One House’s Story: Captain Oliver C. Powleson

The Powleson House, New Philadelphia, June 2022.

I frequently pass this well-maintained home on my walks around New Philadelphia and wondered about its history. I had no idea that it had been the home of one of New Philadelphia’s heroes of the American Civil War and a later Mayor of the City of New Philadelphia.


A note about addresses: House numbers and street names often change over time.

The Powleson family arrived in Ohio with the migration of Richard Powleson (1801-1893) to Ohio from New Jersey in 1829. Richard had studied to be a doctor in Wheeling, Virginia (West Virginia) and moved from there to Bridgeport in Jefferson County, Ohio. Just a few years after establishing himself as a physician in Jefferson County, Richard married Elizabeth Church (1807-1844) in the summer of 1832. Shortly after their wedding the couple relocated to the city of New Philadelphia and started their family.

Richard and Elizabeth welcomed seven children to their family, though not all lived beyond infancy, with the youngest surviving child being a son named Oliver Clark Powleson (1843-1923). Elizabeth Powleson died a little over a year after the birth of Oliver, though whether her death was related to a difficult child birth is unknown. Oliver spent his youth in his father’s home and pursuing an education suitable to the son of one of the town’s doctors. Richard Powleson was an active Republican and was appointed by President Abraham Lincoln to serve as the New Philadelphia Postmaster.

Shortly after the American Civil War began in April 1861, Oliver enlisted in the 16th Ohio Infantry and sent to defend the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad near Grafton, Virginia (West Virginia) with outdated flint-lock muskets. After his term with the 16th expired, and despite having suffered from typhoid, Oliver reenlisted. Oliver reentered service in December 1861, this time in Company B, 80th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He was quickly promoted to Sergeant and then, about a month later and after the death of an officer, was promoted to 1st Lieutenant. The 80th Ohio served in the western theater of the war, seeing service in the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and along the Mississippi River itself.

  • Oliver C. Powleson when he was a 1st Lieutenant in the 80th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment, 1862-1863. (Source: findagrave.com)
  • Rendition of the Second Battle of Corinth, Mississippi, second day (October 4, 1862), during the American Civil War. Hand-colored lithograph by Currier and Ives, 1862. Minor cropping and color correction by Hal Jespersen. (Source: loc.gov)

Following the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862, to which the 80th arrived too late to see action, the regiment was marched into Mississippi and took part in the Siege of Corinth through the month of May 1862. The regiment was often on the move in the summer of 1862 and by early October was once again in front of Corinth, Mississippi. During the subsequent battle Lieutenant Powleson was seriously wounded. While leading his Company, a Confederate musket ball passed completely through Oliver’s left side leaving him wounded on the battlefield. After a convalescence at army hospitals and at home in New Philadelphia, Oliver returned to the Army and was eventually promoted to Captain in 1864. His new rank brought with it a position on the staff of General John A. Logan, the Union Army of Tennessee’s commander. Captain Powleson remained in this post until discharged in August 1865.

Oliver C. Powleson returned to Ohio after the war and settled in Newcomerstown where he found work as clerk with a local successful merchant. While there he met, and married in June 1870, Rebecca Mulvane (1849-1884). After his marriage Oliver went into business with another local mercantile family and together they opened the Dent & Powleson Hardware Store depicted in the 1875 Atlas of Tuscarawas County. Meanwhile, Oliver and Rebecca started their family with the birth of five children by 1880. Their family ultimately included six children, though only four children survived to adulthood. Tragically, Rebecca died in 1884 leaving Oliver to raise the children on his own.

  • The hardware store operated by Oliver C. Powleson and his partner in Newcomerstown, Ohio, 1875. (Source: familysearch.org)
  • Marriage record of Oliver C. Powleson and Rebecca Mulgrave, recorded on 1 June 1870. (Source: familysearch.org)

Oliver continued to reside in Newcomerstown after the death of his wife, improving his business and dutifully serving as an officer in the local National Guard regiment. After the war he was almost always referred to as “Captain Powleson” in keeping his now real, and honorific, rank. During the early 1890s, Captain Powleson began working in the insurance and real estate businesses and, at the same time, decided to move back to his native New Philadelphia. It was likely around 1893 that he acquired the property just north of the Central School in what was known as “Taylor’s Addition” Lot #4.

Whether the house on that lot was already built, or Captain Powleson built it, is difficult to ascertain from the readily available sources. Regardless, the house is another example, though a unique one, of the popular Italianate architectural style. Tall narrow windows surrounded with decorative details, deep soffits that may have once had decorative corbels, decorative porches, and the projecting bay window were all common traits of the style. The house also has a unique cross-gabled design that seems to somewhat mimic the center-gable form found commonly on Italianate homes. His adult children were out of the home, or living with relatives in Kansas by this time so it was certainly a large home for a man who, by 1900, was essentially living alone.

  • The Powleson House, New Philadelphia, June 2022.
  • The Powleson House, New Philadelphia, June 2022.
  • The Powleson House depicted on the 1910 Sanborne Fire Insurance Map. (Source: loc.gov)
  • Newspaper headline announcing the election of Captain Oliver C. Powleson as Mayor of New Philadelphia, 9 November 1911. (Source: newspaperarchive.com)

Captain Powleson was active in local Republican politics, the Grand Army of the Republic, the Masons, and continued to serve as a Captain in the Ohio National Guard. Perhaps tired of living in his large house alone, Captain Powleson married Ina C. Neely Matthews (1855-1927) in the fall of 1900. The house, by 1910, now included Captain Powleson, Ina and Ina’s adult daughter from her previous marriage. Captain Powleson’s status as a prominent New Philadelphian was secured when, in 1911, he was presented as the Republican nominee for election as Mayor of the City of Philadelphia. Even the local Democratically leaning newspaper ran an article touting the service, patriotism and endorsement for his candidacy. When the votes were finally cast in November 1911, 68 year-old Captain Powleson was the new Mayor of New Philadelphia.

Captain Powleson served as Mayor for 1912 and 1913, and returned to private life after his term expired. He continued to carry on his insurance business for a few more years, before retiring completely in 1919. Around that same time, he sold the house he had lived in since the 1890s and purchased another, newer, home recently constructed next door. When Captain Oliver C. Powleson died in March 1923, eighty-years to the day of his birth, it made the front page of the local paper. His life was lauded and his death lamented, and the house he called home still stands today.

  • Newspaper report of the death of Captain Oliver C. Powleson, 23 March 1923. (Source: newspaperarchive.com)
  • Captain Oliver C. Powleson's marker in the mausoleum at East Avenue Cemetery, New Philadelphia. (Source: findagrave.com)
  • The Powleson House, New Philadelphia, June 2022.

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© Noel B. Poirier, 2022.

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