Historical records are great for telling us the who’s and when’s of a person’s life but, unfortunately, they often lack the why’s. This house’s story is about the successful family that built an impressive home on a prominent New Philadelphia street but chose to not live there after it was built.
A note about addresses: House numbers and street names often change over time.
The Gilgen family arrived in America aboard the ship Belmont in the late summer of 1850. The family consisted of Christian Gilgen (1805-1877), a carpenter by trade, his wife Madeline (1799-1852) and their five children aged 10 to 24. Shortly after the family arrived and established themselves in York Township, Tuscarawas County in 1852, Madeline Gilgen passed away. Their eldest son, Frederick Gilgen (1828-1910), married Elizabeth Snyder (1827-1910) almost immediately upon the family’s arrival in the county. Frederick and Elizabeth acquired their own property in Goshen Township, where they started their own large family.
Elizabeth gave birth to at least twelve children between 1852 and 1871, seven daughters and five sons in all, on their Goshen Township farm. All of the Gilgen children worked various tasks on the farm during their childhoods and teen years, before they set off to establish their own families as adults. One of the Gilgen’s sons, Andrew Gilgen (1861-1919), chose to pursue business ventures other than farming and put off marrying until he was in his early thirties. It wasn’t until 1893 that he married Catherine Winkler Torgler (1861-1906) shortly after her divorce from blacksmith John Torgler (1857-1911). Catherine had been married to John Torgler for over thirteen years but the couple never managed to have any children during that time period.
Andrew Gilgun, by the time of their marriage in 1893, had already had some success in acquiring businesses in the busy city of New Philadelphia. He purchased a bakery in the 1890s and, after selling that to another man, he purchased a saloon in Malvern, Carroll County, and he and Catherine relocated there for a short while. Life in Carroll County must not have suited them though because they returned to New Philadelphia sometime in the fall of 1900. Andrew had purchased a new business, a butcher shop, as well as operating a saloon adjacent to the courthouse.
Whether the Gilgens attempted to have children between their marriage and the building of their house is unclear, but by the time that Andrew decided to build a fine, new home on West High Street the couple were still childless. The Gilgens acquired Lot #134 on the south side of West High Street between what was then 6th and 7th Streets in late 1901. After demolishing a home that already sat on the lot, Andrew began construction of a two-story, elegant brick home in the Colonial Revival style very popular in the early 20th century. The house boasted a grand entrance, full width front porch, stone sills and headers for the windows, almost 5000 square feet and beautifully crafted woodwork throughout, much of which survives.
The Gilgens finished the home sometime in 1902 and, briefly, lived in the home until the spring of 1903 when the newspaper reported that they had sold the home to John A. Gross (1871-1953). The newspaper reported that the Gilgen’s sold the home because it was “larger than they need for a family of two.” Did the large home remind them too much of their inability to have children? Was Catherine incapable of having children, hence her first divorce, and did Andrew decide to sell the home to alleviate her of the constant reminder? There is no way to know, but it is amazing that they would incur the expense of such a home only to sell it immediately after completing it.
After selling the home, Andrew and Catherine moved into a smaller home on the 300 block of North 7th Street, now 4th Street. Three years later, in the spring of 1906, Andrew came home from work and a stop at the barber shop and found Catherine dead in her bed. Following Catherine’s death Andrew sold all of his interests in his local businesses and left New Philadelphia for good. Over the next thirteen years Andrew travelled as far away as Spokane, Washington and by the time he died in early 1919, was living in Abilene, Texas. Andrew and Catherine Gilgen built a fine home in which to raise the family they never had, only to live in it for less than a year (if that). They are both buried in East Avenue Cemetery in New Philadelphia.
© Noel B. Poirier, 2022.