One day Granville resident, Jill DeSapri, looked out her window and a woman was standing in the yard taking a picture of Jill’s house, a 1796 New England house, the Manwaring House, she and her husband, Don, moved to Granville in pieces and rebuilt in 1996.
The woman, “caught in the act” so to speak, admitted her love for historic homes, really old ones, Jill said. That chance meeting was to blossom into a friendship that brought the two together around another old house, the Avery-Downer House, home to the Robbins Hunter Museum. This old house is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year.
Jean McDaniel was that photographer, and many will remember her as the volunteer director of the museum in the days when the home was being transformed into a house museum. At age 89, Jean passed away this spring and Jill remembers the hard work and fun times they had as part of a handful of dedicated volunteers who were determined to piece together the history and “write the story” of the Avery-Downer house as it took on a new life.
Jill spent 12 years working alongside Jean; Don sat on the Board for an equal amount of time. Both are antique dealers and, along with Jean, took a special interest in the furnishings and art in the house. “It was a hodge podge at first and we all decided to make it as organized as possible.”
“I liked Jean very much,” Jill said. “She was quiet in her work, loved the house and wanted to restore it the right way and was very intent in her goals.”
During those years she opened the house as a museum, but Jill admits the small cadre of volunteers couldn’t handle it all so visitor attendance was generally small. Jean’s husband, Robert, would be there every day to help out, she added.
Current Director Ann Lowder remembers Jean well and values the work she did. “I knew Jean for many years as we were both founding members of the Ohio Historical Decorative Arts Association. Jean was also a member of The Rushlight Society, an international group of collectors and students of early lighting. She brought that knowledge as well as connections to other people in that field to the museum. She carefully and responsibly restored the many magnificent pieces of lighting that Robbins Hunter had collected,” she said.
“Her professionalism continued even after retiring as she volunteered to continue entering accessioned items into our catalog base. She came in once a week and was always a calm and trusted source of information and direction for this new director,” Ann said.
Eventually Jean moved to Columbus where she later passed away at the Kobacker House after complications following surgery. Until her death, she remained active from a distance. “Even after moving to Columbus, she would respond to my telephoned questions with enthusiasm and expert advice. She was a remarkable person to fill the shoes of Director during the period of extensive research required to restore and return the Avery-Downer House to its Greek Revival grandeur, Ann added.
“I counted Jean as a good friend as well as a trusted source for discussing issues related to the museum, whether the topic was people or history or period restoration. She was a generous person, always willing to share her knowledge.”
To all who knew Jean, there was one thing they had in common. Jean wanted to restore the house the right way and to that end, she laid a clear path for those to follow in her footsteps.