Filed Under Biography

W. J. Roberts House

The Restoration of a Grand Franklin Boulevard Home

Many of the houses on Franklin Boulevard tell a story of the wealth that could be accumulated in Cleveland in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as the City became an industrial powerhouse in the Midwest. The house at 5005 Franklin Boulevard is one such house. But this house--like others along the Boulevard, also tells a story of renewal and restoration.

Built in 1874 by Dudley Baldwin, a wealthy nineteenth century Cleveland railroad man, banker, and real estate developer, the house was first owned and occupied by Harvey and Alice Murray, before it was purchased in 1882 by Teresa Roberts, the wife of William J. Roberts, an up and coming industrialist in Cleveland's early industrial era. Born in 1844 in Cincinnati, "W. J.," as he was known, left the Queen City and came to Cleveland when he was about 30 years old to find his fortune. It was an era when Cleveland was beginning to catch (and would later surpass) Cincinnati in both population and industrial might.

Robertsin became associated with two Clevelanders, Samuel Gibson and Fred Beckwith. In 1874, the three started the Gibson, Roberts and Beckwith Lead Works on Champlain Street, where the Terminal Tower Complex sits today. Later, the company moved its manufacturing operations to the Flats on the east bank of the Cuyahoga River, in an area then known as Cleveland Centre. There, the company built a new factory for its lead piping and other lead products manufacturing. The business rapidly grew and continued to operate at this location well into the twentieth century when it merged with several other companies to form the United Lead Co. Roberts continued his involvement in the business, and later, once his reputation as a businessman was firmly established, also became involved in Cleveland's banking industry, becoming President of Brooklyn Savings & Loan Association.

By all accounts, the Roberts were very happy in their grand Italianate house at 5005 Franklin Boulevard. One story that has been passed down in the family is that, at one point, W. J. and Teresa Roberts decided to sell the house--possibly to move to an even grander address, but, after making the deal, were so unhappy at the prospect of leaving the house, that they bought it back--at a higher price than what they sold it for! The couple and their children lived in the house for nearly 40 years, until his death in 1919. The following year, Teresa sold the house and moved into an apartment.

After the Roberts family left, and as Franklin Boulevard became a less desirable location in the first half of the twentieth century for Cleveland's wealthy West Siders, the house, like many on Franklin Boulevard, searched for a new use and, like many others, became a boarding house. Elida Humphrey, a widow, operated the house as such from the late 1920s until her death in 1957. By this time, two new problems threatened neighborhood houses as deindustrialization and flight to the suburbs hit the City of Cleveland hard. Many of the grand old homes on Franklin Boulevard began to deteriorate from age, neglect and disrepair.

In the 1970s, as Ohio City began to experience re-gentrification and Detroit-Shoreway activists to the west began their efforts to revitalize historic Gordon Square, a number of the grand old homes on Franklin Boulevard experienced renewal and restoration. Henry Kinicki and Tillie Tybuszewski, who purchased the W. J. Roberts house in 1976, converted it back to a single-family dwelling and lived in it for nearly three decades. In 2005, they sold the house to Russell Cendrowski and Roger Scheve, who then painstakingly restored it remarkably to its original nineteenth century grandeur. Next trip down Franklin Boulevard, be sure to pay attention to the beautiful Italianate house on the southwest corner of the Boulevard and West 50th Street.

Images

The W. J. Roberts House
The W. J. Roberts House This grand Italianate house was built on the southwest corner of Franklin Boulevard and West 50th Street in 1874. In 1882, it was acquired by Teresa Roberts, wife of Cleveland entrepreneur William J. Roberts. In this circa 1882 photo,Teresa Roberts stands outside the house, undoubtedly keeping an eye on one of her sons and what appears to be the family dog. Note the hitching post and the stone carriage steps in the foreground. Source: Raymond J. Pianka
Dudley Baldwin (1809-1896)
Dudley Baldwin (1809-1896) A railroad founder, banker, and Free Soil Republican, Baldwin was also a west side real estate developer, platting the Dudley Baldwin subdivision, which stretches from W. 45th (then Taylor) Street to W. 50th (then Birch) Street, primarily on the south side of Franklin Boulevard. While the subdivision was initially approved in 1863, building of houses there was delayed for about seven years as a result of the City of Cleveland's objections to manner in which Franklin Boulevard was proposed to be extended through the subdivision. As a result, a revised plat was approved in 1869--removing a bend in Franklin Boulevard, and several years later construction of the house at 5005 Franklin Boulevard began. Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections
The Neighborhood in 1880
The Neighborhood in 1880 This portion of the Hopkins 1881 City Atlas of Cleveland shows the status of the development of the Dudley Baldwin subdivision, as well as a portion of the Benedict and Root subdivision immediately to the south of it, in the year 1880. The footprint of the W. J. Roberts house is so similar to that of the house today that the map is evidence that the house looked substantially the same in 1880 as it does today. Source: Cleveland Public Library Digital Map Collection
William J. Roberts (1844-1919)
William J. Roberts (1844-1919) Known as "W. J.," Roberts grew up in Cincinnati, but came to Cleveland in the 1870s where he made his fortune as a principal in a lead factory in the Flats. Later in his life he served as President of Brooklyn Savings & Loan Association. He lived in the house at 5005 Franklin Boulevard for nearly 40 years--from 1882 until his death in 1919. Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections
Teresa Turpin Roberts (1853-1938)
Teresa Turpin Roberts (1853-1938) Originally from Kentucky, Teresa married W. J. Roberts in 1872. The family moved around quite a bit before settling in Cleveland and purchasing the house at 5005 Franklin Boulevard. According to census records, their first child was born in Kentucky, their second in New York, and their third here in Ohio. As many wives of wealthy men did in the era in which she lived, Teresa raised the couple's three children and participated in many charitable activities in Cleveland. Source: Raymond J. Pianka
A Lead Factory in the Flats
A Lead Factory in the Flats This page of the Hopkins 1881 City Atlas of Cleveland shows the location (red box) of the lead works founded by Samuel Gibson, W. J. Roberts and W. A. Price in the mid-1870s. The factory was located in an area of the Flats that was at one time called "Cleveland Centre"--planned as a place for businesses engaged in international trade, as the names of nearby streets attest. In the lower left hand corner of the map, you can see a portion of Franklin Circle. The factory was located only a mile and a half or so from W. J. Roberts' home on Franklin Boulevard. Source: Cleveland Public Library Digital Map Collection
1790 Columbus Road
1790 Columbus Road Gibson and Price no longer produces lead products at the factory that the company built at this location in the Flats in the 1870s. Today, the factory building houses the operations of Lolly the Trolley. The small red sign on the building next to the green door in the middle of the photo says "Lolly." In the background is the RTA red-line trestle. Source: Jim Dubelko
Metal Man Becomes Bank President
Metal Man Becomes Bank President That is how the Plain Dealer on January 15, 1914 announced that W. J. Roberts of the Gibson and Price Lead Works had become the new President of Brooklyn Savings & Loan Association. It was quite possibly Roberts' last business hurrah. He died 5 years later in 1919. Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections
And Now a Boarding House
And Now a Boarding House When the Roberts' family sold the house at 5005 Franklin Boulevard in 1920, it soon became a boarding house operated by a young widow by the name of Elida Humphrey. She lived in a five-room suite and her boarders in the remaining seven rooms of the 12-room house. At the time the 1940 census was taken, Elida had 14 boarders living in the house with her. Source: 1940 United States Census
Becoming Run-Down
Becoming Run-Down The above photo of the W. J. Roberts House was taken by a county tax appraiser in 1960. At the time, the house was still being operated as a boarding house. While only part of it is visible in the photo, it is apparent that it is is in a deteriorated condition. Source: Cuyahoga County Archives
Making a Comeback
Making a Comeback By the time this 1995 photo was taken, the house at 5005 Franklin Boulevard had been converted back to a single family dwelling. It is apparent from this photo that, while the exterior of the house had not yet been restored to its 19th century grandeur, it was in much better condition that it was in 1960. Source: Cleveland Public Library Digital Photo Collection
Restored to 19th Century Grandeur
Restored to 19th Century Grandeur This photo of the W. J. Roberts House was taken in 2011. It reveals the remarkable restoration of the exterior of the (then) 141-year old grand Italianate house to its original 19th century condition. Source: Google Maps

Location

5005 Franklin Blvd, Cleveland, OH 44102 | Private Property

Metadata

Jim Dubelko, “W. J. Roberts House,” Cleveland Historical, accessed April 20, 2024, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/716.