I thought I would continue my look into the stories behind some of the community’s historic houses by taking a look at another home located on Fair Avenue in New Philadelphia. This home’s current status belies its history and the significance to the community of its past owners.
Robert Harmount (1775-1842) and his wife, Elizabeth Simpson Harmount (1780-1870), were born in County Londonderry in what is today Northern Ireland. The young couple were married in 1805 and a year later made the passage to the United States, landing in Philadelphia in December 1806. The couple welcomed five children, two daughters and three sons, before they made the decision to relocate to Tuscarawas County in the 1830s. The family was residing in York Township, Tuscarawas County when the 1840 census occurred.
Robert Harmount died in 1842 and in 1844 the family property was sold as part of his estate. Elizabeth and her two youngest children, Simpson (1825-1891) and Lydia (1824-1907), moved to Dover, Ohio after Robert’s death. Shortly after he turned 21 years old Simpson began his rise to prominence by being appointed the toll collector for the Ohio Canal, a post he held for four years. He then served for five years, beginning in 1853, as the County Treasurer. Simpson married Isabella Noble (1833-1863) in 1858 and the couple had three daughters. Isabella died in 1863 shortly after giving birth to their last daughter. That daughter died less than a year later.
Simpson managed to avoid military service during the Civil War and continued to operate his various business enterprises throughout the war years. He had gone into the mercantile and milling business, first in Bolivar and then Dover. After the war he entered politics, first serving as Mayor of Dover and then as a State Senator from 1868 to 1870. While it is difficult to ascertain his legal education from existing records he was admitted to the bar in 1872, though there is no evidence he ever practiced law. He sold his interest in his flouring mill to the Hardesty Brothers of Dover in the early 1870s and purchased a 200 acre farm just east of Dover as well as Lots 313 and 314 in New Philadelphia*.
The two lots in New Philadelphia were located on the northwest corner of the intersection of then West Fair Street and North 6th Street (modern Fair Avenue NW and 3rd Street NW). An announcement in New Philadelphia newspaper in May 1876 stated that Harmount was going to “put up a new house this Summer [sic] on his lot on West Fair street.” Simpson Harmount presented the keynote address during New Philadelphia’s Centennial celebration in July 1876 and, that same month, the newspaper reported that he was “erecting a fine two-story residence…on Fair street.”
The house that Simpson Harmount constructed was built in the then popular Italianate style. Houses of this style are noted for their hipped roofs, projecting eaves, highly decorative moldings and trim, tall and narrow windows, and decorative porches. The house that Simpson Harmount constructed was of a type referred to as a “centered gable”, over 2000+ square feet, and it originally included a porch, or veranda, that spanned the entire façade of the house in addition to a second porch on the east side of the home. Ghost marks of the front porch and retained, simplified east porch are still visible today.
Shortly after the construction of the Fair Street house, Simpson Harmount remarried. His new wife, Julia Card (1844-1921), gave birth to three children including two more daughters. It is likely that during the years that Simpson Harmount owned the house on Fair Street he and his family divided their time between there and his Dover area farm. In 1882 the county determined to establish a Children’s Home in Dover and asked Simpson Harmount to serve as the institution’s Superintendent. Under his management, and with the assistance of his wife and daughters, the home became “a credit to the county” and the state of Ohio had “no better conducted charitable institution in its borders.”
The Honorable Simpson Harmount sold his fine Fair Street home in 1890 to well-known Cleveland, and later Dover, industrialist Silas Merchant for $7,000 (about $220,000 today). Little more than a year after selling the home Simpson Harmount went out on a chilly evening to try and locate a child who had run away from the children’s home. When he returned home he fell ill, went to bed, and never recovered. The newspaper devoted an entire column of the front page to his obituary and reported:
“He is the noblest work of God – ‘an honest man.’ He enjoyed a large acquaintance and was admired by all; despised by none. He leaves behind him a name more enduring than marble and noble deeds and traits of mind and heart that cannot be erased. His example is worthy of imitation; splendid to live by, and lovely to die by.”
In addition to a reputation “more enduring than marble”, Simpson Harmount also left the City of New Philadelphia a wonderful example of 19th century, Italianate architecture to appreciate. The next time you pass this house, give a thought to the Honorable Simpson Harmount.
*House numbers often change over time. The house that occupies Lots 313-314 today is often numbered as 309 West Fair Street during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Later in the 20th century it is numbered 307 Fair Avenue NW as well.
© Noel B. Poirier, 2022.