“Craze” Brings National Roque Tourney to Westerville in 1934. The stunning history of 32 West Home Street. UPDATED
PLEASE NOTE: The blog contains quite a few pictures so give it several minutes to download. They download haphazardly.
BLOG UPDATE!!! After this blog was published, a friend lent me a local history book of which I’d never heard: Westerville In The American Tradition. It was written in 1940 by the Works Progress Administration. Page 87 jumped out: “In 1911, the National Staple Post Company was organized to make concrete posts.” I immediately thought to myself…I need to go ask the Westerville History Museum if there is a file folder on this company. There was, and the pictures interspersed throughout are the result!! All are marked NEW DISCOVERY. The narrative immediately following this paragraph is the original blog narrative and remains the same. So if you’ve visited this blog before, you might want to skip reading it and head to the pictures that follow.
This effort didn’t begin with the intent of becoming a blog. The intent was to discover if 32 West Home Street in Westerville was designed by the prominent Columbus architectural firm of Yost & Packard.It was built in 1898 for Russell and Nellie Bennett. The Bennetts moved to Westerville in 1892 from Delaware County. Russell had taught school in Croton and then in Sunbury where he became superintendent.
I’ve been researching the designs of Joseph Warren Yost and Frank Lucius Packard for several years and have been publishing the results as blogs. Their Westerville portfolio is impressive, but only one house is among those designs. I think there are more houses to discover. I chose the Bennett house to investigate since it’s just down the street from that one house: 98 West Home Street. Designed for Otterbein University Professor William Johnston Zuck, it was built in 1897. When Otterbein constructed its Campus Center in 1964, the Zuck house was razed for parking. It’s unique history is the subject of a blog as well and is linked below…3rd link).
Discovering the architect of an old house is often a matter of luck. Old cornerstones of public buildings, churches, schools, etc. sometimes show the name of the builder; they seldom show the name of the architect. Houses are just as frustrating. When no documentation exists, the genealogy of an owner may lead to a descendent with construction knowledge. Fortunately the archives at the Westerville History Museum have Russell and Nellie Bennett family history including Russell’s obituary. One surprising sentence in that obituary changed the architect search to much more:“Mr. Bennett lived in Westerville and was president of the Westerville Roque Club and vice president of the American Roque League.” Whoa! What is “roque”?…and whatever it is, how unusual for a resident of a village of only 3,000 to achieve VP status of a national organization.
So what IS roque (pronounced roke)? Here’s a brief description compiled from various websites. Roque is an American-created form of croquet popular in the early 1900’s. The “c” and the “t” of croquet were dropped to derive the name. It’s played on a 30ft X 60ft hard-surfaced octagon-shaped court bordered by a low wall. Similar to croquet, the game or sport consists of wickets, mallets (though shorter), and a ball about the same size. Similar to billiards, the border walls are used to bank the ball and on a surface topped with a thin layer of sand to mimic felt. Roque was an exhibition sport at the 1904 Summer Olympic Games in St. Louis. Popularity grew into the 1916 founding of the American Roque League of which Westerville’s Russell Bigelow Bennett served as Vice President for an unidentified period. Today roque is revived for one week every August at Angelica, New York’s Heritage Days “in a bucolic park in the village center.” Sounds like Brigadoon. There is also a web reference to a roque court in Clinton, Illinois, restored to playing condition. Further down in this blog is a humorous description of roque (written in 1939) as well as a humorous critique of residents of Westerville (written in 1934).
Where do Russell Bennett and Westerville fit into roque history? A search of microfilmed issues of the Westerville Public Opinion and digitized issues of The Columbus Dispatch yielded plenty: construction of courts behind the Bennett house, Bennett’s passing while playing on those courts with a neighbor in the winter of 1927, state tournaments held on those courts in 1931 and 1932, and the crown jewel as this blog’s title proclaims: site of the 1934 national roque tournament!! A search for more led to the Bennetts’ great granddaughter Debbie Pinney Warren who emailed this: “I grew up playing in the backyard as we lived at 36 West Home Street until I was in upper elementary and of course we visited my grandparents often until my grandpa sold the house after my grandmother’s passing when I was a senior in high school. I remember asking my grandmother what the concrete pads were for and she explained about the game of roque. But I cannot find any mention of architects nor are there any pictures nor memorabilia that have survived the decades. My great grandpa Bennett died before my dad was born so he has no personal recollection.”
No pictures of Russell and Nellie Bennett have been found. There are no pictures of the 32 West Home Street roque courts in action other than a grainy one shown below that was in the newspaper. Although there is brief mention of the roque courts and the tourneys in local history sources as well as an old fire insurance map showing the footprints of the house and roque courts, nothing else exists. So the search for more turned to descendants, if any, of Archie Gammill who was on the court with Russell Bennett that fatal day in December 1927.
Success! Old census records, the Franklin County Auditor website, and an obituary led to discovery of the Archie and Hattie Gammill house at 15 West Plum Street, Westerville. Contact with current owners William and Mary Jane Hitt resulted in a picture of the Gammill family (shown later in this blog) seated in front of their house. Westerville resident Carole Brohard, who gifted that photo to the Hitts, had this to say in an email: “I remember going through the home of my great grandparents Archie and Hallie at 15 West Plum Street on a tour a few years ago to bring back memories. It has changed somewhat. I remember the beautiful glass pieces that were in the stucco. Kids used to pick the glass out as far as they could reach. The house sparkled! I cannot be certain, but I believe possibly the house at 85 West Plum Street may have been built by Archie also. I, of course, do not remember Archie, but remember Hallie well. I have been to their gravesites in Sunbury and know exactly where they are.” Archie did indeed build 85 West Plum before building 15 West Plum in 1922 (on the site of the town’s first skating pond per Nineteenth Century Westerville).
A stunner! The perimeter walls of all three roque courts still exist beneath the overgrowth at the back of 32 West Home Street!!! These are likely the only original unrestored roque courts that remain in the United States. AND…are the two random posts near these courts examples of the cement fence posts for which Russell Bennett had a U.S. patent???
Conclusion The identity as to who designed 32 West Home Street remains unknown, but Yost & Packard are a good bet.
Yost & Packard already had several Westerville designs on their resume by the time the Bennetts’ 32 West Home Street house was built in 1898. They were a known architectural firm. A blog describing the Y&P Westerville legacy is linked below.
One of the Y&P designs, the Professor Zuck house built in 1897, was in the same West Home Street block as the Bennett house. Zuck could have recommended his architect to Bennett.
Russell Bennett was a former teacher and superintendent of nearby Sunbury schools. Eva Lena Elliott and her sister Carrie Bell Elliott were enrolled in Sunbury schools, and Bennett would likely have known them and as well as their parents. Eva married architect Frank Packard. Coincidentally, the childhood home of the Elliott family is owned today by a graduate of Westerville High School.
Carlos Shedd was a promoter of roque in Columbus at the same time Russell Bennett was promoting roque in Westerville. Shedd participated in Westerville tourneys, and it’s likely Bennett did the same in Columbus. Frank Packard designed the house of Carlos’ brother Frederick (shown further down in the blog). Yost & Packard designed three houses on Hamilton Avenue in Columbus, the same street on which Carlos lived. One of those three designs was for the honorary treasurer of the Anti-Saloon League which was based in Westerville. It seems logical that architects Yost & Packard might have come up in conversations between Carlos and Russell.
I would like to thank the following individuals for their assistance in contributing to this blog: Carole Brohard, Westerville; Kaysie Harrington, Lakeside Heritage Society; Mary Jane Hitt, Westerville; Jeff Kasson, Westerville; Jack Roegner, The American Roque and Croquet Association; Katy Kaslow and Jim Seitz, Westerville History Museum; Adam Swindell, Otterbein University student residing at 32 West Home Street; Debbie Pinney Warren.
Thanks for enlightening the folks of Westerville on the subject of Roque. Who ever heard of this sport? Before your research, I had only known about croquet. Thanks for your continued research on Westerville history!
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