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Master plan: Historic houses tell their own tales

By Nicole Hennessy

Fairview Park

Editor’s note: This is the fourth piece in a series of stories looking at the use of, and need for, a master planning document in Fairview Park.

Sometimes Mark Shaughnessy would lie in bed at night, thinking back to his home’s 1845 origins. “Maybe the wind would be howlin’, or the crickets chirpin’,” while long-since-developed properties devoid of streets, wrapped around the creek and wound through Bain Park in his mind.

“Did I put a log in the fireplace? If I didn’t, I was going to freeze. Did I use the outhouse before I went to bed?” He imagined these and other things. “I mean, that was the reality of it.”

Thinking about how life was in 1845 captured his passion for uncovering his house’s history.

Back then, most of the people in town lived in Cleveland proper, the president was James Polk and the Civil War was far from started. For the sake of authenticity, Shaughnessy kept these things in mind.

Century home status

In a small, closed-off corner of Bain Cabin, Fairview Historical Society archivist Deb Shell dug through stacks of papers detailing homes built more than 100 years ago.

Amid various mentions of economic and cosmetic improvements in Fairview’s 1999 master plan are a few short paragraphs pertaining to these and other homes.

“While most of the City’s housing stock was developed after World War II, there are 16 homes in the city that are over 100 years old. These homes have been designated as century homes by the Fairview Park Historical Society, and 13 have received plaques that recognize this designation,” the document reads.

“Within the next decade, another 14 homes in the city will achieve century home status. The city should begin a program to not only recognize these and all of its historic buildings, potentially through the installation of small plaques, but to promote an awareness program so that all residents begin to appreciate their civic heritage.”

By this, Shell seemed shocked, having never heard of such an effort proposed. She said it is on the homeowners to come forward and do all the research necessary to designate a home as a historically significant site.

The last and only home since 1999 to receive century home status was Shaughnessy’s Seabury Avenue residence. That was in 2009.

“A lot of people will call,” Shell said. But it seems like when they find out they have to do their own research, they never pursue it.

“We’re not gonna do their work for them,” Leah Trainer, the Society’s founder, interjected.

“And the city does nothing at all with this,” Shell added. “They have nothing to do with this process.”

Compile a comprehensive record

Lifting a dropped ceiling, Shaughnessy revealed his home’s original wooden structure.

“The old-timer who lived here told me stories,” Shaughnessy said, gesturing toward the left of his property. He continued, recounting a time when the front door was on the side and there was no street.

“There was an orchard,” he said, recalling learned information. “And the dirt driveway was right at the back of my property line.”

Upon hearing these accounts, he decided to research his home. This was in the 1990s, before a simple Internet search produced dense archives of information. So, he went to the library and found a book on Fairview Park, which, it turned out, made no mention of his home.

“One day, I took off work and went to the county archives and to the county administration building,” Shaughnessy recalled. There, he found basic information that only went as far back as 1928. Eventually, over a period of 10 years, he was able to compile a comprehensive record dating his home back to 1845.

That’s when he started imagining the way his life would have been and, while gardening, began uncovering artifacts.

“Every time I go out into my yard, I find something,” he said – items such as old bottles and rusty silverware neatly displayed on his kitchen counter. “Most of it’s coal.” But a lot of it is pottery, broken fragments of what used to be functional items.

Old items uncovered

“I have so much of it that now, when I find it, I just throw it out, unless it looks cool,” he said, picking up a shard of glass.

The neighbors laugh because anytime he’s outside working, he’ll disappear for a few hours.

“Did you find something?” they’ll ask.


 

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