Nicholson House Designated Local Historic Property

It was there before the street that bears its name.

That’s the Nicholson House, which in December was designated a Local Historic Property by the Lakewood Planning Commission. Built by pioneer Lakewood Settler James Nicholson c. 1835-1839, the frame colonial residence shares honors with the Honam (“Oldest Stone”) House as Lakewood’s two oldest extant structures.

Located at 13335 Detroit Avenue, the Nicholson House is a center-hall colonial build in the characteristic Western Reserve style epitomized by architect Jonathan Goldsmith. Living and dining rooms opened off either side of the central entrance hall, with a stairway leading to a second–floor bedroom and weacing room. Rooms were added to the rear of the house by the family, which maintained occupancy into the 1940s.

Like most of the original settlers of Ohio’s Western Reserve, James Nicholson emigrated from New England. Born in Massachusetts in 1782, he moved with his family to Connecticut, from where he left at the age of twenty for Trumbull County in the Western Reserve. There he wooed and married another newcomer from the Nutmeg State, Betsey Bartolomew.

Nicholson still wasn’t ready to set down roots, as in 1818 he purchased 142 acres of land to the west in Township 7, Range 14 of Cuyahoga County. He, Betsey, and their growing family were settled there within a year or so in a log cabin Nicholson raised on the north side of the Detroit Road. They were the first permanent settlers on that section of the thoroughfare.

As if to verify his permanency, James Nicholson became one of the leading residents of the neighboring environs. He attended the meeting in 1819 that adopted the name of Rockport for their township. In years following he would establish Rockport’s first school and its earliest church.

Soon Nicholson moved from his original cabin to the other side of Detroit Road. There he built a frame home which he occupied for ten years before abandoning it for the present house that still bears his name.

Begun probably in 1835, the frame colonial was built of timber cut and dried on the grounds. Windows and doors were fashioned by hand and arranged symmetrically across the front of the house. The front doorway, flanked by twin columns and sheltered by a sloping portico, has been the home’s most distinctive feature from the time of its completion around 1839.

Born in 1835, James and Betsey’s youngest child, Ezra Nicholson, likely traced his earliest memories to his parents’ new home. Eventually he would inherit both the house and its surrounding farm, which James had enlarged into a long, nearly mile-wide swath of land stretching from Madison Avenue north to Lake Erie.

It was Ezra who would develop much of the Nicholson holdings into residential property in the 1890s. Nicholson Avenue was cut through to the north, giving the family homestead a sweeping vista to the lake. Three other streets were named for Ezra’s children: Grace, Clarence, and Lewis. His mother Betsey’s birthplace in Connecticut was memorialized as Waterbury Avenue.

The younger Nicholson also emulated his father’s involvement in civic affairs. Just as James had helped name the township of Rockport, Ezra Nicholson served on a two-man committee that recommended the name Lakewood when the eastern section of the township incorporated as a separate entity in 1889. He served two terms as Lakewood’s first clerk and treasurer.

Following Ezra’s death in 1915, two more generations of Nicholsons continued to occupy the white landmark at the head of Nicholson Avenue. During the Depression the house was chosen for inclusion in the Historic American Buildings Survey of the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration (WPA). In 1979 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Since 1985 it has been owned by the City of Lakewood and maintained by the Lakewood Historical Society as a rental facility for special events.

Its recent designation as a Local Historic Property protects the Nicholson House from any inappropriate exterior alterations. Two privately-owned residences, the Weber home on Homewood Drive and the Mackey home on Lake Avenue, were also added to the list recently. Property owners interested in being included may apply for designation through the Lakewood Heritage Advisory Board.

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Volume 12, Issue 5, Posted 11:28 AM, 03.01.2016