One House’s Story: Joseph J. Williams

The Williams House on Grant Street, Dennison, Ohio, 2012.

This week I decided to write about a house that no longer exists. While taking a Google StreetView “stroll” through Dennison, I came across this unique house on Grant Street and wanted to learn more about its history.


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

The extended Williams family immigrated from Wales to Ohio after 1854 and before 1863 with the arrival of the family of William C. Williams (1824-c. 1875) and his mother Ann (1795-bef. 1880). Like many immigrants from Wales, William was a coal miner and found work in the numerous coal mines dotting the Ohio countryside, eventually settling in Union Township of Tuscarawas County. The Williams family included his Welsh-born wife Ann Bold (1825-?), two teenage sons who had made the trip from Wales, and their youngest son Joseph J. Williams (1864-1918), born in Ohio.

William Williams died in the 1870s, though the exact date of his death has not been discerned, and his two eldest sons found work for with the railroad in Dennison, Ohio. The youngest son, Joseph, started working for the railroad shops as an apprentice once he was old enough to do so. When Joseph was 23 years old, in 1887, he met and married Lillian Rennecker (1865-1956) and the couple setup their household on North Sixth Street in Dennison. Joseph. by 1900, was working his way up the ladder within the railroad shops in Dennison, having been appointed the Night Roundhouse Foreman and as well as serving as a Locomotive Inspector for the Pennsylvania Railroad.

  • The location of the Williams House on the map of Dennison found in the 1875 Tuscarawas County Atlas. (Source: ancestry.com)
  • The Williams House depicted on the 1892 Sanborne Fire Insurance Map. (Source: loc.gov)
  • The Williams House depicted on the 1921 Sanborne Fire Insurance Map. (Source: loc.gov)

Joseph Williams was named the Assistant General Foreman of the Dennison Shops in the spring of 1903. The Williams family had grown and now included four children, two sons and two daughters. It was shortly after his promotion that his eye must have fallen on the house sitting on the northeast corner of North Sixth and Grant Streets in Dennison as a home suitable for his growing family and his new professional status. The home, built sometime before 1892, was of a unique architectural style and sat prominently on the corner of one of the towns busiest streets and the Williams family moved into the home in 1909.

The house was constructed in the centered-gable form of the Gothic Revival style of architecture commonly built between 1840 and 1880. This form of architecture often employed fanciful decorative elements cut with a scroll-saw, with the windows, doors, porches and eaves the most common locations for this decoration. Center-gable versions, like the Williams House, usually included a decorative arched window in the front gabled section. The Williams House, by 2012, had been stripped of its likely decorative features but there is a similar home in Hillsboro, Ohio that gives the impression of what the home might have looked like in its prime.

  • The Williams House on Grant Street in Dennison as it appeared in 2012. (Source: google.com)
  • Another view of the Williams House on Grant Street in Dennison as it appeared in 2012. (Source: google.com)
  • A similar gothic revival style home in Hillsboro, Ohio. Note the decorative details that may have also adorned the Williams House in Dennison. (Source: pinterest.com)

Joseph J. Williams, the son of a coal-mining immigrant from Wales, had worked his way up from apprentice to being the General Foreman of the Panhandle Shops in Dennison. This professional status translated into political status as well, as he served two terms on the Dennsion Village council as well as a delegate to the Republican State Convention for Dennsion. Joseph was able to provide a better education for his children than he himself had received. One of his sons passed the bar and practiced law in Cleveland, another served in the United States Marines during World War One and a daughter went to school to be a nurse and worked at a hospital in Pittsburgh.

The job of General Foreman, and as a locomotive inspector, often required that Joseph travel to other railroad facilities. While on one such trip to Lexington, Kentucky in April 1918, and with Lillian as his travel companion, Joseph suffered a fatal heart attack. Fittingly, his body was brought by rail from Lexington to Dennison, and then on to Newcomerstown for burial. Lillian continued to live in the house on Grant Street until her two other children left home. The house was then sold and Lillian went to live in her, now married, daughter’s home. The Williams House fell into disrepair over the years and was torn down around 2013.

  • Newspaper report of the funeral of Joseph J. Williams, 16 April 1918. (Source: newspaperarchive.com)
  • The Williams House lot as it appeared in 2020. (Source: auditor.co.tuscarawas.oh.us)

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© Noel B. Poirier, 2022.

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