Wellston Historical Association keeps focus on Wells House
Pictured are the newly installed officers for 2010 for the Wellston Historical Association. From the left, are: Treasurer Linda Walton, President Shannon Weber, Vice President Floyd Hollberg, board members Matt Ginter and Lois Nilson, keynote speaker Mary Ann Reeves and Secretary Barbara McKinniss.
Harvey Wells has been dead for more than 100 years, but his legacy as Wellston's founder will live on through the ongoing restoration of his former residence high on the A Street hill in the city.
That restoration project and Wells himself were in the spotlight when the Wellston Historical Association (WHA) conducted its Annual Dinner Meeting Saturday, November 7 at The Depot in Wellston.
WHA President Shannon Weber told the group that he expects the first major renovation project at the Harvey Wells Home to go to bid very soon. This will result in the construction of a new office and a handicapped-accessible restroom and the installation of a heating and cooling system.
"This is the first step and it's just a matter of time for that building to be functional," Weber said of the Association's and city of Wellston's long-term goal to restore the old residence and use it as a WHA office and hopefully later a museum. The city is the owner of the house and the grant recipient while the WHA is driving the concept and details of the restoration project.
The guest speaker for the dinner was consultant Mary Ann Reeves, who was a main player in the effort to get the Wells House placed on the National Register of Historic Places. She has impressive historical preservation and archaeological knowledge and experience.
Reeves has been active in area and local historical preservation and archaeological projects through her work as a consultant for the TranSystems firm. She has also ran the Southeast Ohio Regional Preservation Office for 17 years, was an historian with the Ohio Department of Transportation, taught Ohio History at Ohio University and taught an archeology program offered at Hocking College and the University of Rio Grande.
To gain support for the application of the Wells Home to the National Register, Reeves led archeology students on an in-depth fact-finding mission on Wells and his life. One of the criterion for a successful nomination is that the house or building is "associated with a person of significance in the community."
"You have to do a great deal of research and you have to jump through a lot of hoops," Reeves said of the process. "A listing requires a good deal of research."
Reeves offered this brief sketch of Wells' life: Wells was born in Wilkesville in 1846. He didn't have a lot of formal education, but proved to be very bright as well as resourceful and opportunistic. As a young man, he wrote a mathematics book entitled, Wells' New System of Calculation, which boosted his financial standing.
But it would be Wells' keen sense of business enterprise and knack for economic development that would make him famous in the county and region.
Wells was hired as the general manager of the Latrobe Furnace by Congressman and landowner H.S. Bundy and later married Bundy's daughter. In 1873, Wells purchased 1,000 acres of farmland from Bundy that would he developed into a new town that would be named Wellston. By the end of the year, the town was platted and Wells became a great salesman and promoter for the community bearing his name.
By 1876, Wellston was incorporated as a village and by 1888 it was a city. Riding the coal and iron furnace boom, Wells envisioned Wellston becoming a "Pittsburgh of the West." He overcame a major disaster in 1888 when a devastating fire struck the city, but he shrewdly convinced investors to help him rebuild the town.
Wells died in 1896, but not without some problems. He always seemed to be behind on his own finances and never actually owned his residence. After his death, the furniture in his house was sold to settle just a portion of his considerable debt.
The important bottom line to Wellston is that Wells was responsible for founding the community.
"If it was not for Harvey Wells, the city of Wellston would not exist," Reeves concluded.
Following her presentation on Wells, Reeves shared some 1980 vintage slides of Wellston showing many historically significant buildings and telling something about them with members of the audience chipping in with their own information and memories.
Following Reeves' presentation, Weber announced that officers and board members had been elected for 2010. Officers are: Shannon Weber, president; Floyd Hollberg, vice president; Linda Walton, treasurer; and Barbara McKinniss, secretary. Other board members are: Matt Ginter, Mary Louise Perkins, Lois Nilson, Dottie VanKirk, Eldon Shook, Wilbur Ward and Ruth Hayth.
In other remarks, Weber also noted that improvements, including new siding, had been made to WHA's office on Ohio Avenue. He also thanked volunteers for their participation in the Coal Festival.