Ball-Wilson House

A Lake Captain's Residence

When a grief-stricken Captain John Ball moved out of the house at 2902 Franklin Boulevard in 1862, little did he know that it would become the childhood home of a little girl who grew up and became a feminist pioneer and one of Cleveland's most well known late nineteenth and early twentieth century florists.

In 1852, John Ball, a Lake Erie ship captain, his wife Harriet Blake Ball, and their eight children moved into a new, two-story brick house on the northwest corner of State (West 29th) Street and Franklin Avenue (Boulevard), in what was then the City of Ohio (also referred to as "Ohio City"). Two years later, that city would merge with the City of Cleveland, and Ohio City would become Cleveland's near west side. The house, which today, some 170 years later, still stands on the corner of Franklin Boulevard and West 29th Street is, according to local architectural historian Craig Bobby, of the Greek Revival style, but, in his estimation, was also influenced by the emerging Italianate style. The notable Greek Revival features of the house include the straightforward stone lintels and sills on almost all the windows and the front door, and the dentil course immediately under the roof eaves. The hipped roof and the cupola are viewed by Bobby as suggesting the Italianate influence,

Captain Ball, who was 40 years old when he moved into the house at 2902 Franklin Boulevard, which then bore an address of 181 Franklin Avenue, may have envisioned living in this roomy house with his wife and children for the rest of his life. However, his family's residence in it was cut short, possibly because of a series of personal tragedies that befell the Ball family between the years 1858 and 1861. In 1858, Ball's wife Harriet died suddenly, and then two of the couple's children, Mary (17) and Eunice (21) died from illnesses within three months of each other in December 1860 and February 1861. At some point in time after the death of Eunice, Captain Ball moved his remaining children out of the house on Franklin Avenue and leased it in 1862 to the Gilbert and Susan Grant family.

The house at 2902 Franklin Boulevard has for decades been commonly known in Cleveland as the Ball-Wilson house, because Gilbert and Susan Grant's daughter Ella, who was about eight years old in 1862 when the family moved into the house, grew up to become Ella Grant Wilson, a feminist pioneer, and one of the first women in Cleveland to successfully own and operate her own florist business. Later, she became well-known as a garden editor and columnist for the Plain Dealer, as well as the author of two books describing her interactions as a florist with the wealthy families who lived on Cleveland's grand Euclid Avenue in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Grant family only lived in the house on Franklin Boulevard for five years, but that was enough time for Ella to form friendships with children of some of the more prominent west side Clevelanders that would last a lifetime. Among her west side childhood friends was Julia Castle, her "desk mate" at the neighborhood's Kentucky Street School. Julia was the youngest daughter of William Castle, mayor of Ohio City from 1853-1854 and, following the merger of Ohio City and Cleveland, the first mayor of the combined cities. The Castle family lived at 186 Franklin (which today would be 2913 Franklin), almost directly across the street from the Grants. In addition to the life-long friendships she formed there as a child, Ella Grant Wilson also made her first sale of flowers on Franklin Avenue. In her book Famous Old Euclid Avenue of Cleveland, Volume One, published in 1932, she recounted a story of a man walking by her house one day, noticing her flower garden and offering her two tickets to the circus in exchange for a bouquet of flowers.

In 1868, the Grant family moved from the house on Franklin Avenue to University Heights (today, Tremont) where Ella Grant just a few years later would build her first greenhouse on Jennings Avenue (West 14th Street), near Rowley Avenue, and start her florist business. After the Grant family's departure, the Ball family rented out the house at 2902 Franklin for several more years before selling it, in 1873, to Captain William B. Guyles. In that the Ball-Wilson House is named after both its relatively obscure first owner and a pioneer Cleveland woman who never actually owned it, an argument could be made that it should have instead been named after Captain Guyles. Like John Ball, Guyles was a lake captain, but a much more notable one. One biographical article contended that, in the 20 years that he commanded ships on the Great Lakes, he never had an accident which resulted in the loss of life or "considerable" property loss. After retiring as a lake captain, Guyles became a marine inspector for a commercial insurance company. In the early 1850s, he was elected to a seat on Ohio City's council and served on a committee that facilitated the merger of Ohio City and the City of Cleveland in 1854. In 1870, as a member of the city's Board of Trade, he proposed a design for the improvement of Cleveland's harbor that led to the construction of the city's first breakwater in 1885. After moving into the house on the corner of Franklin Avenue and State Street, Guyles became, like several other prominent residents of Franklin Avenue, a director of the People's Savings Bank, the president of which was then Robert Russell Rhodes, who lived across the street from him.

Captain Guyles lived in the house at 2902 Franklin Boulevard until his death in 1896. In 1900, his widow sold the house to the next door neighbor at 2908 Franklin, who used it as rental property for the next decade. The house became owner-occupied once again in 1912 when it was sold to James and Catherine (Moan) Walsh. The Walshes, who were second generation Irish Americans, lived in the house until their deaths, his in 1932 and hers in 1935. After Catherine's death, the house was inherited by one of her nephews, James V. Moan, who used it as rental property for the next three plus decades. In 1970, Moan sold the house to Thomas and Claire Farnsworth, early Ohio City pioneers, who lived in it for the next five years. At some point about this time, the house underwent rehabilitation, which included the removal of a wrap-around porch which had likely been added to it in the first decade of the twentieth century. In 1980, the house was featured as one of the improved historic houses on the sixth annual Ohio City House and Garden tour. The house is presently (2020) no longer single-family occupied and, in recent years, it has been advertised as an Airbnb rental.


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