Would the MacDonell House painted any other color look as beautiful?

The historic house next door to the Allen County Museum is called the MacDonell House after the owners who donated it to the museum in 1960. However, they were not the first owners; the original owners were a candy manufacturer named Frank Banta, his wife Mary, and their son Roy. The Bantas’ Home was built in 1893 and 1894, and it would have looked different, especially in size, to the MacDonell House today. During this article, the house will be referred to as the Banta House to indicate that what is being focused on is the original design and structure.

In March of 1893, an announcement in a local paper tells us the house was designed by architect Frank Leech.i Leech, who was born in Elida, Ohio, apprenticed under his father, a builder, when he was young and struck out on his own in architecture in the early 1890s.ii Leech did not study architecture formally at any institution, so he was most likely self-taught.iii He would go on to form a few firms with other architects during his career and build other buildings in the Lima area.

The house was said to be inspired by the stately homes of Toledo, and its design was the new trending Victorian Shingle Style.iv As the name suggests, the main fixture of the style are the shingles that ornament not just the roof but also the upper half of the exterior walls. This style was a more subdued version of the Queen Anne style that was prominent during the Victorian era. Often used near oceans and lakes, the Victorian Shingle Style was initially the style of the vacation homes of the wealthy. It steadily became more mainstream for grand houses all over the United States from 1880 to 1900.v

There is a big mystery about the original house design. In two newspaper articles about the plans for the house, the shingles are described as moss-colored.vi This brings up questions: was the house green at one point? What was the definition of moss-colored in 1893? There is no easy answer to these questions; in further written reports about the house, we do not get any description of its color. It’s called a grand house, a fine house, but never a green house or a brick red house. What we do know is that the plan was always to do Roman bricks on the lower third of the house.vii Ohio was a center for brick manufacturing because of the natural clay deposits; thus, it was both a logical and aesthetic choice.viii What we also know is that in the Victorian Shingle Style a monochrome façade was prized.ix The original Victorian Shingle Style ocean or lakeside mansions often used stone and unpainted shingles that would turn a grey/green color through weathering; thus, becoming monochromatic. So, it could be theorized that the moss color had been chosen to emulate those homes. Perhaps the newspapers heard that the shingles were going to be made from slate, and they thought the shingles were going to be the typical grey/green slate color and described it as such for their readers. However, the plan had always been to have the shingles be the brick red color, they still are today. On the other hand, perhaps when building the home, the monochrome style fit their vision, so they changed their mind and picked the brick red color instead. Of course, these theories could be wrong, and the house might have been for a time moss colored. It is quite an intriguing little mystery about this beloved home.

Layout photos of the arrangement of the home, depict a substantial home with many luxurious additions, the library and billiards room being just two of them. The Banta House was about two-thirds to half the size of the MacDonell House that you can visit today. The front of the first floor, from the dining room and library south, has changed very little in layout since 1893, although some of the aesthetics have changed. Likewise, on the second floor, the music room, guest bedroom, master bedroom, and east bedroom, right next to the front stairs, have not changed much in layout. However, nearly everything else has changed in size or location with the home’s subsequent owners. Those changes will be shared in later newsletter articles. What we see in this layout is the start of the grand home that we are so lucky to still view today.

The newspaper articles about the Banta House’s plans are from March and May of 1893. Periodically, the newspapers would update their readership on the home’s construction. In September of 1893, one of them stated that the exterior of the house was almost done.x In January of 1894, the paper briefed the general public again, sharing that Frank Shealyxi was doing the interior finishing for the house.xii Unfortunately, further research did not uncover much more about Shealy other than that he was born and buried in Upper Sandusky.xiii In the end, the Bantas moved into their house on August 2, 1894.xiv

As for the interior design features of the house, the newspapers excitedly told the public about the plans. “The interior will be finished in cherry and quartered oak, the rooms constructed so they be thrown into one, and the mantels, china closet, book cases, etc. will be built as a part of the permanent structure.”xv The cherry and quartered oak still decorate the house today. Cherry wood was the choice in both the parlor and library. Half the columns leading into the area are made of cherry, facing those rooms, and then facing the main hall and dining room, the wood is quartered oak. Local history tells us that German Artisans hand-carved all the house’s woodwork. This is one of the reasons it is believed that the house was finished so quickly, even with such detailed work being done. The woodworking of the house still holds to the Victorian Shingle Style, with all of it being more subdued and unified yet still intricate and beautiful. It does not have the ornate, unending patterns and details of a Queen Anne Victorian house.

The Banta house had many luxuries the typical house in Lima would not have had. The house had electricity from the very start.xvi The following newsletter will touch on this more, but the lights in the house were both gas and electric. Likewise, there was always plumbing in the home. It is known that some of the marble sinks in the house were original. One has the Plumber’s names, Dalzell and Cowles, written on it in pencil along with the date, June 22, 1894. At this time, the house only had one bathroom.xvii In this bathroom, we start coming across the more classical, almost whimsical design choices made by the Bantas. The porcelain toilet was embossed with classical acanthus leaves. These scroll-like leaves were a common motif in the classical periods, Greek and Roman, and then became common again in the Victorian era.xviii The tub in the bathroom had the same design on its nickel-plated brass feet.xix Likewise, the designs around the fireplace in the library are believed to be original to the Banta House. There are three scenes; on the left, a classical shepherd looks across to an equally classical female figure on the right side, who seems to have drawn some water from a well. Above them is an image of a tiny child, an almost cupid-like figure, dragging a ram with them across a landscape with trees and a low wall. It seems that the Bantas enjoyed these more elaborate, classical designs, but not in as much excess as the Victorian style was known to have. Overall, the interior of the Banta House has an understated grandeur, compared to Queen Anne and other Victorian styles, with nods to classicism and eclecticism.

Even though the Banta House was smaller than the MacDonell House today, they held grand parties there with no issue. The Allen County Republican Gazette reported on their first party, which was attended by fifty couples.xx The article made sure to note that there was no crowding because there were so many different rooms filled with entertainment.xxi They had the large billiard room on the third floor, of course all the common areas on the first floor, and it has been said that they set up another room on the top floor for card games.xxii

From all the newspaper articles during the planning and building of the house to those about the family afterward, it is fair to say Lima has always been interested in the happenings around what is now the MacDonell House. The Banta family were prominent members of the community before, during, and after they owned the house. They created this modern and elegant home in the Allen County area, which has evolved and grown as each owner renovated and lived in the house. This year’s following newsletters will talk about the changes each of the families made to the house, along with articles about the lives of the women connected to the MacDonell House.

i Fine Homes,” Allen County Republican Gazette, March 24, 1893
ii Charles C. Miller and Dr. Samuel A. Baxter, eds., History of Allen County, Ohio and Representative Citizens,
(Chicago: Richmond & Arnold, 1906), <https://archive.org/stream/oh-allen-1906-miller/oh-allen-1906-
miller_djvu.txt>, (accessed January 11, 2024), 512.
iii Patricia Smith, “Within These Walls: An Investigation into the Early Years of the Mansion Next Door,” Allen County Reporter, Special Issue, Vol. LXVII, 2013, 2.
iv “Fine Homes,” Allen County Republican Gazette.
v “Shingle Style (1880-1900),” Wentworth Studio, <https://www.wentworthstudio.com/historic-styles/shingle/>
(accessed December 27, 2023).
vi “Round About,” The Lima Times Democrat, May 13, 1983 and “Fine Homes,” Allen County Republican Gazette, March 24, 1893.
vii Ibid.
viii Ed Lentz, “City Chose to Build with Much Brick,” The Columbus Dispatch, April 1, 2014
<https://www.dispatch.com/story/news/local/german-village/2014/04/01/city-chose-to-build-with/23213558007/>, (accessed December 27, 2023).
ix “Shingle Style 1880-1900,” Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission,
<https://www.phmc.state.pa.us/portal/communities/architecture/styles/shingle.html>, (accessed December 27, 2023).
x Article from Unknown Newspaper dated September 25, 1893, in the MacDonell House Research Collection.
xi Sometimes spelled Sheeley or Shealey.
xii Article from Unknown Newspaper dated January 31, 1894, in MacDonell House Research Collection.
xiii “Frank Shealy,” Find a Grave, <https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/64411356/frank-shealy>, (accessed January 25, 2024).
xiv Article from Unknown Newspaper dated August 2, 1894, in MacDonell House Research Collection.
xv “Round About” The Lima Times Democrat.
xvi “Mr. and Mrs. Banta: Entertain in Their Elegant New Home,” Allen County Republican Gazette, October 23, 1894.
xvii Patricia Smith “Within These Walls,” 15.
xviii “Acanthus (Design),” Artisan Antiques, <https://www.artisanantiques.net/en-us/pages/acanthus-design>,
(accessed January 25, 2024).
xix Patricia Smith “Within These Walls,” 16.
xx Ibid.
xxi Ibid.
xxii Jeanne Porreca, “Autumn Chocolates: Banta name is a sweet reminder of Lima’s history,” Generation Magazine November, 2010.

Banta Article Photo Info:

Queen Anne Style Exterior: East (front) elevation, from southeast – Theophilus Conrad Home, 1402 St. James Court, Louisville, Jefferson County, KY, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA, https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ky0011.photos.305195p/,  (accessed January 29, 2024)

Stair Photo: View from northeast room to staircase, first floor, looking west – Theophilus Conrad Home, 1402 St. James Court, Louisville, Jefferson County, KY, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ky0011.photos.305202p/, (accessed January 29, 2024)

Victorian Shingle Style Exterior: Historic American Buildings Survey, August, 1969 VIEW FROM SOUTHEAST. – Isaac Bell House, 70 Perry Street, Newport, Newport County, RI, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA, https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ri0034.photos.144572p/resource/ (January 29, 2024)

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