A Reprieve for Maria Barstow
Wisconsin's First Lady finds a Home in Cleveland
The years 1856 to 1865 were tough ones for all Americans, as the country reeled toward and then fought a bloody civil war over slavery. But they were especially tough years for Maria Quarles Barstow. In 1856, her husband, William A. Barstow, the third governor of Wisconsin, left office under a cloud of a scandal as the result of campaign law violations in his re-election effort. Then came his failure and embarrassment on the battlefield in the Civil War. And finally, just months after the war ended, William Barstow suddenly died, leaving her a 42-year old widow with four boys--ranging in age from eleven to nineteen, to raise.
And that's when Cleveland, and the house at 4211 Franklin Avenue, gave her a reprieve from a horrendous decade. Prior to 1865, Maria had never lived in Cleveland. However, her husband's family were west side pioneer settlers and she came to Cleveland in late December of that year to bury her husband and to start her life anew. Her husband's spinster sister and bachelor brother took her and the boys in--all of them living together in a small house on State (West 29th) Street. Then, in 1868, she had a opportunity to gather her family together in their own home. She rented the new Second Empire style house near the corner of Franklin Avenue and Harbor (West 44th) Street that had just been built by German immigrant carpenter Ferdinand Dryer.
Maria had landed in a good neighborhood. Just across the street from 4211 Franklin lived Hannes Tiedeman, who had not yet torn down his modest house and replaced it with Franklin Castle. Also living on the street a few blocks to the west was Stephen Buhrer, who had just been elected Cleveland's mayor. Up the street toward Franklin Circle lived Henry Coffinberry, a prominent early Cleveland industrialist and son of Judge Coffinberry. Further up the street was coal magnate and real estate developer Daniel Rhodes. Living next door to Rhodes were his daughter and son-in-law Marcus Hanna, who one day would put William McKinley in the White House. Two of Rhodes's sons, including noted American historian James Ford Rhodes, also lived nearby on the Avenue.
Maria Barstow and her sons only lived in the house at 4211 Franklin Avenue for about three years. It was likely financial circumstances that forced her in 1872 to move back in with her husband's family on State Street. But perhaps the three years in the new house on Franklin Avenue were long enough to stabilize and rebuild her family, and introduce her sons to Cleveland's business elite. Frank Barstow married a daughter of Stephen Buhrer, becoming not only connected to this Cleveland political family, but also to John D. Rockefeller, a long-time friend of Buhrer. Likely through this family connection, Frank met Rockefeller and eventually became one of the founders of the original Standard Oil Trust. He amassed a fortune by the time of his death in 1909.
Maria Barstow survived her husband William by more than 50 years, dying in 1916 in Lima, Ohio, at the age of 93. The former first lady of Wisconsin is buried alongside her husband William in Brookmere Cemetery, on the southwest side of Cleveland.
The house at 4211 Franklin has been home over the years to other interesting people, including the vice-president of a large Cleveland industrial business from 1879 to 1883, and an Ohio circuit court judge whose family owned the house for almost 40 years from 1883 to 1920. But in more recent years the house fell into disrepair and faced foreclosure and possible demolition. It was rescued in 2012 by the Ohio City Near West Development Corporation. The stately nineteenth century home now has new owners who have restored to its nineteenth century beauty and grandeur.