Monday, September 21, 2015

Granville House, Hunter House ... or Haunted House?

All my life, I have been fascinated by what my grandparents called "The Old Hunter House." Even when I was a little kid, the Hunter House was a run-down, dilapidated old house that fits the definition of "haunted house." When I spent the night at my grandparent's house, I could see it across the fields. At night, I would peek out at it through the bedroom window, and it scared the heck out of me. But during the day, it was always a neat place to check out.
Hunter House April 9, 2012

My grandfather took me there several times, as it was and still owned by family, less than half a mile from where they lived, and they stored some farm equipment there.

The house has inspired two stories that I still need to write.

I remember going into the house when I was a kid and seeing an old Lionel train set in its original box sitting on the landing of the steps running from the foyer to the second floor, just inside the front door. I wish I had taken that train set. I could have made a fortune on eBay. I wonder where it is now.

Throwing rocks at he Granville House
It reminds me a lot of the old Granville House in the film It's a Wonderful Life. In fact, there was a time when I wanted to buy the house and fix it up to live in, just like George and Mary did. The problem is that the Granville House wasn't real and it got a second chance at life. The Hunter House was real ... and its time is growing short. In fact, if it doesn't collapse in the next year, I will be very surprised.

I started experimenting with photography in 2000, and I took several photos there using black and white film. In 2001, I took my last tour inside the house with the granddaughter of the people who built it. It's not safe to enter now. My estimation is that it will completely collapse within two years, and that makes me sad.

Below, you will find the stories that I wrote for the Sentinel-Tribune newspaper, which is where I worked in 2001, when I toured the inside of the home for the last time.

What follows is a reproduction of two of the stories that I wrote for the paper. A third story, about a man who "belled" the front yard of the Hunter house with his friends on the night before one of the Hunter children got married, has been lost. I think I accidentally discarded it this spring when I threw away all of my old 3.5-inch floppy discs.

Anyway, the two salvaged stories are here, along with the three photos that ran with those stories. At the end, you will also find links to several photo albums taken over the years, in my effort to catalog the home's decay.

At the end of this entry, you also will find a link to a YouTube video, which I shot in 2009 of the home's exterior. I hope you enjoy the Hunter house as much as I do. Now, here are the stories, which originally appeared on page 9 of the Dec. 5, 2001 issue of the Bowling Green (Ohio) Sentinel-Tribune:

These Walls Can Talk
Old house was fancy for its time
By GREGORY L. VAN VORHIS
Sentinel Staff Writer
CUSTAR – Way off of Ohio 235 between Cygnet and Jerry City roads, sits the old Hunter house.
Leading back to the dilapidated home is a stone and mud driveway that is listed on the Wood County map as Hunter Road.
This unique house gets a lot of attention from passers-by, with its nearly 4,000 square feet of living space spread out over three large stories. The home has not been lived in for more than 30 years, but its old-style charm gets attention. Mark Wilhelm, who farms the land at the home, said he received one phone call and had two visitors stop by the house in one day this past month. That came shortly after a letter from Bowling Green State University, which voiced its interest in using it for fire training.
Lorin Hunter purchased 170 acres of land where the house currently sits, on Feb. 25, 1911.
Part of the deed conveyed one acre to the Board of Education of Jackson Township for “as long as the same is used for school purposes.” The Inman school was built on the corner of Cygnet Road and Ohio 235. That is where the eight children of Lorin and Ida Maria Hunter went to school.
“There were buildings there when they moved there,” said Joyce Baumgardner, one of the Hunters’ grandchildren. “Mom (Ida Mae Hunter Courtney) told me that they lived in the house that was there and part of it was built into this house.”
Baumgardner and her husband, Henry, can see the Hunter house from their home on Range Line Road.
Though she is not sure exactly when it was built, the home had several amenities that homes typically did not have during that time period, including electricity and indoor plumbing.
In the 1940s, Lorin and Ida Maria Hunter briefly moved to Deshler before moving to Findlay.
Her (Joyce Baumgardner’s) parents lived in the home from 1957 to 1968.
Lorin died in 1954 at age 77. Ida Maria died in 1960 at age 81. They are buried in New Maplewood Cemetery in North Baltimore
The farm was sold in 1961 to Harold Wilhelm, who rented it to Joyce’s parents. Wilhelm then rented the home to Larry Bechstein, who was the last person to live there, in 1968 or 1969.
“A wind storm blew a lot of trees down and knocked down the chimney,” said Mark Wilhelm, of Deshler. He is Harold Wilhelm’s son and currently farms the land.
Wilhelm guesses it was built around 1919, based on a date he found carved on the back of some plaster and on some woodwork from the Custar Lumber Company. Lorin Hunter’s Son, Edwin, carved his name on the granary door on Oct. 31, 1921. Edwin lives in Canada. His sister, Pauline Warner, lives in Findlay. They are the only surviving children of the Hunters.
“Harold used to work for that man when he was a kid,” said his widow, Mary Jane Wilhelm. “He always said that he wanted to buy that house, and lo and behold, he got it. He called it God’s Country up there.”
“I’ve always felt bad to have let it go downhill, but Harold always said it would cost too much to fix up,” she said. “I actually cleaned it a few times to keep it up. But as soon as anyone leaves it, it goes downhill. Then we had vandals.”
The vandals stole several items out of the home, including some leaded glass and a portion of a built-in buffet.
The Wilhelms found that the items had been stolen, and salvaged what they could to prevent further vandalism.
They later tore out the back wall of the home and parked farm equipment in what once was the living room. The Wilhelms have recently been contacted by Bowling Green State University, which has expressed interest in using the home for fire training.
“They called us last year and mom told them ‘I’ve got a wagon parked in the living room right now,’” said Mark Wilhelm.
Ann Betts, director of Ohio Fire School, is unsure whether the home can even be used.
“I can’t use it for any of the firefighter survival where they need to spend days and days carrying each other out of there because it’s just unsafe,” she said. “But there are a couple of classes where they just burn things.”
“There’s just something abut it,” Betts said. “It just looked like such a cool place. You could just imagine the grandkids running around the yard.”
“People always drive back there who want to go through it,” said Mary Jane Wilhelm. “It fascinates a lot of people. I’m just filled with guilt that I never did anything with it.”


Cutline for photos: THE HUNTER house (above) as it looked in 2000, is about ready to fall down. In its prime (right), the home had nearly 4,000 square feet over its three stories. Shown is the home’s south side, which had a porch and a sunroom. At one time, it had a Hoytville address.

Granddaughter shares memories of Hunter house
By GREGORY L. VAN VORHIS
Sentinel Staff Writer
CUSTAR – Joyce Baumgardner spent a lot of time at the Hunter house.
Her grandparents built the home sometime in the 1910s, and her parents lived there from 1957 to 1968.
She remembers the layout of the home and the land around it clearly.
The front step (which has been removed) had ceramic tiles spelling “LH” for Lorin Hunter, her grandfather.
On both sides of the front door was leaded glass. The door opened onto the front hall with an open wrap-around stairwell to the second floor. Beneath the stairwell was a deacon’s bench.
Pocket doors on the south opened to the living room, while pocket doors to the north went to a sitting room with a built-in buffet on the east wall that had leaded glass doors. North of the sitting room was a dining room with a dumbwaiter that went into the basement.
“It was before they had electricity out through the country here, but I just always felt it (electricity) was put in when the house was built,” said Baumgardner. “That’s just the impression you got. There was a large Tiffany … lamp over the dining room table, and you just felt that it was put in when the house was built.”
Her husband, Henry, said the home had a Delco system for electricity. “It was like a generating system,” he said. “It must have had a motor or a chemical system. Very few houses had it back then.”
East of the dining room was the home’s kitchen, which was part of the old house that the Hunters kept and built around.
A stairwell from the kitchen led to the partial basement that was under the dining room. It contained a coal furnace.
Off of the living room was a downstairs bedroom. A hallway connected the kitchen, bedroom and sitting room. Off of the hallway was a bathroom with indoor plumbing, and a second stairwell that led to the second and third floors.
All of the woodwork in the home was oak, and the window sills were extra wide for plants. There also was a sunroom off the south wall of the living room.
“Grandma had a lot of plants in there when I was little,” said Joyce Baumgardner.
Walking up the front steps to the second floor led into a front hall with a built-in linen closet. The second floor contained four bedrooms and a full bathroom, again with indoor plumbing. Both bathroom doors had etched glass in them.
The third floor held one finished room and attic space. “That’s where the hired men slept,” said Joyce Baumgardner. “It used to be neat on the third floor. You could see all over.”
“I always thought the rooms were real big, but the way they’re building now, they’re average,” she said. “But for then, yes, they were large rooms.”
Both the second and third floors had a laundry chute that dropped to the first floor.
Henry Baumgardner estimates the home is well over 3,000 square feet. “Maybe four (thousand).”
He said it contained no insulation and “nothing was done to it after it was built, really.”
Outside, the home had a wrap-around porch.
“The front porch was concrete and it was L-shaped on the south side down to the sun room,” said Joyce Baumgardner. “They always kept a porch swing there. That (porch wall) was double brick with a stone top on it, so it was wide enough that you could sit on it. So in the summer, that’s where everyone would kind of seem to congregate.”
At the north end of the house, there was a large garden with a white picket fence around it. To the west of the drive was an orchard that had “most everything, I think,” including peach, apple and pear trees, according to Baumgardner.
A large livestock barn at the north end of the property has since blown down, but a corn crib remains.
Another building next to the corn crib, which also is gone, had scales in it to weigh the grain.
“They used to have county corn husking contests, and there was one year when it was back to Grandpa Hunter’s,” said Joyce Baumgardner.
“Sundays … or holidays, there was always someone there to play with,” said Joyce Baumgardner. It was just a fun place to play inside and outside when I was a kid.”
Cutline for photo: IDA AND Lorin Hunter built their home sometime in the 1910s. They are buried in New Maplewood Cemetery in North Baltimore, Ohio.