Thursday, November 19, 2015


This post is, thankfully, NOT about another regrettable architectural loss.  It's good to have a different sort of post here, once in a while, to relieve the doom and gloom a bit.

There is a mansion type of house in Sebring, Ohio, a tiny town in Mahoning County, that not only has been saved from 'the wrecker's ball' but has even been magnificently restored and converted to a business that will allow the public to experience something of what 'grand' living was like over a century ago.

This post is here primarily to correct some incorrect information regarding the history of this house that is presently in general circulation.  The primary incorrect information concerns who designed this house and when it was built.  The current story is that it was built for Frank A. Sebring in 1902 from a design by a "Rawsthorne of Pittsburgh".  This name came from an illustration made of the house that was published somewhere (source unknown to us) around the time of its construction.

It appears in tiny lettering, inserted in the grass, near the house's foundation, to the left.  It says, "Rawsthorne E. & P. Co. - Pittsburgh".

Unfortunately, this "Rawsthorne Of Pittsburgh" was nothing more than the engraving company that was responsible for producing the illustration.  This is easily confirmed by way of Pittsburgh city directories of the time.  Their full name was the Rawsthorne Engraving & Printing Company.

1902 Pittsburgh City Directory [highlighting added]

There are a couple of especially thought-provoking things about this house illustration.  First is that it does not portray the house that was actually built, but instead portrays something merely noticeably similar.  Second is the fact that this is a re-illustration of one that appears in numerous publications printed for a Knoxville, Tennessee, architectural firm named George F. Barber & Company that were used to promote their designs, for which full working plans were available through the mail [illustration below].

Why did this Pittsburgh engraving company believe that this house was going to be built from this design?

Ultimately, though, there is historical evidence that the design actually used was provided by a Cleveland architectural firm named Chapman & Chapman (later known as the Chapman Architectural Company). They provided an illustration of their design and a brief explanatory story to a Cleveland newspaper, who published it.  This story was stating that the house was about to be built -- and it was 1906 -- not 1902.

But what about that Barber design?  Was it being considered initially?  Was it presented to Chapman & Chapman to be a major inspiration in what they would design?  Did Chapman & Chapman privately "borrow" ideas from this design?

Too many presently unanswerable questions.  But at least we've answered a few questions that a lot of people thought had already been answered.

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