76 Locust Street
The Roby House
Supporting the preservation and appreciation of Perrysburg's historic architectural heritage
The Roby House:
There's a dramatic story associated with Lots 20 and 21, Block 1, of the Hollister Addition in Perrysburg, identified today as 76 Locust Street. It is not necessarily related to the builder of the attractive Greek Revival house pictured above -- though he might well have built some early portion of it.The man we are talking about is Charles C. Roby, the unfortunate captain of a lake steamer involved in the greatest loss of life ever recorded in a single incident on Lake Erie, and the third greatest in Great Lakes history.
76 Locust Street
Legend has it that some form of structure at 76 Locust Street was once an Indian trading post, but it is known that Perrysburg pioneer John Hollister owned the land in 1836. County records show that a year later Charles Roby was the owner and he sold it for considerably more than the probable worth of an unimproved lot at that time. This indicates that a building had been constructed.
A historical property surveyor several years ago determined that most of the house you see today was built around 1885. However, this house, like some others in town, was actually built around an older house or cabin. Hand-hewn beams in the basement and especially low ceilings in the dining area clearly show it to be much older. It is a simple rectangular front-gabled house with a corbelled central chimney and a full one-story porch supported by squared Tuscan-like posts and ornamented by a spindle balustrade at the top. The balustrade, along with the fanlight window in the front gable and fences along the left front and in the rear were recent additions, as was an earlier addition to the main structure in the rear. There is also a small one-story Greek Revival portico on the north side of the house.
Charles Cook Roby was born in New Hampshire in 1816. It is not known when he came here with his parents, but his father died when he was quite young. His mother then married James Wilkinson, a former mayor of Maumee. For several years he was a clerk in the mercantile business of General John E. Hunt in Maumee, and in 1836 he began his own business as a merchant here. That same year he married Amelia Ladd, daughter of another prominent Perrysburg pioneer, Judge David Ladd. A heavy loss by fire compelled him to close his business in 1838 and he then began learning his seafaring craft as a steward on the "Commodore Perry" commanded by captain David Wilkinson, a step-relative. In 1846 he left the lakes and again opened a Perrysburg store but then later commanded another boat before buying an interest in the "G. P. Griffith," a new vessel built in Maumee in 1847 and designed for the booming immigrant trade transporting German, Irish, English, Scandinavian and Dutch settlers into the Midwest.
The craft's first voyage was from Toledo to Buffalo. To celebrate the event, Mrs. Roby, their 13-year-old daughter Abby, their new infant son Charles, Roby's mother, Mrs. Wilkinson, a step-brother, and Roby's sister, Mrs. William Studdiford of Monroe, Michigan were among the 45 cabin passengers and 25 crew members. In Buffalo, the vessel loaded 256 passengers (reports of the number vary slightly), most of them German, Irish and English, and departed for Chicago via Toledo on June 16, 1850.
At about 3 a.m. the following morning, some three miles out from Willoughby, east of Cleveland, fire broke out in the cargo hold. Attempts to conquer it failed and according to accounts, the vessel was ordered full ahead to shore. So confident was the captain that he could make shore so that the passengers could be safely debarked in shallow water, that no life boats were lowered.
About a half a mile from shore fate intervened. The boat ran up on a sandbar and stuck fast. By that time flames began to envelop the entire wooden vessel. Panic ensued and people began leaping overboard. Roby and his immediate family were said to be the last to leave. He asked the steward to try and save his daughter, but being unable to swim, Roby and his wife watched them both sink out of sight. Finally, when the railing they were clinging to became too hot to hold, Roby pushed his wife overboard and jumped in after her. Everyone in the family perished and only 30 men and one woman in the entire complement survived. Most of the bodies were recovered. Nearly 100 of those unknown were buried in common trenches dug along the shore. The identified were taken by boat to Cleveland and laid out in a warehouse at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River. Captain and Mrs. Roby and their children were brought here for burial following a service at the Universalist Church they helped found. His mother and her daughter were taken to Maumee for burial.
This tragedy brought grief to many Perrysburg people, certainly not the least of which was William Barton, a local merchant who lost his grandmother, two uncles, four aunts and seven young cousins -- all presumably enroute from England to make Perrysburg their home.