Preservation Merit Award
for the preservation and rehabilitation of the 1857 Horace Starr House, 284 Washington Avenue, Elyria
The idea to transform the Horace Starr mansion into the Lorain County History Center (LCHS) was conceived during a Lorain County Historical Society Strategic Planning session back in 2000 and finally came to fruition earlier this year.
The area of Elyria known as Evergreen Point opened to development 1851, and over the subsequent 100-plus years, it saw development of substantial homes where the most prominent people of the community resided. However, interest in maintaining those homes waned after World War II, and by 1970 the vast majority of them had been razed and replaced.
The 1857 Horace Starr house is an outstanding example of early Italianate architecture in Ohio. It features decorative roof brackets, ornate window hood moldings, and a large cupola, all illustrative of the massive proportions typical of the Italianate construction in the 1850’s - 1860’s. The Starr house and its carriage barn were listed on the National Register in 1979, and it is now the oldest surviving structure on Washington Avenue.
The house had been slated for demolition in 2000 but that action was postponed and ultimately stopped following intervention by the Lorain County Historical Society. The society’s strategic plan had identified the need for expansion outside of The Hickories, the organization’s home since 1975, for better storage, office space, and display areas. Taking on the Starr House also allowed the organization to further its preservation mission by renovating the house and using its significant architectural details to serve as a backdrop for museum content that educates visitors about Lorain County’s history.
The Elyria Baptist Church, which owned the Horace Starr House at the time, and is situated next to it, obtained a demolition permit with the plan to create more parking and build a facility for youth activities. Negotiations became a three part process because the Masonic Lodge, on the other side of the church, wanted to downsize. Eventually, the Lorain County Historical Society purchased the Starr House while the Baptist Church purchased the Masonic property and converted it to meet its needs.
A $1.6 million Capital Campaign was launched in 2004 and reached its goal in 2011. Along the way, state appropriations totaling $500,000 were also secured for the project through the Ohio Cultural Facilities Commission.
Exterior work on the building included masonry repair, carpentry, and painting. The earliest pictures of the building (dating to 1870) show that the exterior brick was painted at that time. The south side porch was removed when the church was built in 1951. Repairs were made with like materials: bricks for bricks, sandstone for sandstone, and wood for wood. The balusters around the upper level of the porch were repaired with an epoxy consolidant so that all original material still present was retained. Two first floor windows that had been bricked-over were re-opened and the original sash repaired. Paint colors were selected under the advisement of the Cleveland Restoration Society.
Interior work involved extensive carpentry, plaster restoration, and painting. The most extensive work occurred on the first floor where numerous modifications had been made to accommodate the needs of the church. Walls had been added, others removed or changed, doors modified and wall paneling cut through. Chandeliers and stairways had been removed. All of these spaces were carefully restored, rebuilt or repaired resulting in a beautifully rehabilitated house that now provides rooms for 6 museum galleries, a research library, staff kitchen, and executive offices on the main two floors. There is also an ADA accessible restroom and an elevator with stops at three interior levels plus the outside ground level.
The Lorain County Historical Society for working with its neighbors and brokered a win/win/win outcome—the needs of the church, the Masons and the historical society were all met and an important local landmark was preserved and rehabilitated.
Click here for a list of past State Historic Preservation Office Award recipients.