Overlooking the Ohio & Erie Canal in Valley View, Ohio stands a two-story Federal-style building that holds within its handmade bricks and hand-hewn beams stories of the valley’s early white settlers. Cuyahoga Valley National Park preserves this historic structure.
The American dream of new land has led generation after generation to the ever expanding frontier. The Cuyahoga Valley was that frontier in the early 1800s. The story of the Frazee House tells of one family’s success at wilderness’ edge. Steven and Mehitable Frazee took the challenge of frontier life when they purchased 190 acres of Cuyahoga Valley farmland in 1816. They left property in Poland, Ohio that had tripled in value over a 12-year period and risked traveling with four young children. In the early years, they provided almost everything for themselves, cleared dense forests for farmland, and lived austerely in a log cabin. Hard work paid off. Artifacts found by archeologists around their later brick house, including nice tableware, reflect the economic prosperity that they eventually achieved.
What does your dream house look like? If you lived here in the 1820s, it might have been similar to the Frazee House, a two-story brick structure with a large kitchen and spacious rooms for a growing family. The Frazee House was one of the first brick structures in the valley. This style of architecture was dominant in the eastern United States from 1780 - 1820 and in Ohio from 1790 - 1840. Federal-style buildings were generally square or rectangular, brick or frame, two or three-stories high, and topped with a gabled roof. They exhibit repeated patterns and delicate lines, creating a sense of balance. This can be seen in the arrangement of windows, floors, fireplaces, and built-in cabinets.
This Is Different
The traditional building materials and professional architects found in New Hampshire were scarce in the Hampshire childhood Valley. The result was a vernacular structure, one made using local building materials and builders not schooled in formal architectural traditions. These traits can be seen in the lack of highly decorative elements and the use of bricks crafted from the clay of their own backyard, rather than an eastern factory. During construction the house began to settle. The Frazees adapted by cutting windows and door frames to fit the structure. The result was a home with unique angles that can still be seen today.
The Ohio & Erie Canal
How could the Frazees afford such an impressive home? Stephen Frazee sued the State of Ohio when the Ohio & Erie Canal cut his property in two. His settlement from the suit, $130, may have been used to pay for the construction of his brick house. The canal benefited the valley’s residents in other ways. This continuous 308-mile waterway provided a link between the Atlantic seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico, opening the local markets to the nation and the world. Canal boats would carry goods in from the East Coast and provide farmers, like Frazee, a market for their crops. The Frazees built their new house during the canal’s construction. Did they already have extra canal-related income or just high hopes?
Leaving A Legacy
Seven Frazee children were raised in this home, which was considered quite a large house in the 1800s. An eighth died in childhood. The family sold the property to John and Elizabeth Frazee for $3,500 in 1861. The Valley View Historical Society worked to save the building until it was incorporated into the boundaries of the newly formed Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This structure is now on the National Register of Historic Places, thus preserving it for this and future generations.