'Bricklayer Burned Mansion Before Owner Could Move In
But Dresden Legend Says Squaw Did It
G. W. Adams built Prospect Place a century ago
By Norris F. Schneider
The palatial Prospect Place you see between Dresden and Trinway stands on the ruins of an identical house that was burned to the grounds before the owner could occupy it. Several reasons have been given for the mysterious fire. Local legend says that "Old Satan" an aged Indian squaw who lived on Indian Knob burned the house. More realistic people say that the bricklayers and carpenters burned the luxurious home to make more work for themselves.
Everyone who sees Prospect Place recognizes the architectural style of the mansions built on Euclid avenue in Cleveland a century ago. It is plain that the builder had great wealth and lived in luxury. Tourists who drive past the massive brick house wonder about the fashionable parties that were held in the spacious rooms.
Even Muskingum County residents do a lot of guessing about the people who lived in Prospect Place. It is strange, but true, that in a century a family can rise to wealth and prominence and then move away and leave question marks in our minds about their history.
Prospect Place may be called the Adams-Cox house because it was built by George Willison Adams and is now owned by his grandson, George W. Cox of Columbus, Georgia (time period this was written was 1948). While Mr. Cox had been visiting his cousin, Miss Fanny Spease of Dresden, he has told us the authentic story of the Adams family and their ancestral home, Prospect Place.
The story is of interest to Muskingum County people not only because of the elaborate architecture of the house, but also because it was the birthplace of Judge John Jay Adams, former dean of the law school and one time acting president of Ohio State University.
Early Dresden Leaders
Two Adams families have been prominent in the history of the Dresden vicinity, Seth Adams of Boston moved his family to a farm near the site of Dresden in 1807. He built one of the first houses in Dresden. Later he moved to Zanesville and became mayor of the town. He introduced Merino sheep to Ohio and demonstrated that tomatoes could be used for food.
The builders of Prospect Place belonged to the George Adams family that migrated from Fauquier County, Virginia, to Madison Township in Muskingum County in 1808. George Adams believed that the slave system was wrong and his conscience would not permit him to keep slaves. He decided to set his slaves free and seek his fortune in a state that did not permit slavery. Ohio had been carved in 1803 from the Northwest Territory in which "slavery and involuntary servitude" were forever prohibited.
George Adams had three sons, Samuel, Edward and George Willison. Samuel was the grandfather of the late T. D. Adams of Dresden, Edward and George Willison Adams became partners in milling and shipping ventures and George Willison was the builder of Prospect Place.
About 1828, when the route of the Ohio Canal was known George Willison Adams and his brother, Edward, built a large grain mill at the present village of Adams Mills. This town was, of course, named after the Adams brothers. At first the mill was the only thing there. But a mill was a landmark and an indispensable institution in pioneer life. Twenty years earlier people had come from Coshocton to have their wheat ground in Zanesville.
Because of the importance of mills to the pioneers, they used the word mill in their place names. Coopermill road led to a mill in Perry County, Mill Run, north of Zanesville, was named after a pioneer mill. Burnt Mills, Marquands Mills, and Adams Mills show the importance that pioneers attached to these factories.
Second Mill is Built
Later the Adams brothers built another large grain mill near Dresden. Both mills were located near the Ohio Canal and grain could be shipped to the mills for grinding and loaded on canal boats for sale in distant city markets.
The Adams brothers prospered and added merchandising to their milling activities. They went to eastern markets and bought goods to be shipped to Muskingum County by canal boat.
In the first half of the 19th century farmers made many of their purchases by barter. They exchanged pork, corn, potatoes, lard, eggs and other farm products for their sugar, calico and clothes. Merchants accepted the farm produce and either sold it to dealers or flat-boated it to New Orleans themselves. The Adams brothers accompanied their own flat boats down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans. There they sold their flour and other products and bought supplies for their stores at Adams Mills.
As the brothers made money from their mills they acquired more land. Eventually their own farms supplied much of the grain that was hauled to their mills. They made barrels for shipping flour at their own cooper factory in Dresden. They hired men to make and operate their own flat boats for the New Orleans trade. According to tradition in the family each mill made a hundred barrels of flour per day during the most prosperous period in the 1850's.
About 1840 Edward and George W. Adams believed that they could afford comfortable homes. They built identical houses at a cost of $10,000 each. Edward built his at Adams Mills. It is now the residence of the Prescott Gray family.
George built his house on Route 16, near the present short cut from Route 77 north of Wakatomica Creek. It has been torn down.
George W. Adams assumed leadership in several enterprises that have been of greatest benefit to northern Muskingum County. With other community leaders he formed a stock company to build a suspension bridge across the Muskingum River at Dresden. When the other members of the company became alarmed for the safety of their investment, Adams built the bridge at his own expense. His nephew, George Copeland, was the engineer. (editorial note - although Mr. Copeland was the engineer, the designer was John Roebling, who later designed the Brooklyn Bridge). Adams operated the bridge as a toll bridge for many years and then sold it to the County Commissioners at one third of the original cost.
George W. Adams also donated the right of way through his land for the Steubenville and Indiana Railroad (Now the Pennsylvania and the Cincinnati and Muskingum Valley Railroads). Eventually the railroads proved harmful to local mills, but by that time Adams enjoyed profits from his extensive stock raising and real estate investments.
Donates Church Site
Another public service of George W. Adams was his donation of the ground for the Dresden Presbyterian Church and rectory. He also contributed to the construction of both buildings. The esteem in which he was held by his neighbors is indicated by the fact that he served as representative from Muskingum County to the State Legislature in 1839.
During the Civil War Adams liberally supported the cause of the North. He rejoiced when the Union was preserved and the slavery system, which had driven his father from Virginia was abolished.
After the death of his first wife in 1850's Adams decided to move out of the house of sad memories and build a new home on 123 acres north of Dresden. As a temporary residence to be used until his brick home was finished he built a frame house near the creek. This temporary house still stands. It is the home of the Chris Randles family.
George W. Adams named his new home Prospect Place. There he was to start a new life and forget his sorrows. He made it everything his heart desired. In style it resembled the fine mansions on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland before the Civil War. Bricks were made from the clay of the adjacent field under his supervision. The best lumber was ordered for the floors. Marble mantles were bought. The roof was covered with copper. Brick layers and carpenters were paid generously and asked to do their best work.
The house was completed, servants started to sweep up the sawdust and wash the windows.
Fire Destroys House
One night the magnificent new house burned to the ground.
The glare of the flames could be seen for miles. Hundreds of neighbors hurried to the burning ruins. The intense heat kept them from trying to use a bucket brigade. They stood helplessly and watched the roof cave in and the walls collapse. Next morning there was a heap of smoking ruins where a costly house had stood the day before.
What caused the fire? There is a legend that it was burned down by "Old Satan", an old Indian squaw who lived on Indian Knob. That is no doubt pure folklore, to say the least, and without basis in fact.
Older residents recall that there was a gang of robbers around Dresden. One of them was a bricklayer named George Blackburn. He worked on the Elan Jones house and the Adams/Cox house. He confessed to Adams that he set fire to Prospect Place so that he would have more work in rebuilding it.
The house was rebuilt. But Blackburn did not work on it. During the construction he was living in Columbus as a guest of the State of Ohio. His board, room and clothing according to the recollection of older residents, were provided by the state, but he did no traveling during his residence there.
Mr. George Cox, the present owner and grandson of the builder, recalls that the marble mantles were removed and reset. During this work, these words were found on the back of one mantle: "Hurrah for Buchanan!" From this inscription the family decided that the house was built in 1856, the year Buchanan was elected President.
Some Bricks Salvaged
There is a tradition that the substantial two story brick barn near the house was built with brick salvaged from the first house after it was burned. A smaller brick building between the house and barn was partitioned to separate the milk house on one end from the smoke house on the other end. The present occupant, Charles D. Cain, says that there is evidence of the debris of the burned house on all sides of the present building. It appears that the burned walls were pushed out and scattered. When any digging is done in the lawn around the house, layers of brick and stone always make the work hard.
Mr. George Cox, present owner of Prospect Place, is a grandson of the builder. He was born there is 1884. After graduating from Dresden High School, he received a degree from Ohio State University in civil engineering. For twenty years he was with the Electric and Power Company of Columbus, Georgia. Before his recent retirement he worked in a civilian capacity for the Corps of Engineers, U.S. Army, in building dams in the south.
Mr. Cox has been visiting his cousin, Miss Fanny Spease, of Dresden, and other relatives and friends during the past month.
The children of George W. Adams were Sophia, Charles W., Mary, Anna, Lizzie, Jesse and John J. The children born to the second wife at Prospect Place did not attend the public school. Their father had a room equipped with desks and employed a governess to teach them at home. When the boys and some of the girls reached high school age, they attended Dresden High School.
Ornate Marble Mantle
The most artistic of the ornate marble mantles in Prospect Place is in an upstairs living room, to which guests at parties brought their coats. The upstairs bedrooms are finished with green paint.
A dark room in the basement is the former wine cellar. Bathrooms were supplied by copper tanks and lead pipes.
The northern wing was the servants quarters. The rooms were smaller and the house was lower. The main entrance was on the south. A similar portico and door faced the road on the west.
The southwest room on the first floor was the library. It was equipped with black furniture with red leather seats. The room across the hall had the most ornamental cornice and ceiling designs in the house. There are three stairways.
The third floor was used for dancing. Two hooks in each corner were used for lanterns.
Mrs. Mark Jones recalls a party given 60 years ago by William Cox, who married Anna Adams, Cox employed workmen for several weeks before the party to refurbish several rooms and prepare the house. The guests began to assemble at seven o'clock. The evening trains brought guests from Coshocton, Zanesville, Columbus and Newark - 150 people in all. Mrs. Cox drove her carriage for Mr. and Mrs. Jones.
Caterers from Columbus were in charge of the refreshments. Gebests Orchestra from Zanesville furnished music for dancing.
Food was prepared in the observatory, a room 15 feet square on top of the house. It is surrounded by glass windows with rounded tops that open like French doors. Newspaper reports of the party mentioned cold turkey and ice cream in the form of snowballs among the refreshments.
Suffers Financial Loss
Before George W. Adams died he suffered financial loss. His donation of five miles of right of way to the Steubenville and Indiana Railroad seemed a good thing at the time but the railroads took away the milling and stock business.
After his death, his second wife took one third of the estate and moved to the house at the southeast corner of Maple and Adair avenues which is currently owned by the Sebach Dance Studios.
One of the children was John Jay Adams. He was born at Prospect Place November 18, 1860, attended Dresden High School and received his diploma from Zanesville High School in 1875. Kenyon College granted him the B.A. degree in 1879.
During his college career Adams was catcher for the Kenyon team. In that position he received - barehanded - the delivery of W. M. Townsend, his fellow Zanesvillian, fraternity brother, and life long friend.
From 1879 to 1882 Adams was instructor at Harcourt Academy for boys at Gambier. After that he studied law with M. M. Granger at Zanesville and was admitted to the bar in 1883. He practiced law here until 1894.
Dean of Law School
In 1895 Adams was elected Judge of the circuit court of the fifth district and served one term of six years. After resuming his practice at Zanesville until 1903, he was appointed dean of the law school at Ohio State University. He served in that office until his death on July 27, 1926.
When Judge Adams was appointed to be head of the law school, President William Oxley Thompson of O.S.U. said he was told that Judge Adams was "The Gentleman of Zanesville."
During World War One President Thompson was called to war work by President Woodrow Wilson, and Dean Adams became acting President of O.S.U. He served during the difficult S.A.T.C. years when the university was an Army post. Again when President Thompson was seriously ill in 1923, Dean Adams served as acting president of O.S.U.
While he was the dean of the law school, Adams directed the complete adoption of the case method of instruction.
The present occupants of Prospect Place are Mr. and Mrs. Charles D. Kain and their five children, Dorothy, who will be married in the home today; Russell and Freddie; the twins; Walter and Eleanor.
Some of the earlier tenants did not appreciate the architecture and history of the house. When the Kains moved in there was a cream seperator standing on the inlaid floor of the front hall. The elaborate woodwork of the porticos had decayed through neglect.
The Kains, however, appreciate the beauty and history of the house and are working hard to restore it to its original state.'
We are unsure of the results of the Kain family efforts to restore the mansion in 1948, however, we have picked up the baton and are starting the process anew.