The Old House
James R. Howe
February 20, 1998
Revised June 18, 2016
Based on personal interviews with Mrs. Dorothy Howe, Mr. Ron France, and Mr. Jerome France whose fond memories drew me to create this document.
The old house was originally owned by Emma Excell Lynn. It was located on the side of a hill on 21.82 acres of land which can be seen on the map (on the right of the page). Also the map clearly shows that the Mountain Line ran on the north side of the land.
The old house had four bedrooms upstairs with a full bath and an unfinished attic. Downstairs it had a living room with a bay window (see photo) and a stone fireplace, dining room, kitchen, bedroom, and two rooms in the back of the house. The dirt basement contained a large water tank, an electric water pump, and a furnace. In the back of the house was a huge cistern that would catch the rain water and direct it to the tank in the basement. The electric pump was used to pump water from the basement water tank to a holding tank located in the attic. Water was then supplied to the bathroom and the kitchen by using gravity. Electricity was supplied to the house, free of charge, by an electric power company in return for the right away over Emma’s land.
When the tank in the basement got full the water was diverted to the gold fish pond in front of the house. When the pond got full an electrical switch would be activated from inside the house that would cause an electric valve to open. This valve was mounted on a big culvert drain pipe in the pond and once opened would drain the excess water out and send it under the Mountain Line tracks into a ravine on the other side.
As seen in the photo the house had a large front porch that over looked the front gold fish pond and a small rear porch that entered into the kitchen. There also use to be an arched foot bridge that crossed over the pond. The person standing on the rear porch in the photo is Mr. Bob France at the age of thirteen. There was also another pond on the side of the house next to the foot path that led up to the house.
The bridge, the grounds and the ponds were maintained by Emma’s gardener who lived in a small house in back of the old house. There was no other access to the house other than a foot path coming down the hill. The address for the old house was known as “Stop # 2” of Mountain Line.
The Mountain Line was a streetcar trolley established in 1894 by the Akron-Cuyahoga Falls Rapid Transit Company. The line ran East on Furnace Street after leaving Main Street in Akron. It crossed the Little Cuyahoga River on a 325 foot bridge and then ran Northwest up the rather steep incline above North Street. It then crossed Dan Street and proceeded across Forest Hill. When it reached Bettes Corners it crossed a 350 foot trestle and then ran parallel to Home Avenue until it reached Prospect Street in Cuyahoga Falls.
It is not known what Emma did for a living although the printing presses would suggest that she published books. Emma had a reputation for being a healer and on one occasion, having just crossed the small arched bridge over the gold fish pond that sat in front of her house to Stop # 2, she greeted a neighbor who was waiting for the trolley with her young son. She was taking the boy to the doctor because he suffered an illness that made his head swell up. Emma pleaded with the boy’s mother to allow her to lay hands on the boys head and ask God to cure him. The mother consented and Emma laid her hands upon the boy’s head and prayed over him. It is said that before the mother and son reached the doctor the boy’s head had returned to normal and he was cured.
After Emma passed away the house fell into disrepair and came to be thought of as haunted. Since the house was vacant and secluded, and it being the time of the great depression, it came to be occupied by a couple of “Canned Heat Bums” known as Pete and Stella Malone. They were called Canned Heat bums because they would buy wood alcohol known as “Sterno” (used in lamps) and after filtering it through bread would drink it. Pete and Stella took up residence in the house and were living there in 1928 when they were spotted by Mr. William Poelking (Uncle Bill) as he was walking along the tracks going into town
Mr. Poelking lived with his sister Mrs. Margaret France and her husband Mr. Roland France (Grandma & Grandpa). The Frances had six children, little or no work, and needed a place to live. When Mr. Poelking spotted Pete and Stella on the front porch, he thought that they were the new owners of the house so he stopped to inquire if they would consider renting the upstairs to him and his sister’s family. Since the bums had already stripped the fixtures, the copper wire, and the furnace out of the house to have money to buy more Sterno, they led Mr. Poelking to believe that they were indeed the owners and agreed to rent the four rooms upstairs for 5 dollars a month. With this arrangement made, and because the France’s were desperate for a place to live, it took little convincing for them to move in. Mr. and Mrs. France and their six children, Dorothy, Ronnie, Eileen, Jerry, Al, and Bob, gathered up all of their possessions and using a wheel barrel and a baby buggy moved into the four upstairs rooms.
Now Pete and Stella continued their drinking but the wood alcohol in the Sterno not only got them drunk but also made them hallucinate. After a particularly wild spree Mrs. France, fearing for her children’s safety, and beginning to recognize that Pete and Stella were probably not the owners, went to a phone and called the cops. When the cops came, they removed Pete and Stella from the house but had a hard time doing it. The two were so drunk that when the cops would get one of them to the top of the hill they would sit him down and return for the other. By the time they got the next one ready the first one on top of the hill would fall over and roll back down the hill. Now the France children, who were watching from the upstairs bedroom window, could contain themselves no longer and laughed with glee as they watched the bums repeatedly roll back down the hill. The whole scene like a Keystone Cops movie.
After the cops finally got Pete and Stella out of the house the France’s decided to move into the entire house. They cleaned out the downstairs by hauling out the debris, some old books, and the two printing presses. One of the books, with a yellow cover, contained a Photograph of Emma Lynn and the old house showing the foot bridge over the gold fish pond. The France’s scrubbed all the floors and walls with lye water to disinfect them because when the bums got drunk they often went to the bathroom in the house. The roof, which leaked real badly, was repaired with rolled roofing material. They papered the walls using white and gold paper with a green stripe. Mr. France had acquired this paper earlier from a pharmacy.
The house had no electricity, no water, and except for the fireplace, no source of heat. The Frances used an old kerosene stove for both heating and cooking and kerosene lamps were used at night. Two neighbors, Mr. Harlon and Mr. Morris, whose houses were also on Emma’s land, had found a spring for fresh water. Mr. France helped them dig deep into the hillside to place a pipe that allowed even more fresh water to flow. The spring was located on the other side of the Mountain Line tracks, down a long hilly path, in the side of a hill below Lookout Street. For a bathroom Mr. France dug a pit and built an outhouse over it. The outhouse was located across the path that led up to Mr. Harlon’s house on top of the hill.
The small gardener’s house was occupied by the Charlie Brown family. When the Browns moved out a group of “moonshiners” moved in and were making their own liquor. Two of the group, one named Cornelius Shannon and the other named Clifford, broke away from the moonshiners and sought refuge at the Frances. Mrs. France allowed them to stay in the attic of the old house until they could make arrangements elsewhere.
The France children went to Forest Hill School and would often ride the Mountain Line trolley. They never had to pay! The driver had just two conditions for the free ride. The first was that they could never take a seat. The second was that when the driver stopped at his call in box they had to get off the trolley, open the call box, and push the buttons that the driver told them to push. When the other school children learned where the France children lived they would tease them for living in a haunted house.
At various times the Frances were visited by Margaret Frances brother Mr. Bernard J. Poelking (Uncle Bernie). Uncle Bernie spent most of his time in Cleveland, Ohio and had a taste for the bottle. When Uncle Bernie came to visit he was usually drunk and the fact that there was no road to the old house didn’t stop him from driving his old Hudson right up to the house and if he drove over a few small trees and bushes on the way he probably was unaware of it. Bernie was a very generous man and always brought treats for the kids. Often times he would give the kids money to go by ice cream. Whatever else he had he gave to his sister Margaret. He would usually stay until he and his sister would get into an argument and then he would leave.
During one winter Mrs. France gave shelter to all of her brothers and sisters consisting of her brothers Bill and Bernie Poelking and her sisters Dorothy and Edith Poelking. Edith had married Mr. Wilbur Kramer and they had a son named Jack who also lived in the old house along with the Frances six children.
Sometime between 1936 and 1937 the Mountain Line was shut down and the tracks dismantled. At the point heading East from Dan Street the tracks were torn up and a street was paved in and called Blinn street. From that same point heading West the tracks were tore up and the bed left with all the ruts. These ruts were filled in gradually by Mr. France with ashes that he collected from his ash route using his 1925 Model-T truck. After building a roadbed out of ashes Mr. France, using a pick, shovel, and a wheel barrel widened the footpath that led around the ravine (that used to be the goldfish pond) and created a driveway that went right up to the old house. This “roadbed of ashes” (now a drive way at 728 Dan Street) gave access to the old house by car. The address was no longer “Stop #2” of the Mountain Line but rather 728 Dan Street “In The Rear.”
The Frances had no idea who the owners of the property were but they reasoned that they could live there until the owners showed up at which time they would begin paying them the rent money. They lived in the old house from 1928 to July, 1943 (15 years) and never paid any rent. The owners, whoever they were, never came around. During their stay Mrs. France gave birth to a daughter and named her Kathleen. Of all the France children Kathleen was the only France child actually born in the old house. Also during this time Dorothy France, who had married Mr. Charles O. Howe, was about to give birth to their third child. She was having a very difficult time with the pregnancy and the doctor ordered her to bed for rest. She went to the old house so that her mother, Mrs. France, could care for her. The rest of the family stayed at the tin house that Mr. and Mrs. Howe had rented. Mr. Howe had gotten a job working nights so it was up to Mr. Jerome France who was living with his sister Dorothy, to care for their two sons, David and Harry. Mrs. Howe stayed with her mother at the old house until she gave birth on December 19, 1940 to another son and named him James. Of all the Howe children James was the only Howe child who was actually born in the old house. A few years later, when the older France boys had gone off to war, Mr. and Mrs. Howe, and their three children, moved into the upstairs rooms while Mr. and Mrs. France lived downstairs. Mrs. Howe went to the hospital in August of 1943 and gave birth to her fourth son named Ralph.
During the time that the France and Howe families lived together a band of Gypsies arrived and pitched their tents at the end of the driveway. They didn’t stay but a few days and then they moved on.
When the Frances moved out of the old house they left it to Mr. and Mrs. Howe. Mr. Howe went to the Summit County courthouse determined to discover who the rightful owners of the old house were. The courthouse informed him that Emma Lynn had willed the house and the land to Mount Union College. The map clearly shows that the college was indeed the next owner of the land after Emma. Mr. Howe sent a letter to the college informing them of the situation and his willingness to pay rent. There was never any response from the college. The Howe family, and Mrs. Howe’s brother Jerry France, lived in the old house only a short while when, in November of 1944, tragedy struck and the old house caught fire.
Mr. Howe was attempting to start a fire in the kitchen stove but could not pull a draft. When Jerry came into the kitchen to find out what was wrong Mr. Howe exclaimed “You know if I didn’t know better I would swear this old house was on fire.” Mrs. Howe woke up the children and taking her youngest son, Ralph, in her one arm and clutching James hand with the other, hurried her other two sons, David and Harry, out of the house and up the path. It was a cold drizzling night as the family made their way up the path in their pajamas and bare feet. When they reached Mr. and Mrs. Harlon house, at the top of the hill, Mrs. Howe banged on the door and hollered for help. Mrs. Harlon let us in and warmed us up while Mr. Harlon ran down to the burning house to help.
Meanwhile Jerry had opened the door to his bedroom and seen an eerie swirling mass of blue and orange flames. He has often said if it wasn’t for the house being on fire the flames would have been serene and beautiful. In desperation Jerry ran outside looking for water. He spotted the old galvanized wash tub that was full of rain water. He heaved it up and went running back into the burning house. As he charged up the stairs Mr. Howe stopped him and told him that he wasn’t going to do any good with the water and to help him save whatever furniture they could by throwing it off the front porch and down into the old dried up goldfish pond.
As the two set about their task they were soon joined by their neighbor Mr. Harlon who had come from his house at the top of the hill to lend whatever assistance he could. From the Harlon’s window the Howe children stood and silently watched the old house burn to the ground. The family had escaped with their lives but lost everything else.
After the old house burned down the ravines and gullies were used as a landfill dump and eventually filled up and got covered over. The property of Emma Excell Lynn changed hands many times over the years, as shown on the map, and finally came to be owned by the Evangel Temple.
Today, 1998, the Akron Expressway (known as route 8) runs directly over where the old house sat. You can still find Blinn Street and 728 Dan Street and from what Mr. Jerry France tells me the old spring was still flowing when he recently
visited the site.