The History of The Madison Seminary — Madison, Ohio

The Madison Seminary

(Also known as Madison Home/House; National Relief Corps Home; Home of the Ohio Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Their Wives, Mothers, Widows, and Army Nurses; Madison Home for the Aged; Opportunity Village; former site of Madison Township offices )

6769 Middle Ridge Road

Madison, OH 44057

Historic Timeline

• The Madison Seminary chartered in 1845, prompting construction of small frame building. Secondary education institution opened in 1847 for high school and college students of Lake and surrounding counties. C.S. Hartwell taught first term, succeeded by G.N. Campbell. Few records exist from time period. Many graduates said to have had distinguished careers. Reunions popular from 1893-1931.

• Three-story brick building added in 1859 to east side of original structure, which was converted to boarding hall for approximately 150 students. Portico with stone columns added later, likely around 1904.

• Seminary closed in 1891, impeded by increasing availability of public education.

• Purchased in 1890-91 by the Ohio Women’s Relief Corps (WRC), a women’s group of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). Facility known as the Madison Home, unique institution that cared for the wives and widows of Ohio military veterans. Located on 15-acre site. A small farm yielded fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy products for the use of residents of the Home, which accommodated forty members. Those eligible included wives, widows, and mothers of veterans of the Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I and II, the Philippine Insurrection, Chinese Relief Expedition, and other campaigns, and Army nurses. In the early years, men were also eligible, although few ever resided at the Home. Under the management of the Women’s Relief Corps, sisters and daughters of ex-Union soldiers also admitted.

o WRC Ohio president Emogene Marshall protested decision to open facility to veterans of “Spanish-American war, Boxer uprising and the world war,” and their wives, mothers, widows and dependents, arguing founded for those of Civil War and not enough room to accommodate. (The Sandusky Register, 5/20/1919)

• When original Home outgrown, state appropriated $25,000 for construction “of a suitable cottage home for the indigent mothers and widows” (“Madison,” Denise Michaud). WRC constructed much larger four-story stone and brick structure on western section of site of the original wood structure of the school in 1891-92. Doorway arch reads “Ohio Cottage.”

• In 1904, WRC donated building to state of Ohio when could no longer afford to maintain it. Complex also known as Home of the Ohio Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Their Wives, Mothers, Widows and Army Nurses. State operated without charge to members until 1969.

o “Attorney General McGhee holds that not until all the wives, widows and mothers of Civil War soldiers … and all army nurses of that war have died can the Madison Home be abandoned and sold by the state.” (The Chronicle-Telegram, 12/26/1918)

o 1915 report detailed 249 residents who had resided in facility to date, including the current 3 mothers, 1 sister, 1 daughter and 35 widows. Mothers were ages 96, 95, and 94. (News-Journal (Mansfield), 6/23/1915)

• One-story brick center section constructed in 1959, joining Ohio Cottage and East Wing.

• WRC Madison Home portion ceased operation in 1962 when taken over by Ohio Department of Mental Hygiene and Corrections, upsetting to residents who had no living relatives. Widows living in the Home either returned to relatives or placed in private nursing homes.

o Legislature failed to appropriate operating costs for next fiscal year; 13 women ordered to leave, causing upset and questioning of finances and the decision to close “a home donated to the state on behalf of veterans’ widows and mothers.” Vacated resident Grace Limber described how “we had everything we could possibly have in our own home and the only thing expected of us was making our own beds.” Request for further consideration turned down. (The Sandusky Register, 6/14/1962; 6/22/2962)

• Facility known as Opportunity Village, housing honor inmates from Ohio Women’s Reformatory, in 1960s. Inmates worked as staff at facility. One-story addition constructed connecting other buildings. Another may have been built in 1989.

• Also served as extension of Apple Creek State Hospital, housing mentally disabled women in joint project with Ohio Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation, in hopes the women could be rehabilitated to live productive lives in society.

• In 1964 briefly used as annex of Cleveland State Hospital for aged, senile women. Approximately 37 women housed there during planning stage; officials believed 60 could reside without any structural changes. (The News-Herald (Willoughby) 3/7/1964)

• Opportunity Village closed in 1975 when state could no longer afford to operate, and facility purchased from state by Lake County commissioners.

• In late 1970s Madison Township leased from county to house offices.

• Madison Township purchased building from county in 1981 with understanding that county would buy back when township no longer had use for facility. After township involved in design of new complex located elsewhere, county commissioners honored deed’s “reverter clause” and bought back.

• Township leased building until 1993 when offices relocated and building left vacant.

• County commissioners sold property to John Cassell at auction in 1998. Facility used mainly for storage and office space and portion utilized by Madison Historical Society as offices and museum.

• After John Cassell’s death in 2009, grandson Tim Cassell cared for property.

• Adam Kimmell negotiated deal with Tim Cassell in 2016 to purchase property, again known as Madison Seminary.

Adjoining cemetery

• Middle Ridge Cemetery located on north side of Middle Ridge Road, in operation since 1811. Northwest portion known as “Home Lot.” No township record of burials here per agreement with WRC that Home would hold lot for resident burials and keep own records. Stones identical in nature – small, rounded grey marble with first and last names and birth/death years. Last of stones appears to be dated about 1946.

• In many cases plan was for residents to be buried in Home Lot unless friends agreed to pay expense of burial elsewhere.

• Burial locations designated as WRC lot/Madison Home.

Notes of Interest

• Madison Seminary and Home (Greek Revival/Romanesque architecture) added to National Historic Register in 1979.

• Welfare director ordered investigation of reports of “sex escapades” and drinking parties among “trusties,” honor inmates working at facility. (News-Journal (Mansfield), 7/9/1953)

• Some township employees claimed to have witnessed ghosts. Newspaper advertisement published in 1993: “For Rent: Historic building on Middle Ridge Road … can be leased cheap, caution – building may be haunted.”

• Labeled as one of Ohio’s “Most Haunted Places.”

• Notable residents

o Elizabeth Brown Stiles (1816-1898) – Civil War nurse/Union Spy who posed as elderly Southern woman to garner information for North, working with teenage daughter Clara. After honorable discharge and death of an adopted son, became resident of Madison Home. Known as shy, unassuming lady. Not until death was beloved endorsement letter from President Lincoln, and her life as a spy, readily discovered (Akron Beacon Journal, 12/12/1993); died in sleep at Madison Home; buried in Home Lot.

o First “member” admitted, Julia A. Hibbard, 65, Army nurse

o Eliza Shute, 87, spoke several languages, singer and former schoolmate of author Harriett Beecher Stowe

o Civil War nurse, philanthropist Eleanor “Mother” Ransom(e)

o Dolly Hamilton, convicted on manslaughter and abortion charges, paroled and sent to Madison Home in 1939. Employed as part of welfare department’s rehabilitation program. Convicted after 15-year-old girl died as result of illegal abortion Hamilton performed in her home in New Philadelphia, Ohio. Confessed she had been performing illegal abortions over period of several years. (The Coshocton Tribune, 6/30/1939; The Daily Times (New Philadelphia), 3/17/1937) Listed as resident/night supervisor of Madison Home in 1940 Census.

Sources: rootsweb.ancestry.com; findagrave.com; nationalregisterofhistoricplaces.com; starbeacon.com; ohiohistory.org; “Ohio Historic Places Dictionary”; “Madison.”

* All research provided by PARAHOLIC’S historical researcher extraordinaire Eunice Spector.

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