1845 cabin to be restored by historical society
MOUNT PLEASANT — Nestled about a block behind the historic 1803 Harris-Bone Store on Union Street in Mount Pleasant lies an unassuming, small one-story cabin covered with insulbrick siding.
Beneath that homely siding lies a true Ohio treasure that will soon be home to one of only two interpretive pre-Civil War African American homes in the state. Such an impressive claim is made possible by the generous donation of the home by Joe and Rose Zelek, according to the Mount Pleasant Historical Society.
The cabin was built about 1845 by the Hamlins, a free African American family living in Mount Pleasant. By 1860 the Hamlins sold the cabin to the Bruce family.
Some may remember Stewart Bruce, a well-known and longtime educator in Mount Pleasant. It was Bruce’s grandmother and grandfather who purchased the cabin for their growing family, which included two sons who served in the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War. David S. Bruce likewise lived in the cabin before going on to serve as the first African American to be elected as a Delegate to the Republican Party in the state of Ohio. He was also active in the Underground Railroad prior to Civil War.
The Historical Society has plans to restore the cabin to its original splendor, or lack thereof. Built originally as a two-room cabin, the Bruce cabin stands testimony to the stark contrast between the opulent brick homes along Union Street owned by the wealthy white residents and the homes owned by the free blacks living in 19th century Mount Pleasant.
According to Historical Society board member, Jon Erik Gilot, “Though Mount Pleasant was known as a safe haven for free and fugitive blacks there was still division when it came to wealth and lifestyles. The wealthy whites lived on one end of Union Street, and the poorer African Americans tended to live on the other end.”
The Historical Society of Mount Pleasant owns and maintains five historic structures in the village. When presented with the opportunity of the Zelek’s gift of the Bruce cabin Society members unanimously voted to accept.
“The Bruce Cabin brings our number up to six structures and complements our collection by representing the style of homes free black families in our area lived in close to 175 years ago,” said Gilot.
Gilot was also quick to point out that this is not the first time the Zelek family has stepped up to help the Historical Society. Each year in October singer song writer, Joe and Rose’s son, Joe Zelek III puts on an acoustic concert in the historic Quaker Meeting House with all proceeds going to the Historical Society.
Work is slated to begin on the Bruce Cabin early this spring. First phase of the work will include stripping away the siding and lean-to parts of the structure added in more recent years.
Gilot said, “Our plan is to restore the original two room cabin and stone foundation to its original condition.This will be an exciting project for our historical society and an important one not only for Mount Pleasant but for the Ohio Valley. This is history that has been waiting to be told.”