Monday, July 23, 2012

A Two-Family on Elberon - More Price Hill History

Continuing in the series of fan requests from my Facebook page, Carol asked about a home she lived in on Elberon Avenue in East Price Hill. She heard stories of bullets being stuck in the stone wall at the street and tunnels for delivering coal.

917-919 Elberon Avenue - 1999-2003 Hamilton County Auditor
This once beautiful home was built originally as a two family residence circa 1885 for Wehner family. Joseph Wehner and his son Alonzo were tailors and their shop was on Sixth Street, Downtown. Joseph and his wife Elizabeth lived here with Alzono and his wife, Elizabeth Striker, daughter of John Striker and their children.

While Carol had heard rumors this could have been the Price family home, before this land was divided into smaller building lots, it was once owned by the Boyle family as seen on the 1869 map below:
1869 Titus Map
The Price family properties were further to the east. You can see there was a road the ran along the eastern edge of the Boyle parcel. This is modern day Elberon Avenue, but was also once called Boyle Avenue, north  from Brevier Av and Park Avenue south from Brevier.
D. R. Kenny's Illustrated Cincinnati published in 1875
As you can see on the map and the picture above, the Boyle home was quite large. After the Boyle family moved, it was used as a school. If you look at the map below, you can see the outline of the school building matches pretty well to the outline of the Boyle mansion on the 1869 map above. Their home also gave Mansion Avenue it's name.
1891 Sanborn Insurance Map - Source
The Boyle home was torn down in 1892 to make way for a new school building. This lengthy newspaper article described the residence:

The Cincinnati Enquirer, June 9, 1892
Castle Boyle; Once a Princely Mansion; The Most Palatial Residence in the West; Next Week To Be Leveled To the Ground; Recollections of a House With Silver Door Hinges;  Its Master Was One of the Pioneer Distillers of the City
The celebrated Boyle homestead is to be sold at auction on the 11th. For more than a quarter of a century it has been one of the most famous landmarks of Hamilton County. Its history and that of the family who occupied it, read like a romance tinged with sadness that is as pathetic as true. It is located on a commanding eminence on Price Hill, and some years ago, about ten, was purchased at public auction by the Board of Education for $50,000 and since then, about $10,000 more having been expended, has been used for school purposes.
It has been utterly unsuited for these, and the growing wants of Price Hill families are such that the magnificent structure is to be torn down, and on the 13th, two days after the tearing down contract is let, the bids for building the new $40,000 Public School house will be opened and let. The house is decidedly the finest and most massive ever erected in Hamilton County. It cost in the neighborhood of $300,000 and it was a structure designed by its owner to stand for ages.
Stephen S. Boyle, who built the house, but never lived to see its completion, as he died in New York City in 1864, was perhaps the leading distiller and rectifier west of the Alleghenies before and during the early part of the war. He was a native of the County Cavan, Ireand, and started in the distilling and rectifying business in this city in 1847, on Front street the second door east of Broadway.
Then he established the Queen City Distillery, on Second street, near Elm and afterward built a larger one on Second street near Broadway. He accumulated money rapidly, and the Boyle Caste, as it was called, originally stood in the center of a sixty-five acre tract, now in the heart of the most thickly populated part of Price Hill. The house contained twenty-two rooms, and the wall and foundations were laid not in mortar but cement.
The marble was all brought from Italy and workmen brought over to put it up. There was a private chapel with stained windows, too, and they were imported. The interior was fitted with black walnut, some of the doors being eight inches thick. The parlor door swung on silver hinges that cost $45 apiece. There were nine large cisterns on the premises connected together.
The grounds contained every variety of fruit, and every thing about the mansion and connected with it was of the most solid and expensive order. After Boyle’s death the widow carried out the plans of her husband in the minutest detail. At the sale of furniture of the house, much of the bric-a-brac was purchased by connoisseurs, and some of it is at the Art Museum. Benn Pitman secured some treasures, and there are even in Dr. Weatherhead’s drug store some of the settees to-day. After the widow’s death, who was a Quakereas, but a Catholic by conversion, the residence fell to one of the sons, who let it go under the hammer.
There were several sons, Peyton S. who was educated for the priesthood, but married and is now believed to living in St. Paul engaged in business. Edward, another son, is dead. Steve lives on a farm in Fostoria. Two of the daughters, one of whom was blind, are in convents, secluded forever from the world. The house has been struck two or three times by lightning and during the severe storm of Tuesday, while the teachers and pupils were in school, they all felt a severe shock, which they describe as shaking the entire building.
A tour through the house and up into the cupola, which commands of one the most magnificent views in Hamilton County, was recently made by an Enquirer reporter with Mr. John Klein, the efficient Superintendent of Public School Buildings. The house has, of course, been stripped of its treasurers, but the massive oak staircases and solid mahogany, huge doors, black walnut pouching and Venetian stained-glass windows remain. There is a lively interest among contractors and buyers of material in reference to the sale, and a large crowd will no doubt be attracted on Saturday, the 11th. Eleven seventeenths of the proceeds go to the Barr estate.
Whittier Public School, completed in 1894 - Source
Curiously, this building was also struck by lightning in 1958 and was demolished. This area is now known as Whittier Gardens, and is "An educational park with theme gardens - bird and butterfly gardens, fruits and berries, and other flora native to this region of the country." - Source

Back to our subject home, the Wehner family continued to live in one half of the home at 917-919 Elberon Avenue while renting the other half. As you can see from the 1900 Census below, both the Wehner family at 917 and the Allen family at 919 had servants.
1900 United States Census - Ancestry.com
Those tunnels which Carol believed were for coal deliveries might also have been servant entrances. These tunnel openings can be seen in the photo below:
Google Streetview
The Wehner family continued to own the building until 1974. It continued to be used as rental property, being divided into four units, from Carol's recollection. It was demolished before 2005, but the wall and tunnel entrances can still be seen on Elberon Avenue.
2005 Hamilton County Auditor


4 comments:

  1. "Whittier Gardens" is raised above the street level by around 5-6 feet on the whole block that it sits and stone walls retain the ground to that level. I had heard that originally the people building the homes surrounding that block dumped their basement's contents on this block and when they were done instead of getting rid of the pile of dirt they just walled it in and flattened it out as the park that it is now. From what you uncovered that seems to be untrue, as the mansion was there before all the homes around it, so any idea why the street is so much lower than that block (and it looks like the homes surrounding WG?

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  2. If you look at the picture of the old Whitter School in the blog, you will see the school also sat higher than the street. Perhaps the home and school were built on a small hill?

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  3. The property i own on Purcell sits on three parcells. I was told by a neighbor that the city previously owned one of these parcells and some of the remains from the old whittier school was burried here. Seems believable since we dug up a ton of concrete and mortar when I first purchased this property. Do you know this to be true? It would be awesome to know I have pieces of this historical building on my property.

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    1. I don't see any evidence of the city owning your property on Purcell prior to 1956, but they may have before then.

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