Let's step back in time, 125 years ago, and imagine what life was like in 1880 when The Kerr House was being built. The Civil War was a recent memory. Kerosene lamps brightened homes. Outhouses were near every residence. Animals were butchered by the family and the meat was packed in salt barrels for winter use. Fresh produce was only available when in season. Children could run free, sometimes exploring for the entire day and getting home in time for supper. School was held in one-room schoolhouses, and only went up to 9th grade. Women wore many layers of long skirts and petticoats. There were no sidewalks and only dirt roads. Transportation was open horse-drawn buggies. Washing clothes on scrub boards was a far cry from modern washing machines. Really clean families bathed on Saturday night. (Life was different back then).
Now imagine a little village on the Maumee River where the barges on the Miami & Erie Canal, stage coaches, and a newfangled, noisy, and dirty railroad connected this little village with other villages and opened up a new world to the settlers. After serving three years in the Civil War, B.F. (Benjamin Franklin) Kerr returned to this little village of Giliad and became a partner in a General Store. He married Ann Pratt in 1867.
The name of the village was changed from Giliad to Grand Rapids in 1868. (Perhaps the mail got confused with Mt. Gilliad, another historic village in Ohio. And, since they did have rapids, why not exaggerate a bit and call them 'Grand' Rapids). It was in this village in 1880 that B.F. and Ann chose to build their new home, a beautiful Queen Ann Victorian manor.
E. O. Fallis was the architect/builder for the Kerr's home. He built it to last. The footers are three feet thick. The basement walls are natural stone and are two feet thick. The outside walls are four brick thick: two bricks, an air space, and two bricks. The inside walls are three brick thick. All of the bricks were fired in a kiln built on the back of the property specifically for that purpose.
It took three years to build the house. Then a Master Craftsman from Pullman Cars moved into the house with his assistants. They lived in the house for a year while they hand-carved and hand-finished the magnificent white oak, red oak, cherry, butternut, hard rock maple, and ash woodwork throughout the house.
The 34 Christian doors on the first floor are a lovely feature of the house. Each door has a cross, and symbols of an open Bible, the Ten Commandments, the Trilogy, and eternal life. When the doors are closed, each side of the door has the same wood as the room it faces. For instance, the dining room is red oak, so the doors are all red oak when closed, however the other side of each door has the wood of the room it faces.
The fireplaces are all outstanding with deeply sculptured ceramic tiles, carvings, and mantles. The fireplaces in the Entry and Front Parlor have beautiful stained glass windows above them, which is a most unusual feature, as the flues were diverted to make it possible. Even though the house was built in 1880, it is filled with generous closets with built-in drawers and shelves. It also had two indoor bathrooms with marble sinks and copper bathtubs. Both marble sinks and one copper tub are still in use in The Kerr House.
The large Historical and Biographical Record of Wood County, Ohio, 1897, has almost two full pages on B.F. Kerr. It describes his home thus: "He has built one of the finest residences in this section of the country, a building so modern and complete it would be a credit to any city. Crowning a beautiful hill, it commands a grand view overlooking the river and charming Maumee Valley. Mr. Kerr possesses several fine farms in the vicinity. Verily, he is the architect of his own fortune."
B.F. and Ann had seven children, five of whom survived babyhood. B.F. died in 1901, and Ann continued managing the store and grain elevators until their eldest son, Clifton Colfax Kerr, took over the businesses and home. Clifton and Zelda had four children, and their eldest son, Clifton (Red) Franklin Kerr, purchased the home from his father's estate and continued to live in it. Unfortunately, the family fortune was gone, so the home had little upkeep in the 1900’s and had fallen into severe disrepair. When I found it, the original beauty was evident but had to be coaxed forth.
The Kerr family had owned and occupied the home for 100 years. I purchased it from Red in 1977, and it seemed logical to continue calling it 'The Kerr House'. After all, it had been called The Kerr House for 100 years!
Read on...click here...Rebirth of the Kerr House!