Saturday, June 11, 2016

Two Fires: Demise of the Cullum House

When fire damaged the three-story apartment house at 390 Liberty Street in January of 2014, many were surprised to learn it was nearly 200 years old and had survived a similar fire 70 years ago.

The original one-story brick Meadville Academy building was constructed on the lot and opened in 1805. It was replaced by a frame building at the southeast corner along Clinton Court, the present location of the former St. Brigid school. The second building was outgrown as well so anew Academy was built on Market Street in 1826. The Cullum family bought the lot from the trustees of the Academy in 1824 and built this mansion in 1828.

Arthur Cullum, born in Connecticut in 1780, had been a carriage builder in New York City before moving to Meadville in 1813, and opening a store at the southwest corner of Water and Chestnut Streets. He went into the contracting business and, in 1827-1828, excavated the route of the canal through Meadville. He had contracted to build the aqueduct over French Creek but died in 1829, so it was completed the following year by his son, Oscar. His son, Horace, was also a builder and contractor, and was responsible for the rebuilding of the Bemustown Dam north of Meadville in 1843. Another son, George W. Cullum, a career army officer, was an engineer too, and he designed the Meadville Unitarian Church in 1836.

Painting of Bemustown Dam
The estate inventory taken in 1830 shows the Cullums had a comfortable household. The main floor living areas, along with the usual household items such as chairs, settees, lamps, china, cutlery, and glassware, included a cherry stand, walnut tables, curly maple chairs, brass fireplace sets, brass candlesticks, rugs, volumes of sermons, and a sheet iron stove. The lower entry had oil cloth on the floor, an expensive hall lamp, a walnut table and carpet on the stairs. Upstairs, there was an upper entry, a small chamber with bed and bedding, the “N. E. Common Room” with bureau, bed and bedding, the S. E. C. Room, apparently the master bedroom, with an expensive carpet, linen as well as cotton sheets, and books in addition to the bed. A second “S.E. Common Room” contained a crib, bed and cradle, as well as a spinning wheel in the garret.

In 1854 the Cullum heirs sold the house to Alfred Huidekoper, husband of Arthur Cullum’s daughter Harriet, who lived across Liberty Street. Arthur’s widow, Harriet, probably lived there until her death in 1862, and by 1866 it was occupied by the Meadville Seminary, a “school for young ladies” run by Mary F. Eastman. About 1875 the roof was raised making the house almost full three stories, with gables on either end and in the center of the front.

The first Sanborn map in 1886 showed the building as a dwelling once again, with a one-story service wing at the southwest corner of the house. It was occupied by the Meadville Conservatory of Music by 1891 and the rear wing was raised another story by 1896. It was a dwelling again by 1901, and a two story cement block addition doubled the width of the service wing by 1912, probably signaling the conversion to apartments. By 1922, it gained a two-story wing across the rear, and a single garage was added onto the Liberty Street front by 1932. During the Meadville Sesquicentennial in 1938, one of the four bronze historical plaques was placed on the Cullum house, recognizing it as the site of the Meadville Academy.

In February 1942, disaster struck when the building was damaged by fire which destroyed the top floor of the old house. Local contractor Clarence C. DeVore purchased the building the next year and rebuilt it as the DeVore Apartments. The ceilings were lowered, the window openings were moved down, the stone window caps disappeared, and the iron porch reduced so it only covered the front door.

A new third floor was built on top of the entire building, with a heavy cornice and a flat roof, so the building maintained its basically classical appearance. A fire of unknown origin burned through the third floor on January 28, 2014.This time the owners decided to remove the entire building and it was leveled two days later.

About the Author

William Moore, Esq., is an attorney, local historian, and member of the board of directors of the Crawford County Historical Society. He has an affinity for architectural history, historic preservation, and genealogy, and he co-authored the Images of America book, Meadville. and Oil Boom Architecture: Titusville, Pithole, and Petroleum Center. He currently resides in Meadville, Pennsylvania.

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