City's namesake Benjamin Tallmadge signed deed to East Avenue property 200 years ago

Owners credit daughter of home builder for preserving history of home

by Holly Schoenstein | reporter Published:

Tallmadge -- ­­­­Local historians try their hardest to ensure the history of the places they call home is preserved for future generations.

That's why Donald and Joan Reisig, owners of the property at 323 East Ave., are celebrating a historically significant date Aug. 19 --­­ the 200th anniversary of when Benjamin Tallmadge, the city's namesake, and his wife, Maria Tallmadge, signed the deed of their property.

According to Joan, the property is registered with the Tallmadge Historical Society, the Summit County Century Homes Association and the Ohio Historical Society. The property is the only privately owned property in Tallmadge that's on the National Register of Historic Places, known as the Francis D. Alling House.

No formal party is planned, but rather the Reisigs are using the occasion to reiterate how important preserving local history is to the community and encourage people to get involved. In fact, when the Reisigs bought the property in 1965, they never thought the 1875 Victorian­-style house would become much more than a place to live.

The couple had been living in Lakewood when a fire burned the lumber facility where Donald worked in Cleveland, and because the company had relocated part of the business to Kent, the Reisigs found themselves living with family in Ravenna.

They had just signed paperwork to buy a house in Kent when later that day they drove by the East Avenue property by accident.

"We were lost when we found this house. Literally lost. We had never heard of Tallmadge," said Joan, now 79. "When we passed by, I said, 'Oh, my gosh, look at that house.' And we looked, and I said, 'And it's for sale!'"

There was just something about that house, she said. The couple pulled in the wrap-around driveway, and Mary Dewey, one of the residents, welcomed them in for a tour. The property had been put up for sale four days earlier.

The next day the Reisigs made an offer to buy the property at the full asking price, which they were advised was a good price. The deal to buy the second home was done. The Reisigs declined to say how much they bought it for.

"It was a lot to get together the money we needed for the down payment. It was not easy," Joan said.

The couple never moved into the house in Kent and instead rented it to college students.

Custodians of history

After moving into the house on East Avenue, the Reisigs met a neighbor, Stella Alling Sparhawk, a Brimfield Township school teacher who lived in a one­-bedroom home across the street. After getting to know her, the Reisigs found out she was the daughter of Francis Alling, the architect who built their house and many other Western Reserve style homes in Tallmadge, and learned that she had grown up in it.

Sparhawk had collected various historical keepsakes from the house, and after becoming such good friends with the

Reisigs ­­-- they called her "Mama Stella," their children called her "Grandma Stella" -- ­­she gave them the original deed to the entire property. The document, written in ornate script, bears the signatures and sealing wax thumbprints of the Tallmadges.

With the help of a local historian at that time, the Reisigs obtained more information about the property. When Sparhawk died in 1973, they bought more memorabilia, including photographs, from her daughter, that she left behind in her house across the street.

"When we moved in [to the house on East Avenue], we never expected to be custodians of history. We bought a house on a property," Joan said.

From their research, the Reisigs learned the Tallmadge family owned the 400-acre property, which was sold to the family of Reuben Beach on Aug. 19, 1814. Both the Tallmadge and Beach families were from Connecticut.

In 1864, the Beach family sold the property to the family of Francis Alling.

Francis Alling, also a carpenter, wanted a more modern house for his family than the original house that dates to 1824, so he built the one that stands today. He spared the barn that was built around the same time as the original house.

The main portion of the original house later was moved across the street and eventually disassembled and rebuilt in Canton, while the small rear section of the house was relocated to Northwest Avenue where is still stands.

In 1946 the Allings sold the East Avenue property to the Deweys, who were seeking a sizable home to meet the needs of their large family. The Deweys then sold it to the Reisigs, and by then the property was only 2.5 acres.

"We've always said the 'Man Upstairs' was our real estate agent. We weren't looking for a house. We weren't looking for another property," Joan said. "It all fell together. And then we were blessed to have Stella Alling Sparhawk living across the street, who had all of this history. So we didn't just buy a house; we bought history."

Restoring the property and bringing the past to life

Property records from Summit County show the house has nearly 2,500-square-feet of living space. Although Joan said the structure was designed to have six bedrooms, the Reisigs have been using the home as a four-­bedroom.

Their restoration efforts have included repainting the wood-siding in the original green shade and incorporating furniture and artwork that at one time had been in the home.

While reconstructing the permanent steps at the front of the house, a marble slab tombstone of Reuben Beach was found at the foot of the stairs, and later, a similar tombstone for his wife Hannah Beach was found by the barn. The couple has since moved the tombstones to the side yard and created a small garden around them.

Friendship that helped preserve history

The Reisigs credit Sparhawk with helping them become the stewards of the history of the property.

"We became such good friends. I just wish we had her around longer ... ," Joan said of Sparhawk, who died in 1973. "For her to have all of this history, I was so grateful."

Four months before Sparhawk died at the age of 80 and decades after she had moved out of the home, Joan invited her and her cousin, Hazel Smith, to spend the night.

"They just got the biggest kick out of it ... They just had the best time because it had been so long since they were in the house," Joan said.

The Reisigs choose to focus on the history of the entire property and Sparhawk for "what a dear person she was" and for being such a noteworthy player in preserving its history, rather than on them as the current owners who are trying to further restore the old house and their hope that it will end up in appropriate, capable hands in the future.

"[Sparhawk] was conscientious enough to save the history. We're just the custodians of this history," Joan said.

History is for future generations to enjoy

Upon learning the history of the property, the Reisigs realized what a privilege it is to have discovered it.

They now feel it's their duty to continue to preserve and archive it, not only for the future owners, but also for the city.

The couple created the Reisig Restorations Inc. company that focuses on restoring historical structures and bought a separate antique restoration business. Donald, now 83, worked the businesses, while Joan worked for 20 years as a design draftsman in an engineering group at Goodyear, mostly working on blimps.

Over the years, the couple have put a lot of time, effort and money into restoring the home and barn. Recognizing they needed a place to park their vehicles but not wanting to build a modern-looking garage, Joan designed a structure they call a carriage house, and Donald built it.

In addition to the couple's involvement with the Tallmadge Historical Society and other historical organizations, the city honored Donald with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.

Now that the Reisigs are older, they said they feel it's their duty to make sure the property is passed on to someone who will continue to curate it and share the history with future generations. They're not ready to sell the property as they want to continue to do more work on it, including repaint the siding and repair the slate roof, but when the time comes, they want a buyer whose interest goes further than just wanting to live in an old house. They want the property to continue to be cared for and restored beyond what they can do at this point in their lives with the money they have to invest.

"It's much more than a hobby; you have to be dedicated to something like this," Joan said.

Contact this reporter at 330-541-9428 or hschoenstein@recordpub.com

Facebook: Holly Schoenstein, Record Publishing Co.

Twitter: @SchoensteinH

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