529 Hickory Street

The Way House

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Supporting the preservation and appreciation of Perrysburg's historic architectural heritage

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The Way House:

 

This modest but well maintained house at 529 Hickory Street is significant more for its history than its architecture. It was the home of one of Perrysburg's best known pioneers, Willard W. Way, and it originally stood on the southeast corner of Indiana Avenue and Walnut Street, a site now occupied by the city fire department.

There is a rather sad and little known story connected with it.

The house is believed to have been built by John Chambers between 1834 and 1848.

house

529 Hickory Street

Willard Way bought it from the Wood County sheriff for $100 in 1854 and he and his wife Sophia lived it for the next 21 years.

Existing photographs show that the present enlarged front porch is the biggest alteration to the exterior in the past century and a half. The shuttered front windows and the large two story bay on the south side are still its most prominent features.

Willard Way was born in Springfield, New York in 1807. His early life was spent on a farm, but lacking robust health, he decided on getting a formal education and graduated from Union College. He read law under a New York state attorney before moving to Painesville, Ohio, where he completed his legal studies and was admitted to the bar.

In 1834 he moved here and opened a law office. At the time, he and the mayor, John Spink, were the only practicing attorneys in Wood County. Over the years he built a respected and successful practice, often slogging through the Black Swamp on horseback between nearby towns. He was a prominent civic figure, serving as councilman and mayor, county prosecutor and a member of numerous boards. He was said to have speculated in a failed shortcut to wealth early in his career and that the experience caused him thereafter to deny himself comforts while he built up a large personal estate. His extreme prudence in public improvement sentiments was sometimes looked upon as miserly economizing and his reputation often suffered in that regard.

All of this heightened the surprise when the community learned, upon his death at age 68 in 1875, that he had left the bulk of his wealth to the village -- including a scholarship to the public schools that continues today, money to build a library building and buy books, his own private library, six lots in the first block of West Indiana for use as a public park, and his house. But in death he did not deny himself. He paid for and lies at the foot of a grand 30-foot high monument in Fort Meigs Union Cemetery.

Under the provisions of Way's will, the executors were to provide an adequate settlement for Sophia's comfort and she could continue to live in the house until her death. The money provided her amounted to something like $20,000 to $30,000 which was invested in municipal bonds, bank stock and other negotiable paper. She entrusted these resources to her husband's nephew, Willard Way Hodge of Buffalo, New York, who was to oversee their safety and pay her interest from it, according to later claims.

When Hodge failed to do this and could not produce the securities upon demand, he was charged with embezzlement and brought back to Bowling Green for trial. It is not clear from local newspaper accounts whether or not he was ever tried, but his defense was based on the claim that the funds were placed in his hands with the understanding that, as potential heir upon Mrs. Way's death, he could do with them what he wanted.

In 1882 Mrs. Way wrote village council that due to the infirmities of age and her destitute condition, she would either have to rent the house for necessary income, or receive an annual stipend from the village for her living expenses. An arrangement was worked out whereby she was paid $130 a year for the remainder of her life -- whereupon she moved to Mansfield to live with her sister until her death in 1892 at age 85.

The house remained in the hands of the village through the rest of the 1800s, being sold and moved to its present location at a date believed to be in the early 1900s. On its site, public tennis courts were eventually built and later the Perrysburg fire station.

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