Filed Under Architecture

Stephen Buhrer House

Built for a Cleveland Mayor who was a Close Friend of John D. Rockefeller

The Second Empire style house at 327 Franklin Avenue (today, 4606 Franklin Boulevard), designed by the notable architectural firm of Griese & Weile, was undoubtedly a place of refuge for Cleveland Mayor Stephen Buhrer, as the city struggled to sort itself out politically in the wake of the horrendous United States Civil War. When Buhrer, a Democrat, was elected mayor on April 1, 1867 after three consecutive Republican administrations dating back to the beginning of that war, the Plain Dealer, then a partisian Democrat paper, couldn't resist. In its next day edition, it not only celebrated the victory, but also mocked the local Republicans who had branded the Democrats as "traitors" and "disloyal." A week later, on April 9, the Cleveland Leader, the partisan Republican paper, concluded that Buhrer had only been elected because of "a fusion of the German beer-drinking vote and Democrats." And the Leader was just getting started. It spilled much ink during Buhrer's two terms (1867-1871), criticizing the mayor, who owned a distillery business, often referring to him as a "dictator" and claiming that his police force was notoriously soft on liquor violations, while hard on citizens when they publicly assembled to celebrate post-Civil War Republican achievements like the Civil Rights amendments to the Constitution.

Stephen Buhrer led a life that was a Horatio Alger rags-to-riches tale. He was born in Zoar, Ohio in 1825. When his father died in 1829, Buhrer was bound over to the Society of Separatists who operated a communal farm there. He began working on the farm at a young age and learned the cooper trade. He left the community when he turned 18 years old, eventually settling in Cleveland in 1844. He initially worked as a cooper here, but soon left the trade and founded Eagle Distillery, a wholesale and retail liquor business which made him wealthy. It had offices and a warehouse on Merwin Street in the fast-growing Cleveland Centre. Working in a firm next door as a bookkeeper was young John D. Rockefeller, who once asked Buhrer for a job. The two later became life-long friends.

Buhrer married Eva Schneider, a German immigrant, in 1848, and the couple moved to a house in Ohio City. In 1855, the year following that city's annexation to Cleveland, he entered local politics, winning the Ward 11 trustee (council) election at just 29 years of age. Buhrer would go on to serve three terms as a ward councilman before being elected mayor in 1867. As councilman, one of his universally acknowledged Civil War era achievements was successfully satisfying the federal quota requirements for his ward, thereby easing his constituents' fears of becoming subjected to what many then viewed as an oppressive federal draft. Later, as Cleveland mayor, he was credited with building the city's first workhouse and for laying the groundwork for the construction of the first viaduct over the Cuyahoga River, subsequently completed in 1878.

In 1869, the same year in which he began his second term as mayor, Buhrer, and his wife and their three children, moved into the grand house on Franklin Avenue. Buhrer lived in the house for almost 40 years, until his death in 1907 at the age of 82. His second wife, Marguerite Paterson--Buhrer's first wife, Eva, had died in 1889-- continued to live there until her own death in 1914. It would be the last time that the large house with approximately 5,000 square feet of living space was used as a single family dwelling.

Upon the death of Stephen Buhrer's widow, the house at 4606 Franklin Avenue passed by will to her brother, Abraham Paterson. By the time Paterson inherited the property, Franklin Avenue was no longer the west side's answer to millionaires' row that it had been in the nineteenth century. Like many other owners of large houses on Franklin Avenue, Paterson converted the Buhrer house into a multi-family dwelling. According to the 1920 federal census, there were three families and a total of 13 persons, including Paterson and his wife, living there. By 1930, Paterson had sold the house and, according to the census of that year, the new owner had increased the number of tenant families living there to eight, with 21 people sharing living space in the house.

Over the years that followed, which included the decade of the Great Depression, followed by several decades of general decline on Cleveland's near west side, the condition of the once grand Buhrer house also declined. At some point in time between the 1930s and 1950s, the house lost its front porticos and its ornate window shutters. By 1960, as a tax photo of the house taken in 1961 reveals, it was a house which hardly resembled the structure designed by Carl Griese and Albert Weile. By the end of the 1970s, the house appeared to be almost in shambles, with photos showing a board nailed across its front door. But then in 1980, it was rescued by Charles and Alice Butts, who renovated the house along with a number of others in Ohio City during this period. As a result of the Butts' efforts, the Buhrer house once again began to at least resemble its original design, although the porticos were not restored. Under the Butts family ownership, the Buhrer house has now for more than three decades served the Ohio City neighborhood as a multi-family dwelling with five suites. In 2018, the house celebrated its 150th birthday on historic Franklin Boulevard.

Images

Stephen Buhrer House Built in 1868, the Second Empire Italianate-style house was designed by the notable Cleveland architectural firm of Griese and Weile. The original address for the house was 327 Franklin Avenue. In 1906, it became 4606 Franklin Avenue. This was the home of Cleveland mayor Stephen Buhrer from 1869 until his death in 1907. This undated photograph was taken sometime before 1898. Source: Barbara Lee Messner
Stephen and Eva Buhrer In 1848, Stephen Buhrer married Eva Schneider, a German immigrant. The couple had three children: John , Louise, and Mary Jane. This undated photo of the two, given their youth and clothing styles, may have been taken at or about the time of their wedding. Source: Barbara Messner
The Buhrer children Stephen and Eva Buhrer had three children. Left to right in this photo, they are: Mary Jane (b. 1850), John Stephen (b. 1849), and Lois Catherine (b. 1853). The photo was taken in Cleveland in circa 1860. Source: Barbara Messner
Stephen Buhrer (1825-1907) Born in Zoar, Ohio, and raised in a religious separatist community, Buhrer came to Cleveland in 1844 and soon became a wealthy businessman and successful politician. He served as the elected mayor of Cleveland from 1867 to 1871. Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections
Eagle Distillery This ad for Stephen Buhrer's distillery appeared in the 1865 Cleveland City Directory. Buhrer operated his successful business on Merwin Street in Cleveland Centre. The business was known for its "centian bitters," which were sold as a remedy for stomach ailments. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Directories Collection
Buhrer Wins! In April 1867, Democrat Stephen Buhrer beat his Republican opponent, Peter Thatcher, by 500 votes to win the Cleveland mayoral race. The Plain Dealer, as shown in this April 2, 1867 article, crowed about the first Democrat mayoral victory in six years. Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections
West Side Millionaires' Row In the mid-nineteenth century, Franklin Avenue was to the west side what Euclid Avenue was to the east--the place where the elites on each side of the Cuyahoga River resided. When Stephen Buhrer moved to 327 Franklin Avenue (4606 Franklin Boulevard today) in 1869, his neighbors included wealthy banker Hannes Tiedemann and the widow of Wisconsin governor William Barstow. On this 1881 map, the Buhrer house is identified within the circle on the left. In the circle directly to the right is Hannes Tiedemann's house, known today as Franklin Castle. Circled below Tiedemann's house is the house that was rented in 1868 by Maria Barstow. Her son Frank later married Stephen Buhrer's daughter Lois, obtained a job with John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil company, and by the early twentieth century was a very rich man. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Map Collection
Rubbing Elbows As a wealthy businessman and successful local politician, Stephen Buhrer was acquainted with many of Cleveland's early legendary industrialists. He was a life-long friend of John D. Rockefeller and also was friends with Jeptha Wade, founder of Western Union Telegraph. This photo shows the gold-plated cap of a walking stick given to Buhrer by Wade on the occasion of Buhrer's 63rd birthday on December 25, 1888. Source: Jodi Eller
Back to Zoar In 1902, when he was 77 years old, Stephen Buhrer made a trip back to Zoar, Ohio, where, as a boy, he had lived in a community of religious separatists. This undated photo of Buhrer as an elderly man (with white beard), sitting near a well amongst residents of Zoar, may have been taken on that 1902 trip. Source: Ohio Memory
Marguerite Paterson Buhrer Stephen Buhrer's first wife, Eva Schneider Buhrer, died in 1889. One year later, Buhrer married Marguerite Paterson Buhrer, who was more than thirty years his junior. She survived Buhrer who died in 1907. When Marguerite died in 1914, the Buhrer house passed by her will to her brother, Abraham Paterson, who converted the single family house into a multi-family dwelling. For the most, if not all of the 100 years that have followed this event, the Buhrer house at 4606 Franklin Boulevard, has been a mutli-family dwelling. This undated photo was taken circa 1910. Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections
Changing over the years The above 1961 county tax appraiser photo shows the Buhrer house in that year looking very differently from its original design. Gone are the house's front porches, as well as its shutters, and the house appears to have been painted white. Source: Cuyahoga County Archives
Hitting Bottom This photo of the Buhrer house at 4606 Franklin Boulevard was taken on October 21, 1980, by a City of Cleveland inspector. The landscaping on the property is overgrown and the house is nearly unrecognizable from its original design. Note the board across the front dorr. This was the condition of the property when Charles and Alice Butts purchased it earlier that same year. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Photograph Collection
A New Beginning On the May 23, 1981, the Cleveland Plain Dealer published an article in its Saturday Magazine about remodeling homes in Cuyahoga County. Featured on the cover of the magazine were Alice Butts and the Buhrer house at 4606 Franklin Boulevard. The article noted that this was the fourth house in Ohio City that Alice, and her husband Charles, had restored and remodeled. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Newspaper Collection
Restored. 1995 photo of the Stephen Buhrer House after restoration by Charles and Alice Butts. Source: Craig Bobby
Stephen Buhrer House Today The house at 4606 Franklin Boulevard was built in 1868 for Cleveland mayor Stephen Buhrer. One hundred fifty years later, in 2018, it is certainly in better condition than it had been in 1980 when it was rescued by Charles and Alice Butts. Creator: Jim Dubelko

Location

4606 Franklin Boulevard, Cleveland, Ohio

Metadata

Jim Dubelko, “Stephen Buhrer House,” Cleveland Historical, accessed December 3, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/805.