By Will Schuck
“…It was not the ‘older’ section of town — no mansions, no great lawns– but the Anderson’s house on Seventh Street stood out from among its neighbors. It was slightly larger, and with its bay window on the second floor, it was a bit more elegant.” (Townsend, p. 62)
More than nine decades have passed since Sherwood Anderson moved his family to Elyria, Ohio, from Chicago. A few reminders of his time here, however, still exist.
On the sunny first morning of August, before the temperature reached its high for the day, I took a walk that I imagined Anderson may have taken on a similar morning before his famous breakdown.
Crickets, nuthatches, and mourning doves set the tone in the Elyria neighborhood where Anderson began his writing career. Sappy-smelling air from the street’s many maple trees surrounds the house at 229 Seventh Street. The 1,500 square foot colonial with its second-floor bay window and original slate roof (He knew a good roof when he saw one.), appears vacant, grass uncut, in the shadow of an unwieldy lilac and an enormous beech tree that stands directly opposite. A monarch butterfly visiting the eaves of what was once the porch flutters out to greet me and hides quickly among the lilac branches. The porch, by the way, has since been enclosed and made part of the living room. Other “improvements” have converted this handsome home, built in 1900, into a two-family rental property.
From the street, white mini-blinds conceal the home’s interior, though one unevenly drawn blind in a second-floor window reveals through original plate glass a dusty, sunlit emptiness viewable from the newer front sidewalk. The curtainless bay window upstairs bursts forth amidst newer cream-colored vinyl siding while retaining the leaded glass that Anderson and his wife, Cornelia, probably peered through to check the weather each day.
Ten-minutes’ time took me down many improved sidewalks and past some once great homes. In Anderson’s time this was an upper middle class neighborhood. Nearly all of the homes are of frame construction (not stone or brick as the wealthy would have chosen). Today, though a low level of urban renewal appears to be taking place, it’s obvious the percentage of owner-occupied properties is probably in the 60 percent range. The delicate detail of cornice brackets, leaded glass windows, and sandstone steps leading up to the front walks of many of the homes indicate that Seventh Street and the surrounding blocks were once home to others like Anderson; men such as William Eldred, manager of Crisp Paper Co., and Stanley Seward, a local reporter.
Heavily spalled, century-old sandstone sidewalk blocks in front of Seward’s former residence at 610 Middle Avenue, about half a block from Anderson’s address, are the only original-looking sidewalks on the entire block. They hold their own among indelicate zoning that has turned a heavily traveled street into a combined commercial-residential area that includes a pregnancy center, auto parts store, and a new-age shop; quite a different picture from what Anderson saw as he strolled late at night to relieve his stress or walked to the office. (Anderson Manufacturing Company was less than a mile away from Seventh Street; but the modern brick building that now stands on that land is occupied by a beautician and a tailor. One would never know Anderson’s factory once stood there.)
At the opposite end of “Anderson’s” block, sandstone gate posts at William Eldred’s former residence, 623 East Avenue, still stand though they bear no gate that assuredly swung on the hinges in Anderson’s day. Conversely, a dilapidated retaining wall at the corner of Seventh Street and Middle Avenue attempts to hold back roots of shrubs, trees, and other growth too young to have known Anderson. As well, three doors east of 229 Seventh Street, a miniature apartment complex stands. Obviously erected in recent decades, the dwellings probably replaced a home or two built in Anderson’s day.
The graded street and sidewalk that gently rolls toward East Avenue announces the proximity of the Black River and provides a small challenge to bicyclists and pedestrians. Anderson’s old home remains near the apex of that grade, perhaps symbolic of his rise toward literary acclaim as he began his writing career here. Nearly 100 years have influenced the character of Seventh Street and the surrounding neighborhood, but relics of his days in Elyria and the fruits of Anderson’s career live on. The house on Seventh Street is several blocks southeast of the Gray apartments where Anderson lived earlier. It is a three-story brick building at the corner of West and Second streets.
William J. Schuck is a writer living in Avon Lake, Ohio. His professional career includes work as a freelance writer/researcher, trade press editor, and corporate communications writer. He is a native of Loraine County, Ohio, of which Elyria is the county seat.