Notable Figures

Notable Families
Stearns: North Olmsted's First Family
david-stearnsBy: Jim Dubelko

At one time, the Stearns brothers, who settled between 1815 and 1832 in what is now North Olmsted, owned more than eight hundred acres of land here. Their farms stretched along Lorain Road from just west of Dover Center Road all the way to the Lorain County line.

So what about these Stearns? Who were they, what do we know about them, and why are they important to City of North Olmsted? We all know, of course, that there’s a road named after them. You can’t live in North Olmsted very long before you learn a little about Stearns Road. And not just where it is located.

When I first moved out here from Cleveland some thirty years ago, I soon learned that this road was viewed by many as the beginning point of the west end of the city. A place that had less retail development. A place to draw the line, some would say. The quieter side of town. But the Stearns are important for another reason, one that is less geographical in nature. Not only were they one of the first families to farm North Olmsted, they also produced the first settler, helped found the first church, and organized the first township government. Because of all this, we can justifiably call them North Olmsted’s first family.

More information about the Stearns family:

Do You Live on a Stearns Brother Farm?

Article about 3 Surviving Children of First Settler David Stearns
1911 – Anniversary celebration – Willard Stearns family
1922 N.O. Map with Stearns Houses circled (red)
1940 circa – DJ Stearns House when it was 110 years old – Charles D Stearns owner – Press Article

About the Author: Jim Dubelko

A resident of North Olmsted since 1983, Jim Dubelko was employed in the City Law Department for three decades, retiring as Director of Law in 2009. Previously a member of the City Landmarks Commission, Jim earned a master’s degree in history in 2012 and is a writer for Cleveland Historical.
Richard Knight – William Biddulph House
William-BiddulphBy: Al Richner

The Richard Knight – William Biddulph house at 4302 Porter Road has been an important part of North Olmsted’s history for more than 150 years. It is important for its unique architectural design and style, as well as the history surrounding the lives of its many owners and occupants. It is the only stone house in North Olmsted. It is Italianate style in design. It was built by Richard Harrison Knight between 1850 and 1860.

Richard Knight, who in later years became the publisher of the Akron City Times in Akron, Ohio, was the second son in a family of seven children born to Jonathan and Deborah Knight of Connecticut. Richard was born November 11, 1813 in Litchfield County in Connecticut. His father, Jonathan Knight was of English descent, but was born in Norwich, Connecticut, where he followed farming until 1832, the year he moved his family to Ohio.

Kight-Biddulph-home-768x571On December 31, 1837, Richard Knight, a young man of 24, and Miss Emma Beebe were married. Knight followed farming and stone cutting in Lorain County for fourteen years, from 1832 until 1846. He worked in various capacities of stone-work in Elyria, in addition to working on the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad.

In 1846 the Knight and Beebe families wanted to relocate to Dover Township in Cuyahoga County. On December 5, 1846, Richard and his brother-in-law Sidney, together purchased 140 acres of the original 160 acres of land on Lot 4 in Dover Township. There was a stone quarry on Lot 4. In 1850, Knight and Beebe agreed by quitclaim deed to divide their 140 acre property between themselves. The deed granted unrestricted use of the part of the stone quarry on the land deeded to Knight. The quarry was to be worked in partnership with Beebe, a stonecutter by trade.

Between 1850 and 1860 Richard began the design and construction of his new home, presumably using stone cut from the quarry located on his property, and with help from brother-in-law Sidney. The 1860 inscription in the stone lintel over the main front entrance to the Knight house probably was inscribed in the lintel before its installation, and before the final completion of construction of the house.

Richard and Emma were early active members of the Olmstead Universalist Church. Knight and Asher Coe were elected in 1849 to represent the congregation at the Universalist Association’s annual meeting at Huntington in Lorain County. Knight served as chairman. Knight was also active in the township, acting as one of the trustees in 1857.

In 1873 Richard Knight sold his properties. After the sale, Richard and Emma Knight moved to Akron. Richard eventually became the publisher of the Akron City Times, serving in that role “with great devotion” from 1875 to 1883.

On April 14, 1880, William Biddulph bought the Richard H. Knight house, and its 71.5 acres of Porter Road farmland. William Biddulph was the oldest child of John and Christina Biddulph. John’s father and brothers had a long history in land acquisition and sales in Cuyahoga County. William and Thirza Biddulph moved into their Italianate stone house in April, 1880. They had lived in their new home for thirteen years when Thirza died at the young age of 43. She left behind a husband of 45, daughter Neva, and sons John, Frank, and Ralph. On January 1, 1895, William Biddulph married Anna M. Hunger. In the 1910 Census, William Biddulph’s occupation was listed as General Manager of a carriage store. He was 62 years old and had been married to Anna for sixteen years. Their daughters, Josephine and Ruth were 15 and 13 years old, respectively. By 1910 William had built a second house on his property, in the Craftsman style. His youngest son Ralph had married Lucy Bell Underhill. Ralph and Lucy had no children and were listed in the 1910 Census as tenants in a house on Porter Road, a separate entry from William and Anna. Ralph was farming his father’s land and either he and Lucy or William and Anna lived in the stone house. Evidence strongly suggests William and Anna lived in the second house, which eventually became 4322 Porter Road. The house can be seen on a 1920 map of The Village of North Olmsted. It is occupied to this day.

Learn More About the Richard Knight – William Biddulph House
George Biddulph
George-BiddulphBy: Al Richner

The George Biddulph house at 25896 Butternut Ridge Road has been an important part of North Olmsted’s history for over 100 years.

George Biddulph built the small house for his first wife, Almera Frances Kennedy, whom he married on Christmas Eve in 1876. The couple moved into their brand new home six months later in June of 1877. It was situated on a 5.5 acre parcel of land, on the north side of Butternut Ridge Road.
George’s father and mother, John and Christina Biddulph, lived close by on the south side of Butternut Ridge Road.

John had purchased the land from William Collister on April 24, 1865, and moved his entire family to Olmstead Township, from Brooklyn, Ohio. In addition to his parents, George had an older brother William and three younger sisters, Louise, Caroline and Rose. William Biddulph would be the future owner of the R. K. Knight house on Porter Road, built around 1860.

In March of 1881, George and his father decided to trade residences. George moved onto the 100 acre farm on the south side of Butternut Ridge Road and assumed responsibility for its care. John and Christina moved into the 25896 house on the north side of Butternut Ridge Road. According to family notes, during the time that John and Christina Biddulph lived in the 25896 house, John was constantly making improvements, adding stone walks and a handsome front fence in 1882. In 1884 John fell off the roof and was confined to bed with a severe spinal injury. He recovered, and in 1885 John and Christina traveled to Europe with their youngest daughter, Rose. George had a one story expansion added to the north side of the house in 1886.

In 1895, years after the death of his father, Christina, along with John Biddulph’s other heirs, deeded the 100 acre farm they had inherited to George Biddulph, making him the sole owner of both the 100 acre farm and the house he had built in 1877.

George Biddulph’s beloved wife, Almera, died at her home on the farm in 1900, after a two year period of declining health. Quoting from her obituary, “Her entire life has been spent in this neighborhood, and a beautiful life it has been, diffusing a sweet and healthful influence wherever placed and leaving in death a void which nothing can fill. Her presence was valued at the Star Rebekah Lodge of Dover, in the church, and in every social function to which she was always most faithful, and for her wisdom and pleasing social qualities, which were rare indeed.”

George married for a second time in 1901. His wife was Stella M. Kennedy, the daughter of his first wife’s brother, George Kennedy. They lived on the farm, as did their young son Fred.

In 1918, George Biddulph’s second wife, Stella, passed away. In a rather quick turn of events, George Biddulph was planning to marry for a third time in the fall of 1918, just five short months after Stella’s death. On August 29, 1918, in anticipation of their upcoming marriage, George signed a pre-marriage contract with Josephine Burford to provide suitable provision for her, in lieu of any ownership in his estate.

Shockingly, eight months later, on May 4, 1919, George Biddulph and his third wife Josephine were found dead in the 25896 house. George’s brother, William Biddulph, arriving from the train station, along with two women who were friends of Josephine, discovered the bodies. The sensational story was told in a newspaper article at the time, which gave a detailed account of the event. A shotgun was found next to Josephine and an old fashioned pistol was found at the feet of George. Sheriff’s deputies determined from the evidence that George had first murdered Josephine and then taken his own life. The motive, they said, “remained locked within the walls of the small cottage,” the cottage that George had built, forty-two years before, in 1877.

Evidence of the location of the deaths is found in the May 1919 article on the murder-suicide. The author quotes neighbor Joseph Minnich on not hearing any gunshots fired that day. The article states that Joseph J. lived sixty feet away from the Biddulph “cottage.”

Fred Biddulph inherited the 100 acre farm, and the 25896 house, upon the passing of his father. Sometime after his father’s death, Fred and his wife Clara decided to build a dance hall on the farm. Construction was undertaken, and ultimately completed, on a 5,000 square foot hall. On May 19, 1923, Fred and Clara Biddulph paid $15.00 for the right to open the new pavilion. The first dance was held on May 23, 1923. Later that same year a five hole golf course was added to the property.

Fred and Clara became parents for the third time on July 22, 1924, with the birth of their second daughter, Alice Rose, on the farm. Rose, as she was called, later gave accounts of growing up in the dance hall, and living in the apartment above the hall, for most of her life.

Fred and Clara lived their entire lives together on the 100 acre estate. They ran the dance hall and golf course. In 1935, their son George took over management of the golf course. In 1937 the course was expanded to nine holes, and later, in 1953, George oversaw the renovation and expansion of the course to eighteen holes.

Fred Biddulph remained active in the operation of the course until 1950. In March of 1963, Fred and Clara’s heirs, daughters, Rose and Almera, who had helped run the operations of the dance hall, and their brother George, were now the owners of the entire Biddulph estate, which included the house their grandfather had built.

The North Olmsted Foundation purchased the house in June 2011.

George-Biddulph-home-768x576  George-Almera-Fred-and-Dora-Biddulph-768x998
Coe-Founding North Olmsted: How a Grandfather and his Grandson Shaped our City
Asher-Miller-CoeBy: Jim Dubelko

When I first heard that North Olmsted was celebrating its bicentennial in 2015, I remembered thinking that was odd. Because before retiring in 2009, I had worked in the City’s law department for nearly 30 years and I was fairly certain that the City was nowhere near 200 years old. Then I learned that the bicentennial celebrates the arrival of the first settler in what one day became North Olmsted. That sent me researching David Johnson Stearns and his brothers, and writing a first article for the bicentennial about how this family contributed to the founding of our community here, early in the nineteenth century.

But I still hadn’t dismissed the uneasiness I felt about North Olmsted itself celebrating that bicentennial. It felt to me a little bit like the teenager who sneaks into a bar with a fake ID so that he can prematurely “celebrate” with his friends. So that set me off in the direction of writing a second article one about the founding of North Olmsted in 1908, if for no other reason than to clear the air and make sure that no one living here in 2015 mistakenly thinks that our city is really THAT old.

As I conducted my research, with help from Dale Thomas, archivist of the Olmsted Historical Society, I learned about the important events of 1908 that led directly to the formation of North Olmsted. Meetings of residents were held in June and July, which led to the filing of a petition for incorporation. Two elections followed. The first, in September, decided the question of whether a village should be formed. The second, in December, was to elect the first officials of the new village government.

While the process of becoming a village moved along very quickly in 1908 just a little more than five months elapsed between the first residents’ meeting and the election of the first village government, I discovered that there was a much longer and just as important history behind the decision of the leaders of the movement to choose the territorial boundaries for the village that they did. And, as I studied that part of the history of our city, in newspaper accounts, in documents at archives, in history collections at local libraries, and in the books of a number of local historians, I learned, surprisingly, that there were two men who more than anyone else contributed to the creation of the boundaries of North Olmsted as we know them today. Even more surprisingly, these two men came from the same family. They were Asher Miller Coe (1789-1867) and his grandson Leon Melville Coe (1845-1931).

When you read their story, I think you’ll agree with me that, in a very true sense, our city was “Coefounded.”

Continue Reading (PDF)

1900 – Interuban tracks – View is west on Lorain Road – near intersection of Porter and Butternut Ridge Roads

1900 circa -Asher Coe House – another view

1910 circa photo of Leon Coe

About the Author: Jim Dubelko

A resident of North Olmsted since 1983, Jim Dubelko was employed in the City Law Department for three decades, retiring as Director of Law in 2009. Currently a member of the City Landmarks Commission, Jim earned a master’s degree in history in 2012 and is a writer for Cleveland Historical.
Charles Alden Seltzer
charles-alden-seltzerBy: Jim Morse

Charles Alden Seltzer was a notable figure in the history of North Olmsted and the nation. He made significant contributions in his capacity as a council member and two-term mayor of the community, undertaking new initiatives and improving community services that benefitted North Olmsted residents during the challenging times of the Great Depression.

But Seltzer is best known as a nationally-recognized author of western stories and novels; Seltzer was widely published and later made inroads into the burgeoning film industry. A number of his stories became feature films in the early days of Hollywood, first silent films and later talkies.

As mayor of North Olmsted, Seltzer is remembered for creating the North Olmsted Municipal Bus Line, but there are many other examples in historical records where he changed the status quo or battled powerful companies to protect North Olmsted residents. His legislation as a Council member created the first fire station, purchased the first pumper truck, and provided the first fire training. He also sought out a new electricity provider to reduce rates for consumers.

Seltzer built a unique home in North Olmsted that stands to this day. The property has a combination of architectural design features not found in properties elsewhere in the city. It was the site where Seltzer held mayor’s court, developed his plans to create a municipal bus line, and made other decisions that would have a broad impact on the community. In 2013 the North Olmsted Landmarks Commission and City Council recognized this property as an official North Olmsted Landmark.

More information about Charles Alden Seltzer

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Lorain Road
North Olmsted Bus
The Christman Family: Deep roots of service to North Olmsted
christman-family-300x204By: Jim Dubelko

When you think about families of North Olmsted who made rich and extensive contributions to the founding and growth of our community, the names Stearns, Coe, Romp, Fitch and others immediately come to mind. But, as rich and extensive as those families’ contributions were, no family, in terms of length and depth of community service, can match the contributions made by the Christman family.

Learn More About The Christman Family