A Season of Discoveries at the Gill House

as published on GalionLive, September 12, 2013

It’s been a busy summer at the corner of Gill Avenue and Harding Way West. Ongoing restoration work, new discoveries and displays, and increased visibility have combined to generate optimism in Preserving Galion History’s preservation effort for the Gill House.

At least twice each month, work days have seen continued putting primer and paint on the exterior of the house. Not having been painted for over 15 years, the wood is in good condition but clearly in need of attention. Scaffolding has been making a slow but steady southward trek along the house’s west wall, with painting now beginning to reach the front façade.

And, while the “official” work days take place on Saturdays, it is certainly not unusual to see volunteers painting on weekday evening hours.

tile2On alternating Saturdays, the house has been open for tours – and the turnout continues to be strong. These tours have been combined with special group visits, including a wonderful recent tour with the descendants of John King, the contractor who built the house. King’s grandchildren include Galionites Dick Hottenroth, Elaine Hottenroth, and Nancy Herman. Guests have also included a family member of a former house owner, who traveled from Michigan to visit.

Discoveries continue to take place not only in the house, but in the history of the Gill family. Earlier this year PGH was given papers from the estate of Galionite David Gill, son of James and Olive Gill, which included information about the family’s history which was previously unknown.

The collection includes legal paperwork which reveals that the large 160 acre parcel of land which the family owned was originally in the possession of a John Gill. John was the brother of David Gill, one of the four original settlers in the main part of what is now Galion. David, who arrived in 1818, was the community’s first schoolteacher, and the present Gill House was built in 1902-04 by David’s grandson, Bloomer. John Gill, who lived in Nashville, Tennessee, passed away in the early 1850s leaving the acreage to his nephew James W. Gill in Galion.

It was this property which was developed over time for residential use – the area of today’s Gill Avenue, West Payne Avenue, Erie Street, and Park Street – and for all of Heise Park.

This past weekend, another discovery took place inside the house when volunteers uncovered decorative features which had previously been hidden. This included not only a wonderful metal fireplace screen adorned with torches and a shield, but also a green tiled fireplace hearth with an ornate border.

“We were so excited to see the detailed border around the green tiled hearth in the reception area! We had no idea it was there. Every time we pull away old carpeting we find something new,” shared Brenda Treisch, volunteer and member of the PGH Board. Another Board member, Sandy Baldy Hoffer told GalionLive, “What a great discovery when we pulled back the carpet to find the beautiful tile but another great find was inside. There is a beautiful raised emblem in the back and torches on either side, to go with the tile on the fireplace. The fireplace in the dining room has a beautiful basket weave pattern. I love uncovering all this history.”

bendFor visitors, new sights abound. Already this summer, the house has begun to serve as a place where pieces of local history are displayed.

The front parlor now houses a desk belonging originally to Attorney Dean Talbott. He and his wife were the second owners of the Gill House, and many seasoned Galionites still refer to the structure as the “Talbott House.”

In the entrance hallway, a trunk used by James and Olive Gill on their honeymoon is displayed, in which is the tux James wore at their wedding in 1928. The sitting room now features a Victrola, wile the library now houses a quarter-sawn oak mirror which was the only piece of interior decoration at Grace Episcopal Church in Galion to hang from the church building’s construction in 1875 to its closing in 2009. Finally, a square piece of marble from the 1917 Galion High School front staircase will be on display at the house this fall.

Speaking of things being on display – the Gill House will again be the setting for the Crawford County Arts Council’s Oktoberfest Art Show later this month. Last year, hundreds of festival goers visited; be sure to check it out.

The Gill House has also become the location of choice for those coming to town seeking experiences of a paranormal variety. Having been featured on a radio show from Cincinnati two months ago, this summer and fall almost three solid months of Saturdays are seeing “ghosthunting” groups – some from as far away as Maryland – come to explore. This is a typical income generator for older properties, and PGH allows these hunts with a respectful and cautious approach.

And, interestingly, it is a boon for area merchants and restaurants as well. Groups have had their dinners at the Big Plate Diner, and are observed often buying snacks and supplies at the nearby RiteAid pharmacy.

Presently, fundraising is centered on short-term, needed interior improvements. The PGH Board recently set a five-year plan of renovation, which includes the rebuilding of the landmark’s remarkable front porch. The ultimate goal is the creation of a center for community non-profit organizations, conference space, and an event venue for meetings, weddings, family gatherings, and more.

It is a fitting use for a structure and property which, together with the Central Hotel and the Big Four Depot, are unique in representing Galion’s overall history. Other landmarks in the community tell the stories of individual families or other themes, however the Gill House connects all generations – from the very moment of Galion’s settlement to the present day.

Photos: GalionLive file photos. Top – Right after uncovering, the green tiled hearth, while in excellent condition, awaits removal of carpet glue. Bottom – Paint arrived under the oval dining room window some weeks ago.