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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

john riley robinson

First Installment of a series about the man who built Oak Hill Cottage

John Riley Robinson’s name shows up most prominently in Mansfield’s history as the superintendent of the first railroad into the city. The Sandusky City and Mansfield Railway laid track into Mansfield in the spring of 1846, greatly improving transportation to and from the port city of Sandusky, the principal transshipment center for Mansfield.

Robinson was more than just an employee of the railroad, he was one of the principal investors. The source of his wealth isn’t clear, but he had been in Richland County a number of years. The name Danford N. Barney of New York shows up alongside Robinson’s as a principle investor in the SC&MRR. If that indicates an early association with Barney, the future chairman of the board of Wells Fargo, his wealth may have been tied to higher financial circles far from Mansfield. By the mid-1850s Robinson was associated with Wells Fargo, and he knew the Barneys at least by 1860 if not much earlier.

Robinson married Jane Wilkinson at her parents’ farm at Lexington, Ohio in 1836. In the 1840 census the family lived in Mansfield and had two sons. The 1850 tax map shows Robinson owning lot 91 which is on W. Third Street and part of the library property today.

Census data from 1850 showed Robinson’s estate valued at $25,000. Oak Hill Cottage, which he had built in 1847, was valued at $3200 on the 1850 tax records.

The balance of Robinson’s Mansfield property included the “Robinson & Riley” flour mill that formed part of the railroad terminus complex along Walnut Street. According to Graham’s 1880 Richland County History, the flour mill was built some time after 1820 by Henry Lehman, was the first grist mill in the city, and was water powered. Robinson purchased the property and improved it, according to Graham, and for many years “did the custom work for Mansfield and vicinity. “

The mill pond, fed by Touby’s Run, stretched along near what is now Sixth Street, from about Bowman Street to one block west of Mulberry where a sawmill was located. The mill race exiting the pond then turned northeast about three blocks to Robinson’s mill, then due east to the Rocky Fork where Orange Street crosses.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

gothic revival chair

Though Oak Hill Cottage is a Gothic Revival masterpiece of a house, its furniture is mid-Victorian. The original owner, John R. Robinson, sold his furniture for $445 in 1861 and left Oak Hill, according to his journal that begins his Mexican silver mining venture. The Gothic style was on its way out of fashion in the 1860s when Dr. Jones bought the house in 1864 and began to fill it with the latest furniture from New York shops. That fact fairly precludes there being any Gothic Revival furniture in the Jones family collection that furnishes the house today.
But just a couple of weeks ago I was stunned to notice a chair in the library that had to have come from the earlier period. I had never noticed it before, but assumed it was just part of getting to know the house better on my periodic rounds. When I was drafted to fill in with the tour this Sunday, I made mention of the chair to each group, pointing out that it must have come out of the attic from the Robinson era, because it was the only piece of furniture in the house today appropriate to the Gothic Revival architecture.
After the tours I mentioned it to Guild member Marge Graham, and she surprised me by saying the chair had been donated to Oak Hill from the descendants of John R. Robinson out of his estate in Maryland. Not realizing its significance the chair had been stored in the maid's quarters until Marge, who likes it, had set it out while decorating the library for Christmas. I promised Marge I would write the chair into the tour guide script so it has to remain on display from now on.
Its likely that either the chair was original to Oak Hill and kept by Robinson, or that it came from his later home at the Batopolis silver mine in Mexico. Either way, it fits the most comfortably into Oak Hill's architecture of any of the pieces in the house.