(Posted Sept. 24, 2015)
By Linda Dillman, Staff Writer
The National Road, also known as U.S. Route 40, looked far different when the Anderson House in Lafayette was built nearly 200 years ago, but the brick-walled home standing today still looks very much the same.
On Sept. 19, the house—a private residence in the loving hands of Kelso and Judy Wessel since 1976—was honored with the unveiling of an Ohio National Road Interpretive Sign located near the sidewalk at the steps to the three-story structure.
While the home is not open to the pub-lic, the marker detailing a brief history of the Anderson House with pictures of its original appearance is easily accessible for public viewing. A similar sign is located just a few blocks away on the grounds of the Red Brick Tavern.
The house was built around 1830 for Calvin Anderson as a tavern and home and changed hands twice before it was operated as the Oak Grove Farm by Hamilton Wilson. In 1895, John Thompson bought the property and willed it to his housekeeper in 1909, when it was bought by Herbert and Pearle Harper.
The Harpers built a large barn and raised cattle. In 1925, part of the farmhouse became the Terrace Lawn tourist home for National Road travelers, including truck drivers and salesmen from across the state and nation. After the Harpers passed away, the home and farm was sold to the Wessels.
Lynn Henry is the granddaughter of Herbert and Pearl Harper and grew up in the Anderson House. She, along with National Road board members and family members of past and current owners, attended the Saturday morning ceremony.
“We always ate in my grandma’s kitchen and always had the radio on,” said Henry, “and you could not say anything when there was farm news or the weather on the radio. We even found bullet holes in the ceiling of a back bedroom from when the house was a tavern.
“Folks stayed on the second and third floors and, as a kid growing up in the 1950s, this road was busy. It was noisy. When they built the freeway, all of that changed. It became so quiet and it took us a while to get used to that.”
The federal-style house, which features a later Greek Revival-style porch, originally had four chimneys and eight fireplaces. On the first floor are two rooms flanking a center hallway and staircase leading to the second floor. The east side had a separate entrance when part of the home was used as tavern. The third floor served as a large dormitory (which had no heat) until much later.
“Mom was born in 1928,” continued Henry. “Pearl and Herbert Harper lived in great wealth during the Depression. People who were hungry would knock on the door, and my grandfather told them they could hunt on our land and get food.”
Renee Wessel Blankley also grew up in the stately home and said she enjoyed showing her friends her room with signatures on the walls spanning more than 150 years.
“When we bought the house, it was barely livable,” said Kelso Wessel, who taught at Ohio State University (OSU) during the day, farmed in the afternoon, then stripped away layers of wallpaper at night.
“In 1978 during the blizzard, all of our electricity was out for several days. Twenty people who lived in the community came to our house, and we fired up the wood-burning stove. It was four to five days before we all got our electricity back up.”
For 40 years, the Wessels were reluctant to do anything to the upstairs walls because of all of the writing discovered underneath. They were also hesitant to alter the look of the home. However, drafty windows forced the family to replace them with updated ones that look like those originally installed.
“We put Styrofoam insulation on the outside walls, but you’d never know just looking at them,” continued Kelso. “Forty years ago, OSU was closing down its home economics department and we got beautiful cabinets that we stored for 40 years.” They were recycled and now hang in pristine condition in the kitchen.
The auctioneer who originally sold the house had two old schoolhouse lamps that the Wessels incorporated into the kitchen. They also recycled chalkboards from a school that closed in London and were still painting the night before the September ceremony.
“The list of things that needs to be done is just as long as the list we just finished,” said Kelso, “but we think it’s turned out beautifully.”
The Ohio National Road Association was formed in 2000 to preserve, promote and enhance the Historic National Road in Ohio for present and future generations. ONRA is an all-volunteer organization led by a board of directors made up of two representatives from each of the 10 National Road counties in Ohio, as well as ‘at-large’ and ex-officio members.