For part three of this series, we’re off to find the missing link between Granville’s great entrepreneur and philanthropist Alfred Avery and celebrated architect Minard Lafever along with gifted builder Benjamin Morgan, builder of St Luke’s and Avery’s own house at 221 E. Broadway. How did these three men come to know each other? We know that Avery, Lafever, and Morgan were instrumental leaders in the building of St Luke’s and we know that Alfred Avery was a major player in the financing and building of the Ohio canal system. These two facts present a reasonable solution to the missing link in an important story for the history of Granville and the Avery family, so hang on for a ride through exciting conjecture!
On July 4th, 1825 construction began on the Ohio and Erie Canal. That day the Canal Board of Commissioners, settlers, mounted cavalry, a marching militia, and a large crowd gathered east of Newark to dedicate the first shovel of dirt. Among the many present were Governor Morrow of Ohio, Governor Clinton of New York State, and Canal Commissioner Alfred Kelley. Alfred Kelley was the celebrated first Mayor of Cleveland, a State Representative, and the genius behind Ohio’s canal system. He had been “pushing for canal bills through the state legislature, had personally surveyed land, signed contracts, and kept diligent records.” (http://touringohio.com/profiles/alfred-kelley.html). He was one of the most important figures in 19th century Ohio. Alfred Avery of Granville, also a canal financier, was almost certainly present that day having held a large sum of money in contracts to build the canal and would have wanted to see the beginning of his investment with all the fanfare and celebrated personalities present.
Not long after the canal was completed in 1833, Alfred Kelley began planning for his stately residence on East Broad Street in Columbus (just east of the current Franklin County Building by Frank Packard). He had recently relocated from Cleveland to serve the state legislature. His new home was to be built entirely of Berea sandstone in the Grecian Ionic style, one of the few entirely stone Grecian buildings west of the Appalachian range. It showcased three in-antis (recessed) two-story porches on the north, west, and east facades, and one pro-stylos (projected) two-story portico on the south side facing Broad Street. Each of these was accomplished with signature Illisus Temple Ionic columns, just like those on the Avery-Downer House except in stone.
All records indicate that Kelley was his own architect on the project. Grecian pattern books were readily available and Kelley did see much Grecian architecture on his travels. But the sophistication of this design is from the hand of a trained architect. For one, the square plan with in-antis porches was uncommon and only found at the time delineated by British architect James Gibbs in his 1728 “Book of Architecture” (plate 67). The unique plan is found in some country houses of England, France, and Palladio’s 16th century Italy, but it was not utilized in domestic architecture in the United States in the 18th or 19th centuries except in one 18th century house of Benjamin Latrobe. The point being that a 19th century layman—even with all the time and architectural interest at his disposal—would have relied on a classically trained architect to propose and develop such a unique plan. The classical details of the house, including the Ionic porches, happen to be signature elements of none other than St Luke’s architect Minard Lafever who had the sophistication to develop such a plan as well. At the time, he was in practice in New York, had just published his Grecian pattern book “The Modern Builder’s Guide”, and was all the rage. He had many resources (Ithiel Town’s immense architectural library was at his disposal in NYC) and would have been familiar with all the European precedents. Did Alfred Kelley meet with Lafever in New York and discuss plans for his new house? Abbot Lowell Cummings, who wrote a brief history of Alfred Kelley and the Kelley Mansion (The Alfred Kelley House of Columbus, Ohio, 1953), implies that both Nathan Kelly (Ohio Statehouse architect) and Minard Lafever did influence the design.
Kelley’s house was well-known in Columbus. It was just blocks from the Statehouse and was frequently the site of gatherings during campaigns, conventions, speeches, and rallies. Mr. and Mrs. Kelley hosted many guests, some of whom were linked to Mr. Kelley’s interests including the canal system.
So, here is the conjecture and we can just leave it at that. But it is very interesting. It is reasonable to assume that from 1830 Alfred Kelley and Alfred Avery met on more than one occasion to review the on-going operations and success of their mutual interests in the Ohio and Erie Canal system. Alfred Avery and Alfred Kelley shared another common interest in classical architecture and might have engaged in long discussions about architecture, architects, and craftsmen, looking through pattern books and contemporary Grecian designs. Kelley might have shown Avery the plans for his new Grecian home. The names of Minard Lafever and Benjamin Morgan might have been presented, for Alfred Avery was just starting his building campaign at St Luke’s and needed a good architect and builder. Benjamin Morgan was already working on the new Statehouse in 1835 (around the corner from Kelley’s house) when he accepted Alfred Avery’s invitation to build St Luke’s. The beauty of the new temple house of his acquaintance Alfred Kelley and the beauty of the new church of St. Luke’s most certainly influenced his decision to rely on Minard Lafever and Benjamin Morgan for the design of his own Ionic temple at 221 E. Broadway.
In the end, it is notable that both of these great houses project similar themes. The Alfred Kelley House sports a two-story Grecian Ionic temple portico in sandstone, the Alfred Avery House sports a portico almost identical to Kelley’s but in wood. The Alfred Kelley House incorporates a unique centralized floor plan found only in obscure precedent, the Alfred Avery House incorporates a unique temple arrangement with Doric, Ionic, Corinthian assembled like no other in the US. Both houses point to the sophistication and talent of Minard Lafever. Both houses celebrate the intellect and brilliance of two Ohioans who had the foresight to do great things for our state and leave us with the gift of beautiful architecture. Unfortunately, the Kelley House was demolished in 1961 and its stones are gathered on the grounds of Hale Farm and Village near Peninsula, Ohio. We are so grateful that the Avery-Downer House stands and continues to inspire the world with its beauty.