In its early years, the house was the hub of activity on a busy, 111 - acre working farm. Back then Western Row, today known as Central Avenue, was a quiet lane leading into the Betts' peach orchard and brick yard. The western plain of the Cincinnati basin was a seemingly vast stretch of grassy undeveloped land which residents of the day called "Texas."Today however the house is deep inside Cincinnati's West End though it is part of the Betts-Longworth Historic District. We drove through much more modern areas, and one area that was just grass, but looked to have been a neighborhood where all the houses were torn down at some point. We even walked by one alleyway that looked pretty neat with fire escapes and seemingly old cobblestones. Clark Street, where the Betts House resides (at 416) is beautiful old street lined with old trees and even older homes--the shade must feel wonderful during the warmer months. While the original house is from 1804 the street wasn't platted until 1833 (it was named for William Betts' mother, Elizabeth Clark Betts, who died in 1832)
The house itself sits above the street quite a bit, I think one sign mentioned that the street was dug out when it was paved at one point, so there are stairs leading up--but the front yard is also beautifully overgrown. I saw plenty of tiny blue flowers as well as several flowers in a yard right next door.
Of course there is a large historical marker in the front yard--though it was apparently only placed in 2004, though the house has been open as a Museum since the late 90s.
I believe the renovation efforts started in the 80s after the house had sat vacant for several years. It was turned into two apartments for a while and the revenue from these leases helped to pay off the mortgage. Martha Tuttle, a descendant of the original Betts family was the one who led the restoration efforts. You can see her portrait and story on the wall next to the stairs.
I rather liked the stone and fence-work facing the street.
I believe this is a doorway to a passage leading to the basement. I found a picture of the passage way in a scrapbook upstairs in the house.
The first room was the original portion of the house, built in 1804. Behind this was an 1810 room, an 1811 kitchen addition (after the 1811 New Madrid earthquake damaged the original summer kitchen), and last an 1864 addition. The first floor contained an exhibit on the New Madrid earthquakes while the upper floors contained a permanent exhibit about the house, its occupants, and the history of Cincinnati. Also, in the original 1804 room there are marks on the floor and walls to show the original locations of walls, windows, and the firebox.
book on Krakatoa and visiting the Pompeii exhibit at the Museum Center--after finding out photography is allowed in that exhibit I definitely plan to blog about it in detail. Since I grew up in earthquake conscious Southern California I also remembered some information from my childhood. One brochure showed kids ducking and covering under desks and Amy had no idea what they were doing. I have vivid memories of earthquake drills each year and stocking supply bins with food supplies just in case there was an earthquake and students were trapped at school for a time.
Midwestern residents are accustomed to natural disasters such as floods, tornadoes, and blizzards, but what about earthquakes? The region is in proximity to several active faults, particularly the location of the greatest known seismic hazard east of the Rocky Mountains, the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ). From December of 1811 through May of 1812, the greatest series of earthquakes in United States history took place in the NMSZ centered in Missouri. Although the earthquakes affected much of the Midwest, most people living in the area today have no knowledge of this event or its impact on our region.I heard about the Richter scale quite a bit in California, so it was especially interesting to learn more about that. I didn't realize however that he imported the word magnitude from astronomy into the study of earthquakes. The Richter (and other more modern) scales are usually logarithmic so that each level is ten times great than the one before.
In the center of the room were a couple interactive pieces. One showed how you could, using only a couple special blocs and several pieces of foam simulate the different kind of faults we see in the earth's crust.
This sign detailed the size of the New Madrid fault. Needless to say the outcome would be quite a bit different if a large quake were to originate there due to the much larger population in the Midwest.
At the back of the house we started exploring the house itself (as we'd read all of the signs concerning the special exhibit) starting with an old fireplace. Originally used for cooking in the 1811 kitchen addition the fireplace was plastered over at some point and not re-discovered until the renovation project began in the 1980s/90s.
There was also a sign detailing the impact of the earthquake on the house itself--I'm not sure if this was an exhibit sign or if it will be permanently on display.
For example the joists were discovered to have "been created by pit sawing. Pit sawing required a pit dug into the ground and a long double handled saw operated by two men; one stood in the pit while the other worked above.... The existence of pit sawn joists at the Betts House is a surprise as water-powered saw mills, established on the nearby Millcreek by the time of this 1804 building project, provided a far easier and more efficient method of reducing trees to building material."
I really enjoyed the staircase and with that I had taken the time to snap a few more pictures, perhaps from some interesting angles. I think we'll definitely be back at some point, though I don't know exactly when. The museum apparently offers several walking tours of the historic district and they're only $10. I'd really like to go on one of those--a great opportunity to glean more historical information and likely get some good pictures of historic buildings.
Amy and I both enjoyed the wood floors upstairs. I'm pretty sure that most of them dated back to the 1800s when the expansions were originally added.
I really enjoyed the exhibit signage upstairs as it covered both the history of the house and the family that built it, but also Cincinnati, so you could see how the city developed around this house.
This house model looked pretty interesting, though a few labels would have been nice.
Of course finding a sign relating to Cincinnati's Union Terminal was especially fascinating. The house is located quite close to the building, though on the other side of I75.
The signs continued and were equally fascinating as time passed--though the house did pass out of the family in the late 1800s.
I'm not sure of the purpose, but in the upstairs kitchen (leftover from the days when the house was subdivided as two apartments I'm sure) I saw a box of Lego bricks. I thought they looked cool--and I could tell that some of the pieces were a bit older.
Ah, I forgot, but I did take a couple other staircase pictures.
After we left the house I took a few pictures of some of the houses on the street. I especially thought the house next door looked interesting. It almost looked like a small church building.
So if you're in the Cincinnati area and you enjoy history then you owe it to yourself to take a trip up to the Betts House. They're open a few days a week (but check the website for more information):
Tuesday - Thursday: 11:00am - 2:00pm
2nd & 4th Saturdays each month: 12:30pm - 5:00pm
(Other days and times by appointment.)
Interestingly enough we also picked up brochures about a few other local, historic houses, so I have a few more trips planned over the coming months. I'm really starting to enjoy these little trips that we can take on my days off.
PS Be sure to check out The Betts House on Facebook, especially if you're planning to visit. I'm sure they would welcome views and likes.
PS Sources for the above quotations: The Betts House website
Explore the Betts House! and More Explorations of the Betts House: An Investigation of the 1804 Attic (both produced by the Betts House Research Center)
PPPS All of the above pictures (and a few more) are to be found in this Picasa album: