by Evan Spring
This is the second in a series of four postcard exhibits from the WHS archives.
By the mid-19th century South Worthington was a distinct “mill hamlet,” with at least a dozen homes and various industries clustered around the local power supply: a rapid elevation drop in the Little River. The photographs of South Worthington below date largely from 1907 to 1913, a “golden age” of postcard writing and collecting triggered by advances in printing technology and distribution. In 1908 more than 677 million postcards were mailed in the United States.
The postcard below, facing west, shows the northern stretch of South Worthington along what is now Conwell Road. Of the three buildings on the right side of the photograph, the leftmost one is the birthplace of Worthington’s most famous son, Russell H. Conwell (1843–1925). The house obscured by trees in the lower-left corner, now 10 Conwell Road, probably also belonged to Conwell at this stage.
The next postcard shows the same buildings, only facing south, with Conwell’s birthplace to the right. Upon close inspection the steeple of the Methodist Episcopal Church can be seen in the distance. The postmark is 1909, and the sender notes, “Worthington is an ideal spot and I am having a fine time playing golf for the first time today.”
The photograph above was taken from this tower, whose function is a mystery. Was it just a viewing platform? A fire tower? Is that an empty flagpole projecting from the top, or a beacon or antenna for radio signals? Let us know your theory. The sign below the platform reads “EAGLE’S NEST.”
“Eagle’s Nest” also applied to the home where Conwell was born and raised, now 42 Conwell Road. Russell’s father Martin Conwell was a poor subsistence farmer who also peddled butter and eggs door to door. Martin was a devout Methodist and abolitionist, and the Eagle’s Nest was reportedly a stop in the Underground Railroad, visited by both John Brown and Frederick Douglass. Russell attended Wilbraham Academy and Yale, and went on to become a soldier, reporter, newspaper editor, world traveler, lawyer, minister, and philanthropist. But he was best known as an orator, and his “Acres of Diamonds” speech – delivered more than six thousand times over 54 years, with variations tailored for specific audiences – earned him over $5 million. As a minister he presided over the largest Protestant congregation in America: the Grace Baptist Church in his adopted city of Philadelphia, where he also founded the Samaritan Hospital and Temple University. In the first postcard below, probably from around 1910, Conwell appears to be standing next to a sundial.
The postcard above shows Conwell enjoying the wrap-around porch he added to his boyhood home, the Eagle’s Nest. Conwell wrote that the house was originally “almost a hovel in its construction…and the unfinished half-story under the roof was reached by a rude stairway of slabs from the sawmill.” The wrap-around porch is long gone, but the building survives and is now the home of Stonepool Pottery. In the next postcard, postmarked 1909, Conwell is seen posing with his second wife, Sarah. The second and third postcards show an outdoor lamp post.
The visitors assembled at the Eagle’s Nest in the next postcard are probably from Conwell’s Philadelphia congregation. Note also the decorative wooden “sunburst” on the roof.
In yet another portrait of the Eagle’s Nest, facing north, the house known as “the Cairn” is seen on the right.
The Cairn is featured in the next postcard, mailed in 1908.
The next card shows the Eagle’s Nest and the Cairn from Little Gallilee pond to the east. Today the slope is completely reforested.
Here are two more postcards of Little Gallilee and the boathouse, viewed from the dam.
South Worthington’s Methodist Episcopal Church, dedicated in 1848, still holds its “Conwell Memorial Service” each year, usually on the third Sunday of August. The second card, postmarked 1907, has the photograph and message space on the same side; in that year the U.S. Post Office authorized “divided back” postcards with the address and message on the same side.
The church looks much the same today (photograph by Kate Ewald):
The Episcopal parsonage, now 35 Ireland Street, was built by the pastor George Moody with financial support from the hamlet and dedicated in 1903. In 1905 Moody published a history of South Worthington known as the “Moody book.” (WHS has copies of the 1912 reprint for sale.) The home was designed in the “Folk National” style and contained one of Worthington’s first indoor bathrooms. After World War II the parsonage was sold to private owners.
In 1893 Russell Conwell bought the store and house across the road from the Methodist Episcopal church and raised it to the second-floor level, adding a school room and auditorium underneath. Thus began the Conwell Academy, a two-teacher school that emphasized (among other things) public speaking, the basis of Conwell’s fame and wealth. As of 1894 – the year Conwell also founded Temple University – Conwell Academy had 32 students, who came from as far as Huntington, Chester and Chesterfield (and had to provide their own desk and chair). The Academy closed in 1900, however, when the Town declined to provide financial support. Conwell’s granddaughter Jane Tuttle, an opera singer, later used the building to stage small operas and give singing lessons. Pictured in the recent postcard below, Conwell Academy is now the home of the Sevenars Music Festival, run by the Schrade family since 1968.
The next postcard shows the Higgins Mill, downstream from Ireland Street on the Little River. The Higgins Mill did custom sawing and provided logs for the Episcopal parsonage.
Just further downstream is Bradley falls, named for the last woodworking mill owner based there.
A handwritten note on the next postcard says “Mr. Bradley’s Express.” Was this Mr. Bradley connected to the South Worthington mill? The postcard further below has a note that reads, “The Bradleys of South Worthington take a ride.” The man with the bushy mustache in both photographs could be the same person. If you can fill in any details, please leave us a comment below.
The next postcard, copyrighted 1908 and mailed in 1910, shows the Witherell store on South Worthington Road, then the main route connecting the hamlet to Worthington Center. The sign projecting from the side of the store reads “New Eng. Tel[?] & Tel. Co. Public Telephone Station.”
Here is a close-up detail revealing the store’s various wares, which probably included postcards. One of the ladies might be Isabella (“Lizzie”) Witherell, the subject of an earlier Corners post by Sean Barry. Nothing remains at the building site.
Just north of Witherell’s store on South Worthington Road was a schoolhouse, built in 1856 and pictured in the following postcard. Nothing remains at the spot.
The “Tamarack” house pictured in the postcard below is on Thrasher Hill Rd., just up the hill from South Worthington.
The next postcard, mailed in 1947, shows the Hill-Top-Rest resort, now 1190 Huntington Road at the southernmost tip of Worthington. In 1945 Hill-Top Rest was bought by a Hungarian couple, John and Anna Sipos, who promoted it as a refuge for displaced persons following the horrors of World War II. Aside from croquet, badminton, and outdoor movies, their brochure promised “American Hungarian” fare, and Anna reportedly cooked a mean goulash. Below the postcard is a shot of the same building today (photograph by Kate Ewald).
Two forthcoming installments of this postcard exhibit series will feature Worthington Center and miscellaneous views of homes, sugar houses, waterfalls, scenic drives, stagecoaches, golfers, and gas pumps.
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR
Evan Spring, a jazz historian, freelance editor, and WHS board member, lives on West Street with his wife Zoë. He was an editor of the Annual Review of Jazz Studies and Journal of Jazz Studies, and holds an MA in Jazz History and Research from Rutgers. For 23 years he hosted a jazz radio program on WKCR-FM New York, interviewing over 200 musicians. His main research focus is the New York jazz scene of 1955 to 1964.