Editor’s note: The Urbana Black Heritage Festival will be held at Barbara Howell Park on June 18 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 213 E. Market St. This article is one in a series of Heritage stories leading up to the festival.
In 1874, the southern edge of Urbana was known as “Gooseville.” It is an area roughly bounded by Powell Avenue to the north, and the intersections of state Route 55 and South Main Street to the south with side streets such as Wards Lane and Cherry Street running to the east. A scattering of small homes, outbuildings and barns are in this area of Urbana that were predominantly owned by African American families as the dawn of the 20th century grew closer. The earlier fairgrounds were also located in this gateway area to the city.
In addition, there were a few larger homes characterized as “small suburban country estates” that dated from the 1850s and 1860s owned by white families in Gooseville too.
Among them was the 25 acre farm of Orville Noble. Noble came from New England in the 1850s and established his property adjacent to what was then the southern boundary of Urbana. He would have built a home, barn, carriage house, numerous outbuildings and planted a variety of flowers, shrubs and vegetables. He also sold fruit, flower and vegetable seeds by mail across the nation. By 1880, Noble was looking to sell his farm operation and retire. The Noble property would pass on to several other owners including the Stamets, Wickersham and Crumrine families. It was following the Noble ownership the house would be dramatically remodeled which resulted in the addition of a full second floor being added giving it the appearance it has today.
The Crumrines filed for bankruptcy in 1919, and by 1923, the property was purchased by the African American Ohio Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons to be utilized as a retirement home for elderly members from across Ohio. The old Noble farm, then comprised of 13 acres, would become the first such facility for African American Masons in the state. The Lodge approved up to $5,000 to remodel the interior of the home and to make other repairs.
In 1927, the storefront windows of Cleveland and Cleveland – who operated a black owned dry cleaning business on North Main Street – displayed the architectural rendering of a women’s dormitory to be added to the Masonic Home compound at 1052 South Main Street in Gooseville. The project was led by the Order of the Eastern Star. A cornerstone from 1927 shows the initials of “O.E.S.” with the name of Ida Williams listed as the Grand Matron. The Eastern Star dormitory would be built just to the south of the men’s home located in the former Noble farmhouse at 1040 South Main Street. The women’s building was described as “handsome,” would include 12-15 rooms and a sun parlor located on the south end of the structure. That building would be completed in 1928 for a cost of $28,000.
The Amaranth Grand Chapter, Order of the Eastern Star (women’s auxiliary) and the Grand Lodge itself would find themselves in Champaign County Common Pleas Court by 1939 as the men’s lodge had taken possession of the women’s dormitory property. The women’s auxiliary insisted that not be the arrangement when the building was constructed. The ladies demanded the building be returned to their control. The Eastern Star was victorious in 1940, when the court ordered the Grand Lodge to give the Eastern Star ladies auxiliary half interest in the overall complex.
In January of 1948, the 109-year-old Champaign County Courthouse was destroyed by fire. The county leadership scrambled to find suitable locations in the city to house the various records that survived the fire and space for county offices.
The county had leased the Eastern Star home for $100 a month with a two-year lease, and an option for as long as the building was needed. The same Grand Matron during the building’s construction in 1927-28, Ida Williams, would be the same woman who sealed the deal for use of the building with the county. The Eastern Star home would be needed for several years as it would not be until 1956 when the present Champaign County Courthouse was completed and placed into service.