One House’s Story: The Denison Family

The Denison House on Faire Avenue NW in New Philadelphia, Ohio, 2023. (Source:

Every house in a community, regardless of size or expense, can tell us a story about its past inhabitants and their lives. This modest brick home in New Philadelphia includes stories of a beloved community member and family tragedies.

Content warning: This post contains references to suicide. If you or someone you know has a mental illness, is struggling emotionally, or has concerns about their mental health, there are ways to get help. Click here for resources to find help for you, a friend, or a family member.

Note: House numbers and street names often change over time.

This branch of the Denison family arrived in Tuscarawas County, Ohio after Marylander Asahel Denison’s (1799-1872) purchase of 80 acres of land in southern Clay Township in 1835. The name Denison is spelled a number of ways over the history of the family, occasionally appearing as Dennison and Danison. The unique name Asahel is a biblical name associated with the family of King David. Asahel and his wife Elizabeth Middleton (1806-1887) relocated to Ohio with their two sons and a daughter was born after their arrival in Tuscarawas County.

The family later added another 80 acres of land to their original parcel and it was on this farm, less than a mile from Gilmore, that the Denison family lived and worked. The eldest of the family’s two sons was George Washington Denison (1827-1906), born when the family still lived in Maryland. George worked on his father’s farm in his youth and up until the time of his first marriage to a woman named Mary McFee (1831-?) in 1852. Whether Mary died or the couple separated is unclear but George marries another woman, Mary McCoy (1830-1909), in December 1857. George and Mary located to a nearby farm where they lived until after Asahel’s death in 1872.

  • Record of Asahel Denison's purchase of land in Tuscarawas County in 1835. (Source:
  • The location of the Denison land near Gilmore on the southern border of Clay Township, Tuscarawas County, 1875. (Source:
  • Record of George W. Denison's marriage to Mary McCoy, his second marriage, December 1857. (Source:

When Asahel died his will left the land to George and his brother James and, for a few years at least, they continued to work the family farm. Sometime before the 1880 census, the brothers sold the property and George moved to New Philadelphia and James to Uhrichsville. George was recorded in an 1878 county directory as living in New Philadelphia and working as a teamster, though his actual profession was that of a ragman. Ragmen were the 19th century equivalent of a junk dealer, travelling all around the county collecting discarded material and then reselling it.

When he moved to New Philadelphia, George purchased a lot near the west end of Fair Street and there he bought a modest brick home where he, Mary, their teenage son Robert (1861-1934), and George’s mother lived. It was a simple, story-and-a-half, gable front home in a very simplified Greek Revival style popular in the middle of the 19th century. Originally the home had a 28 by 34 foot footprint but later additions and outbuildings expanded the living space and in the early 1900s a front porch was added as well. The home would stay in the Denison family for almost 100 years.

  • The first part of Asahel Denison's 1872 will leaving his Tuscarawas property to his sons. (Source:
  • The Denison family recorded on the 1880 census. (Source:
  • The Denison house as it appeared on the 1901 Sanborne Fire Insurance Map for New Philadelphia. (Source:

At the end of the 1880s Robert moved to Stark County where he met and married Emily Crowl (1868-1896) in 1890. The couple had a daughter, Olive Zerita (1894-1962), but Emily died only two years later and Robert and Olive returned to live with his parents in New Philadelphia. George Denison was diagnosed with cancer in late 1904 and, eighteen months later, succumbed to the disease. Despite his modest occupation, his obituary was effusive in its praise of him. The paper shared the story of how, whenever his wagon approached, children would run out to him knowing that he had candy to give them. They wrote “Mr. Dennison [sic] had gained for himself a reputation for absolute honesty and fairness” and that his “rag wagon was one of great familiarity and one that will be greatly missed.” George’s wife Mary lived only three years longer than her husband, dying in 1909. Both are buried in Fair Street Cemetery in New Philadelphia.

After the death of his parents, Robert and Olive continued to live in the home on Fair Street. Robert worked as a miller in the Ridgeway Flour Mill in his youth and after his return to New Philadelphia following his wife’s death. After Olive married local butcher Lewis Miller (1888-1948) in 1911, the couple lived in Dover for a short time before moving into the Denison house on Fair Street with Robert before 1930. Robert had been injured at the mill on a handful of occasions and it had taken a toll on his ability to work. In late 1933 the mill forced Robert to retire and he became despondent from not being able to work. Early in the afternoon, on a crisp January Saturday, Robert stepped out into the backyard where he swallowed a bottle of carbolic acid in order to take his own life. He was dead within minutes.

  • Newspaper account of a birthday party for George Denison held at their home on Fair Street, March 1905. (Source:
  • Newspaper report on the death of George Denison, August 1906. (Source:
  • Newspaper headlines announcing Robert Denison's death from suicide, January 1934. (Source:

Following the death of her father, Olive, Lewis, and their four children continued to live in the Denison house on Fair Street. Lewis worked as a butcher, first in local stores and markets and then later for the H.G. Clark Provision Company located in Dennison. Olive took care of the household and the children attended school in New Philadelphia. Lewis’ health began to deteriorate as he approached the age of 60 and one morning after he dressed for work he made his way to the garage. Once there, he picked up his 16 gauge shotgun and took his own life, leaving Olive a widow and their children orphans.

Olive Denison Miller continued to live in the house on Fair Street, along with her daughter, and took in boarders as well. Olive died in the spring of 1962 after suffering a three-year struggle with a heart condition. After her death the home was sold and changed hands after remaining in the Denison family since the 1870s. Olive is buried in the Evergreen Burial Park with her husband.

  • The headline on the article about Lewis Miller's suicide, May 1948. (Source:
  • Olive Zerita Miller's obituary in the in Dover newspaper, April 1962. (Source:
  • The Denison / Miller House on Fair Avenue, New Philadelphia, Ohio, 2023. (Source:
  • The Denison / Miller House on Fair Avenue, New Philadelphia, Ohio, 2023. (Source:

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© Noel B. Poirier, 2023.

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