History in the Hills: Under a lot of history
Historic research is exciting to me. The thrill of the hunt, the discovery of the story and the sharing of it are something I look forward to every time I descend the historical “rabbit hole” following a lead to a great story. I fall victim to leads in history all the time. One story leads to another, and I am off on a tangent discovering a little-known fact. Most of the time this turns into an interesting story.
The inspiration for this article, in fact, began with a search of Civil War veterans, and ended up in a parking lot on North Fourth Street in Steubenville. The parking lot in question is located at 205 N. Fourth St. at the northwest corner of North Fourth and Washington streets.
This lot was not always a parking lot, but once was the location of a large mansion owned by a prominent family.
According to the “1897 Centennial Souvenir of Steubenville and Jefferson County,” the Sherrard home was built in 1870 by Justin G Morris. It boasted 12 large rooms and was appointed with walnut accents.
In 1884 the home was purchased by Robert Sherrard Jr. and was extensively remodeled.
Robert Sherrard was born in 1823 on Rush Run, but his family moved to a farm on Coal Hill in the 1840s. Robert was admitted to the bar in 1848 and became a successful lawyer. Due to his success in his profession, in 1850 Robert became a partner with Judge John Miller, who coincidentally owned a large home on the corner of Adams and High streets, the site of the excavations of Fort Steuben. Robert served as a senator in 1861 but ultimately declined a second term.
Sherrard wanted to join the Union cause during the Civil War, but due to “heart trouble” was unable to do so. He did get to participate in the excitement surrounding the presence of Morgan’s Raiders in 1864. Joseph Doyle, in his tome the “20th Century History of Steubenville and Jefferson County,” explained “Mr. Sherrard was to take charge of two regiments sent from Pittsburgh to intercept Morgan. The executive ability shown by Mr. Sherrard in circumventing Morgan and forcing him to abandon his plan of crossing the Ohio at the mouth of Short Creek, into West Virginia, gave unmistakable evidence of military and tactical skill. Morgan was forced to move to the north end of the county where he was captured.”
Sherrard was instrumental in this military operation.
Even during the tumultuous period of the Civil War, in 1863 Robert purchased the Mechanics’ Savings Bank, effectively changing his career. In 1870, Robert moved to New York City where he became the president of American National Bank.
By 1877, Robert and his family returned to Steubenville when he took over the presidency of the Steubenville Coal and Mining Co. In 1879 he also took over the position of the Steubenville Gas Light and Coke Co. He was one of the founders of the Steubenville Pottery in 1881 as well as the Steubenville Street Railway Co.
As one can imagine, the Sherrard family was obviously wealthy and prominent in the community. Sherrard and his family took trips often to Europe, Egypt and the Holy Land, and his collection of antiquities was impressive. Surely the halls of his residence were full of these rare objects, and he delighted in showing them off to his many friends and guests to his home.
In April 1891 the Sherrard home played host to former President Rutherford B. Hayes. Hayes traveled to Steubenville on his way to attend the G.A.R. State encampment.
Hayes writes, “I was met at the station in Steubenville by Mr. Robert Sherrard and taken to his hospitable and excellent home. The Sherrards at Steubenville made me at home in the most agreeable way three nights and days.”
Hayes had visited Steubenville previously while he was governor of Ohio, and his experience then was not a good one. He arrived by train from Columbus around 3:30 a.m. in May 1870 and had to wander the streets of Steubenville searching for the United States Hotel, which was located on Market Street.
Arriving at the hotel, Hayes could not awaken the staff for accommodations and ended up walking the streets of Steubenville again until daylight. Hayes eventually fell asleep in the ladies parlor of the hotel where a maid found him and finally gave him a small room. Hopefully, Hayes forgave the sleeping staff!
Sherrard also entertained his friend and future United States President William McKinley at his residence in Steubenville. And it was during a drive in an open carriage around Steubenville on Nov. 3, 1895, with Ohio Gov. McKinley, that Sherrard took ill.
He passed away at this residence on Nov. 8 at the age of 72. His life and death were chronicled in the newspaper with descriptions of the services at the First Presbyterian Church, many telegrams of condolence from famous people and descriptions of the many flowers.
Robert Sherrard was interred at the family mausoleum located in Union Cemetery of which he was during life, a trustee.
And if anyone is familiar with the cemetery, the Sherrard mausoleum is one of the grandest in the place. A fitting resting place for such a prominent member of our community.
The Sherrard home, once a palatial residence that hosted presidents and statesmen, is now barely a memory. It exists only in stories and history books of our illustrious past. And that’s the thrill of the hunt — you never know which empty parking lot holds a lot of history.
(Zuros is director of operations at Historic Fort Steuben and the Steubenville Visitors Center.)