Friday, July 10, 2015

Kay's Garden (Part 3): History in bloom

This is the third --- and final for right now --- set of photos taken during May and June in the gardens surrounding the beautiful old Queen Anne-style home of Kay Brown and Rex Johnson on East Auburn Avenue.

Kay (left) is the principal gardener here, as she is on the grounds of the Lucas County Historical Society Museum.

As I've written before, it's not the size of garden that's remarkable --- but the variety of plants in it. Since I didn't decide to do this until mid-May, I missed early spring in the garden; but will try to keep up with what's in bloom as summer advances.

As far as the house itself is concerned, when the last installment ended a major fire had just ruined the first of the big houses on this lot, built during late 1897 and early 1898 by Harry O. Penick for his bride, Mabel Wadleigh. Mabel died unexpectedly during mid-May, 1902. Fire broke out in the house during the early morning of August 5 and left it a smoking ruin.

Some of that house survives in the current home --- but it's not clear how much. Reports of the fire are not especially illuminating, but it is clear that the roof and second floor were very badly damaged, but front rooms on the first floor as well as the front porch, although damaged by smoke and water, remained largely intact.

It soon became clear that Harry had no intention of rebuilding on this site. The Penick family, at the time of the fire, was developing the Spring Lake subdivision in south Chariton and several members were building or preparing to build a series of large homes for themselves there. That was where Harry rebuilt. 

He brought a new bride, Elizabeth Foster, to that home from her Louisiana plantation during 1904 and then, during May of 1905 while Harry and Elizabeth and their guests were overnighting at Slab Castle, the big new house in Spring Lake burned, too. Again, the cause never was determined. Shortly after that fire, Harry and Elizabeth left Chariton to begin a new life in New Orleans.

During late August of 1902, according to newspaper reports, Harry announced plans to move the ruins of his former home to a lot across the street south, rebuild it as a rental property and sell the lot where it previously had been located.

That, however, didn't happen. Instead, Harry sold the lot and what remained of the house to a neighbor, George W. Larimer, who created the current house from the ruins of the old for his family.

The rebuilding project had been completed by May of 1903 when The Patriot reported that "G.W. Larimer and family are moving into their fine remodeled home, formerly the H.O. Penick house, in northeast Chariton."

Unless a photograph of the original Penick house turns up, there's no way to tell how closely the Larimer house resembled the fire-damaged structure it developed from. 

However, there is an interesting family resemblance between two of the big old East Auburn Avenue houses. A month after Harry Penick's house burned, Addison H. McCollough was moving into his grand new home, now three doors west, built during the spring and summer of 1902 for his new bride, May Bridge.

Here's a photo of the McCollough house --- still standing and in good repair --- soon after it was built. Although it differs from the Larimer house, its facade is almost a mirror image. The second-floor bay window and the circular porch extension of the McCollough house are to the west; the similar bay window and porch extension on the Larimer house, to the east.

G.W. Larimer, who arrived in Chariton with his widowed mother and sister during 1855, began his business career as a tinner, then opened a mercantile establishment on the square, acquired interest in three Chariton banks, operated an abstract business, built a vairety of buildings downtown --- including what now is known as the Charitone Annex --- and by 1903 could have afforded to build whatever pleased him.

He married Emma Ward during 1879 and they had a family of four children: Guy W., a physician; Mary (Pascoe), Edith (who married Howard Copeland) and Robert E. (married Margaret Stanton, who grew up next door, although they were divorced later). Edith and Robert and their families remained in Chariton.

G.W. Larimer died in his new home during 1924, but his widow, Emma, continued to live there until her death during 1940.

Daughter Edith and her husband, Howard Custer Copeland (they married during 1908), moved into her parents' home and lived there throughout their married life. Howard, a son of Howard Darlington and Carrie (Custer) Copeland, served Chariton as post master and managed family assets. He died during 1950.

Howard and Edith Copeland's only child was a daughter, Harriett, who married a physician, Dr. David O. Holman. When he retired, the Holmans moved to Chariton and into the family home, long since arranged so that it could be converted when needed into spacious upstairs and downstairs apartments.

Edith, who had never allowed the fact that she was deaf interfere with living life to its fullest, died during 1978 and a few years later, the Holmans decided to sell the family home and relocate to Arizona.

At that time, the contents of the house were dispersed and it was sold to Rex Johnson, who has kept it in a wonderful state of repair ever since.

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