History in the Hills: Reaching Stanton is a mission

As a public historian my goal in a nutshell is connecting the present with the past. And one of the first steps in making that connection is to find common ground between the ages. For me personally, there is something compelling about walking the same streets, visiting the same places and talking about the same things as those who went before us. In this way, the past does not seem so distant.

One figure who is difficult to connect with in local history is Steubenville native Edwin Stanton. He is one of those figures who looms larger than life. As President Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of war during the Civil War, his influence in national events is far reaching, to put it mildly. Many books and articles have been written about him, his influences and his accomplishments. And it was Stanton who famously uttered the words after President Lincoln’s assassination that “Now he belongs to the ages.”

Reconstructing the Steubenville that Stanton knew is a tall order. Aside from the streets remaining the same, almost everything Stanton knew in town is different. Considering Stanton was born in 1814 and spent the better half of his young adulthood in Steubenville before moving to Pittsburgh in 1847, a lot is different. If Stanton were to return today and walk the streets of his hometown, he would find the courthouse changed, the city building gone and his boyhood home and birthplace demolished. However, strolling up Market Street he would come face-to-face with a home he knew personally.

Today that building is located at 644 Market St., and is now the Urban Thrift and Opportunity Center, part of the Urban Mission and previously the City Rescue Mission. A lot has changed since Stanton last saw the building. Most notably the large front porch, the turret in the Queen Anne style, and additions to the back of the building would be new to him as they were added at some point after 1897.

Built circa 1827, the core of the building is one of the oldest structures known to exist in downtown Steubenville. It was built by Connecticut native Daniel Lewis Collier, who was born in 1796. He immigrated to Steubenville around 1816, supposedly floating on a raft down the Ohio River. His brother James followed soon after in 1820. Both Collier brothers became successful lawyers. James went on to run for Ohio governor for the Whig party but lost.

Daniel, although not as politically active as his brother, remained in Steubenville working at his successful law practice. The Stanton family was well acquainted with Collier. In 1827 when Stanton was just 13 years old, his father died, leaving his mother widowed with four children to raise. Daniel Collier became Stanton’s guardian and the executor of his father’s estate. Stanton relied on Collier for advice, and in all practical matters, considered Collier a father figure. Letters surviving after all these years between Stanton and Collier are formal but also familiar. In the book “Stanton,” written by Walter Stahr, it is recorded that it was young Edwin who asked Collier if it were possible to have a loan for him to attend Kenyon College in 1831.

His stay at Kenyon was short lived, for in August 1832 Stanton wrote Collier and asked if there was more money for him to continue his studies, to which Collier replied that he needed to work for funds instead of spending on education. According to Stahr, it took Collier some time to convince Stanton that returning to college and retaining debt was a bad idea. So Stanton worked for another Steubenville businessman, James Turnbull, in Columbus. Fast forward a few years after Stanton was admitted to the bar in Jefferson County in December of 1835, and it was Collier who allowed Stanton to argue some cases on his behalf. Stahr recounts in his book that a question was raised about Stanton’s qualifications to argue a case in court. Collier, addressing the room said, “Although Stanton was not quite 21 he was ‘as well qualified to practice law as Collier himself or any other attorney of this bar’… and Stanton pitched right in again without waiting for the judge to rule on the motion.”

After a successful career in Steubenville, Stanton moved on to bigger and brighter things, but he was still in touch with Collier for the rest of their lives. Both of them died within months of each other in 1869. Stanton was nominated by President Ulysses Grant and confirmed by the Senate to be a justice of the Supreme Court on Dec. 20, but he died four days later on Christmas Eve 1869. Collier remained in Steubenville until around 1857 when he moved to Philadelphia. It had to have been around that time that Collier sold his Market Street residence, where he had lived for more than 30 years and raised nine children, to Dr. Thomas Johnson.

Johnson came to Steubenville around 1840 and was prominent in the community. He and his family lived in the grand home during the Civil War and are its longest private residents. One of their children, Catherine, married Robert Sherrard in 1881, the subject of a previous History in the Hills article. Johnson died in 1879, and his wife remained in the home until her death in 1900.

It is after the Johnson family moved out that the history of the home becomes a bit murky. There were a few inhabitants of the place between 1900 and 1915. A family called Banfield lived there and advertised for a washwoman during their occupancy. Likely around 1909, Mr. and Mrs. E. T. Weir, founder of Weirton Steel and later National Steel, moved in. I would like to believe that early discussions and decisions about the future of the industrial Ohio Valley were made there. Sometime between 1910 and 1915 the W.H. Lowe family was in residence, and it was them who sold the place to the D. F. Coe Funeral Home in 1915. Ira McClave purchased the business in 1928, and it was renamed the McClave Funeral Home. They moved from the building in 1939. Sometime after this, the Cole Brothers Funeral Home took over the building and existed there for many years until it became the City Rescue Mission and finally part of Urban Mission.

Looking past the collectibles and merchandise in the store today, it is easy to imagine young Edwin Stanton meeting with Daniel Collier in the cavernous rooms discussing his bright future.

And we can connect with Stanton the youth, not the imposing man standing with Lincoln during the Civil War, and that makes all the difference.


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