and by whom.

Thomas S. Johnson's Addition to Wooster

A digital copy from the Wayne County plat book showing Thomas S. Johnson’s Addition to Wooster as it was originally drawn in 1868. Highlighted is lot #1190 where Jehu L. Grafton built the house at 605 Spruce St.


On February 1, 1870 land developer Thomas S. Johnson and his wife Emily sold lot #1190 to Jehu L. Grafton for $1,200.

605 Spruce St.

The house at 605 Spruce St. after it was stripped of it’s decorative cornices and windows in the summer of 2012.

Jehu L. Grafton, was born in Hancock county, W. Va., April 6, 1817 one of 13 children born to William H. Grafton and his wife Nancy (Baker). Jehu L. Grafton was reared in Hancock County, W. Va. and became a farmer, an occupation he followed throughout his life. On September 29, 1842, he married Martha Grafton and four sons were born to them: William S., Isaac B., John P. (died young), and Louis F. Grafton. Before coming to Ohio, Jehu Grafton served for several years as coroner of Hancock County, W. Va. despite the fact there is no evidence that he ever had any medical training. Jehu Grafton moved his family to Jefferson County, Ohio in May of 1856, after purchasing a farm near Steubenville. They lived there for 14 years. Then in 1870 Jehu, his wife, and youngest son Louis age 13, moved to Wooster, Ohio where they remained for about ten years. His eldest two sons, in their mid-20s, William and Isaac Grafton had also settled in Wooster. Both William and Isaac listed their occupation on the 1870 Federal Census as, “Carpenter”. It was during their decade in Wooster that the Grafton family left there mark on the Wooster landscape. J.L. Grafton became part of the community and served as a Wooster township trustee in 1872 and he and his wife joined the local Church of Christ. Politically he became active with the prohibitionist movement.

204 W. Vine St. Wooster, OH

The house at 204 W. Vine St. is believed to have been built William S. Grafton, the son of Jehu L. Grafton who built the house at 605 Spruce St.

The Graftons were responsible for the construction of at least two houses in Johnsons Addition. Jehu L. Grafton likely had the big blue house at 605 Spruce street built sometime between 1870 and 1872 making it somewhere between 138 to 140-years-old now. William S. Grafton owned lots numbered 1193 and 1200 on W. Vine and likely built the house on lot #1193 which is addressed as 204 W. Vine St. today. Lot #1200 (324 W. Vine St.) was one of the few remaining lots that had not been built upon when the 1873 map was published.

When the long depression, or Panic of 1873, settled across America carpenter work for William and Isaac Grafton likely slowed or came to a halt by 1875. Furthermore, with Jehu and Martha Graftons youngest son, Louis, out of school and starting his own life, the Graftons probably discovered the big house was more than they needed or could afford any longer. In 1875 Jehu and Martha Grafton sold the property back to Thomas S. Johnson and Charles M. Yocum for $3,000. After a few years living in another part of Wooster the Graftons left Wooster and moved back to Jefferson County in the late 1870s as they appear on the 1880 Federal Census living on an Island Creek township farm.

Later in 1875, Thomas S. Johnson sold his interest in the property to Isabella A. Yocum, wife of Charles M. Yocum, for $1,750 and the Yocums completely owned the house and land at 605 Spruce street. They would continue to own this house for the next 42 years! In 1875, Charles Myron Yocum was an ambitious attorney starting to make his mark within the community.

Charles M. Yocum

A portrait of Charles M. Yocum as a young man in the 1860s. Most likely a school picture taken during the time he attended the Vermillion Institute in Hayesville, OH. Photo courtesy of Vicki Flory who runs the Rescued Ancestors website and was found in the Eberhart collection.

He was born near Millbrook, in Plain Twp., Wayne County, Ohio, February 17, 1842, son of Joseph G. and Margaret (Funk) Yocum, natives of Pennsylvania, who were pioneer settlers in Wayne County, Ohio. Charles M. Yocum and his older brother, Lucian, were the only offspring of their parents. He remained at the home farm in Plain township, sharing the farm chores with his brother, while attending the public school of the district until the age of seventeen. Then for one year he was a student at the Fredericksburg Academy. From 1862 until 1866, except for the 100 days of service he gave his country serving in the Ohio National Guard during the Civil War in 1864, he was enrolled at the Vermillion Institute in Hayesville, Ohio, then one of the best educational institutions of its class in Ohio. After graduating from the Vermillion Institute he went on to study in the law department of the University of Michigan from which he graduated in 1868. After being admitted to the Wayne County Bar in the summer of 1868 Yocum worked for his old mentor, Judge Joseph H. Downing. They became law partners on November 25, 1869 and he began a general practice of law in Wooster. Except for the three years Downing was probate judge of Wayne County, the partnership continued until Judge Downing’s death in 1879. After the death of his first partner, Charles Yocum was associated with Judge Frank Taggart for a number of years, and from 1896 until 1900 was partner with Mahlon Rouch. He then practiced alone until his own death in 1911. Yocum was a Republican, but never sought public office for himself. However, he was politically active and was often asked to speak during many local campaigns.

However, Yocum’s greatest claim to fame may be the fact that he once hosted Samuel Clemens around town in January of 1872, who is best known by his pen name Mark Twain. Apparently Samuel Clemens had to travel from Columbus to Wooster to give a lecture here. According to the Wooster Republican, Clemens lectured successfully to a fair audience and mentioned his railroading difficulties in getting to Wooster:

Charles M. Yocum

Charles M. Yocum shown as a successful attorney later in life. He was known to always be impeccably dressed and made such an impression on Mark Twain that he made a comment about Yocum’s grand appearance.

Failing to make the connection at Crestline (forty miles west of Wooster) he hired an engine to bring him alone to Wooster. He introduced his subject, “Roughing It,” by a very humorous description of his trip from Crestline to Wooster where it is speculated that Charles Yocum met him at the Wooster railroad station. Mr. Yocum made such an impression on the noted author that Twain remarked:

The gentleman from Wooster, of regal appearance, who accompanied him and is said to have palmed himself off as the Grand Duke, enjoys the joke immensely, but denies its foundation in fact.

At the time of his death Charles Yocum was the oldest practicing attorney in Wayne County: having serviced the Wayne County Bar a period of forty-three years, 1868-1911. Charles M. Yocum was an able business man and left a large estate, which was skillfully managed by Mrs. Yocum after his death.

Charles Yocum married Isabella A. Ross on Christmas day 1872. She was born in Holmes County, Ohio, a daughter of Randall and Eliza (Boon) Ross. Isabella met Charles Yocum while they were both students at the Vermillion Institute in Ashland County. After graduating, and while Charles studied law in Michigan, Isabella took a job as first assistant teacher at the newly built Wooster High School. Unusual at the time, after they were married she continued to teach at the high school for a number of years.

245 N. Buckeye St.

The house at 245 N. Buckeye St. was built by Charles Yocum’s widow, Isabella A. Yocum. After living at 605 Spruce St. for 42 years she moved into her new house on the SE corner of N. Buckeye and Larwill streets in 1917.

After the death of her husband Isabella A. Yocum continued to live in the Spruce street house while she was having a new house built on the SE corner of N. Buckeye and Larwill streets. It is currently the home of The Brothers of the Annunciation of Mary Queen of Angels Convent. Isabella and Charles Yocum had planned and designed the house she had built at 245 N. Buckeye St. together before his death and when it was ready for occupancy she sold her old Spruce St. house in 1917 to Samuel Brumter for $773 according to the 85-cent conveyance fee stamp on the deed.

Samuel Brumter, a laborer, and his wife Anna lived in the house with Estella Brumter, a clerk for Medina Gas Co., Martha Brumter, a book-keeper for the Wa. Co. National Bank, and Urban Brumter, who worked in the shop department of Buckeye Aluminum. They did not live there long. Samuel Brumter sold the house in 1921 to David and Helen Shafer for $4,545. David Shafer was a pipe dealer who worked in the oil and gas business and would later run the Shaffer Drilling Company with his son Berman. The house would continue to be owned by various members of the Shafer family for the next 46 years.

The Shafer’s were probably the last people to use the house as a single family residence and later were responsible for turning it into an apartment complex. According to old Wooster City directories, David and Helen Shafer used the house as a family residence between 1921 through 1951. By 1952 the house had three rental units. One of which was occupied by the Shafer’s daughter, Elsie (Shafer) Newman, while David and Helen Shafer had moved to a house on Holmes Blvd. in Wooster. By 1962, 605 Spruce St. had four apartments available for rent.

David Shafer, a widower by 1963, transferred the property to his children: Berman Shafer, Elsie (Shafer) Newman, Lillian (Shafer) Smail. Then in 1964 Berman Shafer and his wife Miriam bought out the interests of his sisters for approximately $10,000 according to the $11 conveyance fee stamp on the deed. Berman and Miriam Shafer turned around and sold the property in 1967 to Paul and Connie Naujoks for roughly $17,600.

In 1974 Paul and Connie Naujoks sold the property to John C. Meier and his wife Martha for about $19,000 according to the $19 conveyance fee stamp on the deed. The Meier family trust took over the property in 1991. Since that time building maintenance has obviously not been a priority and by 2012 the old house at 605 Spruce St. has deteriorated to the point that according to the Wooster City Building Inspector, Tim Monea, the house is simply unfit for human habitation and was condemned by the City of Wooster and scheduled for demolition. With the impending demolition of the house the John C. Meier & Frank Cicconetti Trustee opted to sell the property to Edward and Sharon Starling in July of 2012 for $6,000. The Starlings are associated with Okey’s Alignment and Spring Shop that sits just across Vine street and have given their business room to expand should they need it.

After standing at the SW corner of Spruce and Vine streets for roughly 140 years the once regal house at 605 Spruce St. will be demolished with the current owners consent using money from the Moving Ohio Forward Demolition Grant Program. These Grant funds come from a state and federal settlement with the nation’s five largest mortgage services Bank of America Corporation, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Company, Citigroup, Inc., and Ally Financial, Inc. (formerly GMAC) over foreclosure abuses and fraud, and unacceptable mortgage practices. The money was distributed to each of the counties in the state based on foreclosure figures and Wayne County was awarded $426,204 for demolition purposes. How much of that money will be used in demolishing 605 Spruce St. is unknown at this time.

Comments

  1. A sad loss of beautiful buildings that speak of the heritage of a fine town. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  2. Patricia J Meier says:

    Really enjoyed reading the history of this house. My husband is the Late John C Meier. I would like to make a note that in this area it was very hard to find renters that would pay their rent and take care of the property. When improvements were made renters would just destroy the place. John was known as frugal in the first place. In John’s defense, he would often let renters live in properties without paying rent. In this house he let a lady stay there for 18 months without paying rent because she was in a wheelchair and only had one leg.

    The property sat for 8 years after John’s death waiting for the estate to be settled. I had tenants in there and a full time property manager until I sold the property. After the property was sold all the copper pipes were stolen. People were living in there. They broke the windows, put holes in all the walls. There was drug activity going on in there. I had the place boarded up. It took 3 years to get the closing through.

    I am sad to read the history of such a fine house. But so glad I am not the one having to deal with that big fat headache anymore.

    Thanks for posting.

    • tammy thoman says:

      I remember living in the hose when I was about three or four years old..My parents were Albert and Kathy Ashbury…I remember mom setting up a lamp behind dad’s recliner..I colored my pictures back there..It was my special spot..

  3. John Baker says:

    T.S Johnson was my Great, Great Grandfather…very interesting to learn he was a property developer in addition to an attorney, a village officer, a banker, a probate judge, and a charter member of Wooster’s Improved Order of Red Men. Uncus Tribe, No. 57.

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