By Sue Botos
The little white house on the northeast corner of Allen Court doesn’t call attention to itself. Tucked away at the end of a dead-end street, it has been empty since fall. The front steps need attention and the only sign of life are peonies, planted long ago, beginning to bud on a recent warm spring day. A few stray cats lounged in the driveway. But according to voices from the past, the old house has a story to tell.
Longtime Rocky River resident Janet Cipriani stood across the street from the house recently and recalled that her great-grandfather built it in the early 1900s. That in itself is not unusual. The interesting part of the story is the probability that it was built of timbers from the Silverthorn Tavern, one of Rocky River’s first buildings.
“The rumor was that they used a horse and wagon to bring the timbers here from the Silverthorn,” said Cipriani, who said the history of the house came to her attention after a random meeting with its last resident, Angela Zbin.
“By chance, I ran into her when she was in the hospital at the same time as my daughter-in-law,” recalled Cipriani. She said that Zbin, a member of the Zbin Landscaping family, was aware that the house contained timbers from the Silverthorn. “She said that her kids would say, ‘Our house is made of wood from a bar,’” Cipriani said. She was not certain of Zbin’s current whereabouts.
According to information provided by the Rocky River Historical Society, Rufus Wright built a tavern at the mouth of the Rocky River in the 1820s, at the present site of the Westlake Condominiums, or “Pink Palace” to many longtime residents. In 1853, Jacob Silverthorn bought Wright’s Tavern and renamed it the Silverthorn. It became a popular spot for Sunday outings, and eventually became a noted resort, serving guests such as President Rutherford B. Hayes.
By 1917, new bridges spanning the Rocky River made the Silverthorn obsolete, and it was demolished. But do some of those old pieces still exist?
In an interview with the historical society in 1979, Cipriani’s great-uncle Frank Bowles recalled tearing down the Silverthorn with his father and brother Bud, Cipriani’s grandfather, around 1917. According to legend, there was money hidden in the building, but the treasure was never found. It was speculated that a worker, who suddenly disappeared, made off with any cash that was found.
Bud Bowles, who was also the original owner of Herb’s Tavern on Detroit Road, recalled in a later interview with the historical society, “The last house on Allen Court on the east side was built from salvaged Silverthorn lumber. My dad built that house and we lived there for quite a while.” Bowles’ account also states that a house on Morely Court also contains wood from the Silverthorn.
The Nov. 23, 2011, issue of West Life shows a real estate transaction in which Angela Zbin sold the house at 1223 Allen Court to the Spremulli Brothers, owners of the service station and garage at the corner of Allen Court and Detroit Road.
Paul and Frank Spremulli, who have operated their business in the city since the early 1960s, said they were unaware of any history the house may hold, but recalled that Zbin told them a number of stories. Many of those tales had to do with the challenge of raising eight children in the small house.
“We’re going to fix it up and rent it out for an investment,” stated Paul Spremulli, who let a visitor into the house for a quick tour. Spremulli added that he and his brother had been purchasing a number of homes on the street for that purpose.
A look into the basement of the house revealed several large ceiling timbers. Painted silver, the beams looked as if they may have been hewn with hand tools. Through the years, the timbers had been strengthened with more lumber and metal braces.
But are they actually a piece of Rocky River history, or is it just urban legend? Only the house knows for sure.