The man who built this home in New Philadelphia was the son of an immigrant and started out as a small town Tuscarawas County coal miner. Eventually he moved to New Philadelphia where he became a successful local businessman and built a home that stands today.
A note about addresses: House numbers and street names often change over time.
There is some confusion as to whether Joseph Wilkinson (1848-1893), upon his arrival in America from England in 1882 or 1883, was accompanied by his family or not. His family at the time of his immigration consisted of his wife Emily Simpson (1850-1942) and at least six children, perhaps a seventh. That seventh child, a son named Walter Wilkinson (1883-1966), gave his birthplace as England on the 1900 census, but later records his birthplace as Ohio. Regardless, the Wilkinson family settled in the community of Somerdale in Fairfield Township and worked in the local coal mines.
Joseph Wilkinson and his wife Emily managed to acquire valuable property in the growing coal town of Somerdale before Joseph died in May 1893, only 45 years old, from what was described in the death record as “heart trouble.” Walter went to live with his brother in Union Township after the death of their father and it was while living there that he was recorded in the 1900 census. Some of that valuable property was along the railway line and made its way into the hands of some of Joseph’s sons, including Walter.
Walter married fellow Somerdale resident Mabel Edwards (1880-1962) in 1905 and, a year later partnered with another local resident in a poultry farm. After the birth of their first child, the family moved to New Philadelphia and Walter and Mabel sold much of their Somerdale properties to Mabel’s father. It was also around this time that Walter became active in the International Bible Students Association. He often gave lectures on the Bible at local lodges and theaters throughout the region. Likely using money from the sale of their Somerdale holdings, Walter and Mable, in 1915, purchased vacant land on the Boulevard where they constructed a new home.
The Wilkinson’s home was constructed in the recently popular American Craftsman style, first appearing in the early 1900s and becoming increasingly common by 1915. Their home still shows many of the common features of the style, including a low-pitched front gable roof with a large dormer window, a full width front porch beneath an extension of main roof and supported by tapered square columns. Though the home’s exterior has been modified since, it is also possible that there once were exposed rafters or decorative eaves and may even have been sided with shingles at some earlier point in its history.
Walter Wilkinson continued to work as a coal miner and his occupation on city directories listed that. However, by the early 1920s Walter and his brother-in-law started a grocery business called Edwards & Wilkinson. They had two locations in downtown New Philadelphia, one on West High and one on East High. Walter also diversified his activities further when he purchased and operated a small coal mine by the time World War Two started. Meanwhile, the Wilkinson’s raised two sons in the house on, now what was called, Fourth Street NW.
The Wilkinsons, at the end of the 1940s, decided to leave Ohio and move to southern California. What precipitated this move is unclear, though it occurred shortly after Walter was reported to have had surgery. Perhaps health concerns motivated the move, but by 1950 Walter and Mabel were living the Los Angeles, California neighborhood of South Gate and Walter owned and managed a hotel. The couple resided in California until their deaths; Mabel in 1962 and Walter in 1966. The house on the “Boulevard” stands as the only monument to their lives.
© Noel B. Poirier, 2023.