Tracing the History of Your Lakewood House

Do you have any architectural curiosities in your Lakewood house or apartment? Perhaps a closet with a window or a stairway too narrow for most adults? If so, it may be time to conduct a "house history." At a recent presentation at Lakewood Public Library, Mary Gagen of the Lakewood Historical Society provided a wealth of information on how to become a historical detective of your own home. She explained that the process usually begins with a thorough examination of the home's physical aspects, followed perhaps by contact with any previous owners or longtime neighbors. Next, it is wise to retrace the "genealogy" of the house. In essence, this consists of a full list of the home's previous owners, complete with the dates of property transfer.
There are four main sources of information to get your genealogy started. At the Lakewood Public Library, you can consult the Cleveland City Directories and Census records to learn the names of people who lived at your address. These books may also include some general social information about the owners. At the Building Department at Lakewood City Hall, you can ask to see the file on your home. It may contain all the permits filed on your home, as well as its blueprints, but this is not always the case. A more detailed collection of historical and social information on your home and its owners can be found at both the Cuyahoga County Administration Building at Lakeside and Ontario and the Cuyahoga County Archives Building at 2905 Franklin Boulevard in Cleveland. Gagen recommends calling ahead to see if you need an appointment. You will need your address and permanent parcel number. If you want to pinpoint your home's date of construction, these are good sources to consult.
Incidentally, in his recent book titled House: A Memoir, Michael Ruhlman details the fascinating journey of renovating a century-old home in Cleveland Heights. During the renovation, he also conducted a house history at the Cuyahoga County Archives Building and describes the process thoroughly. He explains that to him the house feels like "a palimpsest of other lives" (82), and after retracing its genealogy, he "felt grateful for the names of the people who'd trod the same stairways and floorboards that we did today" (218). He continues: "I now had the names of all the families who'd lived in this structure. The house seemed to demand that I know it. We were its legacy. . . . Our house was a still and contained center, and we were permanent extensions of those who had lived here" (220). You can learn more about Ruhlman and his memoir when he appears at the Lakewood Women's Pavilion on September 21 at 7:30 p.m., a program sponsored by the Lakewood Historical Society.
Mazie Adams, Executive Director of the Lakewood Historical Society, provided many additional sources of research for residents interested in home histories, including a reference library in the Oldest Stone House Museum available by appointment. In addition, for a small fee the Society can conduct some basic research on your house to get you started. For more details on a wide variety of research tools and step-by-step directions, contact the Lakewood Historical Society by phone at 216-221-7343 or by e-mail at lakewoodhistory@bge.net. If you're not yet ready to research your home but like old pictures of Lakewood properties, visit www.clevelandmemory.com/Lakewood to view a large group of images called "Yesterday's Lakewood." You just might see your home from a previous decade.
Both Gagen and Adams emphasized that conducting a house history can be rather time-consuming, depending on how detailed you would like it to be. On the other hand, they also agreed it can be an exciting journey into the mysteries of your home. Based on the large audience for the presentation, it seems many Lakewood residents are ready to play detective.
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Volume 1, Issue 4, Posted 06.11 AM / 09th August 2005.