A remodeling project took an unusual turn when a hidden compartment was found in a mantelpiece.
In hiding was a collection of artifacts, including a portrait of a woman photographed more than 125 years ago.
Who hid the items in the fireplace? And who was the woman in the picture?
In January, Jesse Tilton, 26, and his wife Julia, 25, bought the three-bedroom Cape Cod home on Lakeview Boulevard in Stow. He is a project cost estimator for the Nexus Engineering Group and she is a science teacher at Brecksville-Broadview Heights Middle School.
After the couple settled in the 70-year-old house this winter, the fireplace began to crackle and noticed a break in the black glass border under the wooden mantle.
“We had a fire and we could see the crack that was just being lit in the fire,” said Jesse Tilton.
The couple decided that removing the mantelpiece and replacing the glass with tile would be a relatively simple project, so they got to work and were surprised to find a storage compartment in the upper right corner.
“You could see this little empty room,” he said. “You could see a piece of paper there. And my wife says, “What is that?” ”
She pulled out a photo of a 19th century woman in a brocade dress with a high plaid collar and a brooch.
“Oh my god,” said Julia to her husband. “We have to find out what’s back there.”
After peeling off the mantelpiece, they pulled out a handful of photos and negatives, a handwritten note, and a couple of illegible newspaper articles that disintegrated when touched.
The portrait of the woman bears the label from George T. Snook’s original photography studio on Howard Street in downtown Akron, narrowing the date from 1884 to 1894. On the lower edge of the black and white photo is written in ink “Mrs. John Chapman (Frances Manton). “
One old negative shows a woman holding a little girl in her hand, while another negative in bad shape shows someone petting a dog in front of a house.
The collection also includes a handwritten note that read: “Our little Christmas present to our fine postman. This is a handmade marble “preacher monkey” from India. We hope you will like it. – Madhu and Vasant Vachhani
And then there’s a color photo that’s more recent than the other artifacts. It’s a studio portrait of a woman with two young children and it looks like it was taken in the 1970s.
“It looks a lot newer,” said Tilton. “Very funny.”
When he posted the pictures on a Stow community Facebook group, he received more than 80 comments with many online experts trying to identify the people in the photos. He learned that John F. Chapman owned the Stow house in the 1950s. Perhaps he was related to Mrs. Chapman in the 19th century portrait.
“I hope I can find out who they belong to and I would love to give them back to them,” said Tilton. “I think these are family heirlooms and I think the family would love to have them.”
The Beacon Journal joined in the search and found on June 29, 1958 the announcement that Clara and Eleanor Chapman, twin daughters of John and Eleanor Dorothy Chapman, had married in a double ring ceremony in the Catholic Church of the Holy Family in Stow. Clara married Jack Nicholson, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Melvin Nicholson, and Eleanor exchanged vows with Howard Dean Ritchie, the son of Mr. and Mrs. HH Ritchie.
A reporter spent several hours analyzing the family’s genealogy, checking websites, and calling phone numbers that weren’t connected.
Finally we reached Darrell Semick (32) from Cuyahoga Falls. When asked about the twins, he replied: “These are my grandmother and my aunt Clara.”
According to family tradition, they are related to New England kindergarten man John Chapman (1774-1845), better known as Johnny Appleseed, who lived in Ohio in the early 19th century.
When Semick found out about the time capsule in the Stow House, he had to laugh: “It’s actually pretty surreal. They are both still alive. We all live in Cuyahoga Falls. “
After a few more calls, 83-year-old Clara Nicholson was on the phone while her sister Eleanor listened in the background.
“I can’t believe there was a secret locker in our fireplace on Lakeview!” Said Nicholson.
The woman in the Akron portrait is her grandmother, Frances Manton Chapman.
And just like that, the layers of mystery began to loosen.
Frances was born in Middlebury on April 3, 1866, to Frederick and Ann Manton in a separate village from Akron. She had a brother, Charles, and a sister, Eva. After the children’s mother died in 1871, grandparents Enoch and Eliza Rowley raised the children.
A native of Staffordshire, England, Enoch Rowley is a prominent figure in Summit County’s history. Around 1850 he founded one of the first potteries in Middlebury. The company was replaced by its English colleagues Henry Robinson, Thomas Robinson and Richard Whitmore and developed into the famous Robinson Clay Products Co.
Frances Manton graduated from Akron High School in 1884 and earned a teaching certificate in 1886. On November 30, 1887, she married John W. Chapman, an accountant for the American Sewer Pipe Co. They had three sons: Charles, Edgar, and John.
Frances Chapman worked as a secretary and played the organ in the Methodist Church on North Arlington Street in Akron.
She died on June 1, 1912 at the age of 46 and is buried in East Akron Cemetery.
“I was told cancer and my sister was told appendicitis, but she died very young,” said Nicholson. “My father’s two older brothers had graduated from college. My father was 16 when she died. “
Nicholson said she planned to work on her family’s story last year but was distracted during the pandemic. Now she has an added incentive.
Genealogist Harriet Chapman, the great-granddaughter of Goodyear co-founder FA Seiberling, and his wife Gertrude rummaged through census records, city directories, and vintage maps after learning about Nicholson and Ritchie. She drew diagrams on notebook paper to confirm that her late mother, Mary Margaret Seiberling Chapman, was a third cousin of the twin sisters.
“You are my cousins!” She said. “That’s great. It’s kind of exciting. “
The twins are descended from Frederick Manton, while Harriet Chapman and her siblings Mary and John descend from Frederick’s older brother James Manton.
Not only that, they are “double cousins” too. Nicholson and Ritchie are also ninth cousins, once removed from Harriet and her siblings on their father’s side, John D. Chapman.
Harriet was happy to confirm the Chapman family lore.
“About Johnny Appleseed: He’s our fourth cousin, seven times away,” she said.
She is now looking forward to sharing her genealogical work with Nicholson and Ritchie.
“I really want to meet her,” she said.
The twin sisters have no idea how their grandmother’s portrait, Frances, ended up in a hidden alcove in a fireplace. The Krause-Alexander Construction Co. built the Stow House and the Chapmans were the first family to live in it. The girls were around 12 years old when they moved there.
The family loved using the fireplace, but the sisters never knew about a secret compartment.
“I don’t even know if my parents did,” said Nicholson. “That’s what worries me.”
She said it was completely atypical for her parents to create such a time capsule.
“I can’t imagine my mom and dad doing that,” she said.
Hours later, she was holding her grandmother’s portrait. Jesse and Julia Tilton visited the twins in Cuyahoga Falls and enjoyed talking to the first residents of their Stow home.
“We went over and talked to them for a while and gave them the photos,” Jesse said. “I’m glad we could finally meet her.”
Nicholson and Ritchie looked at the artifacts, particularly the 19th century portrait.
“This is definitely my grandmother,” said Nicholson. “I’m glad to have the picture.”
But the other items confused the sisters.
Nicholson tipped a negative and said, “Oh, wait a minute. If you hold it up to the light I think mom is holding someone. No i can’t tell “
They definitely do not recognize the handwritten note or the color photo and theorize that the memorabilia belonged to future residents of the Stow House. Over the decades, other homeowners included the May, Fink, Winslow, and Friedow families.
The sisters cannot imagine why the pictures were hidden in the fireplace.
So the riddle remains.
“Who put those pictures up there?” Asked Nicholson.
Mark J. Price can be reached at [email protected].