by Kathleen Franks for Porch Stories™ Summer Tour 2010, Hudson, Ohio
History is replete with the accomplishments of men. Sprinkled among these are the rare accounts of women whose intuitive determination leave the world a better place. Caroline Baldwin Babcock was one such woman.
I am Lucy Susannah Baldwin, Caroline’s cousin. I’ve made this journey through time to be with you on the 100th anniversary of the Hudson Library and Historical Society. I am profoundly and deeply honored. Here I stand, on the very porch of the house where my cousin Caroline was born, privileged to tell her story to all of you.
This was Caroline’s corner of the world. She spent most of her 80 years in Hudson. It was a place, and still is, I may add, that highly values education as a life-long endeavor. Our forefathers brought scores of books on their journey westward, with the intention of infecting their “New Connecticut” with an unquenchable love of knowledge. These values were at the core of my cousin’s character.
Caroline’s father, Frederick Baldwin, was 47 when she was born in 1841 and her mother, Saloma, was 37. Six years before, their first daughter, Maria Louisa, died less than a month old, leaving them in unspeakable grief. Caroline turned out to be their only child. I know that she gave my aunt and uncle boundless joy. Often I would hear my parents talk about the special delight that Caroline brought into the family.
Reared in a home where intellect was prized, Caroline had the auspicious advantage of immersing herself in the joy of reading. Her parents kept company with like-minded individuals like Nathan Seymour, professor of Greek and Latin at Western Reserve College, whose home contained a library of over 2,000 books – an astounding number of volumes for an early pioneer of the Western Reserve.
Caroline absorbed the knowledge that freely flowed in the Seymour family library. This is where her journey of self-education began, an adventure that never ended. Her most admired guide along that endless pursuit was her mother, who was a teacher at heart, and by profession. Caroline received an education from her dear mother that was much more extensive than any that she could have gotten elsewhere.
Frederick Baldwin was a merchant. He and his two brothers, Harvey (my father) and Augustus, arrived in Hudson from their home in Goshen, Connecticut, following in their father’s footsteps, Stephen Baldwin, who was one of the original six purchasers of the 16,000 acre parcel of the Western Reserve. Frederick and his brothers arrived in 1812 ready to open a general store, “A. Baldwin and Bros.”, to serve the needs of their new neighbors.
Uncle Frederick fell in love with Saloma Whedon Bronson, who had graduated from one of the first schools of higher learning for women in the country, the “Young Ladies’ Institute” in Litchfield, CT and had moved to Hudson to begin her career in education. They were married in 1828 at the home of Squire Benjamin Whedon which happened to be next door to the future location of the young couple’s home that would be built in 1834 at the northeast corner opposite the village green.
While Aunt Saloma contributed much to children through her gift of teaching, Uncle Frederick was community-minded. In the historic first election to incorporate the “Town of Hudson, Township of Hudson, County of Portage”, Uncle Frederick was voted in as one of the five trustees, along with the Mayor, Heman Oviatt, and the Recorder, Lyman Hall.
This group of seven comprised the first city council. Uncle Frederick served his town well. His reputation went beyond the borders, for The Cleveland Leader wrote of him as, “widely known as a just and honorable man.” It was from this heritage of education and civic leadership that Caroline grew into womanhood.
Uncle Frederick died in the winter of 1881 and Aunt Saloma died that summer. They had one of the best marriages ever known. Still falling in love after 53 years, neither one could have gone on living without the other. I think there is something to be said about dying from a broken heart.
Suddenly Caroline was alone in the world at the age of 40. Some might have felt sorry for her, assuming she was a lonely spinster. Not at all! She had several earnest suitors. Men were captivated by her ability to hold a conversation on any topic imaginable. Why it was said that at any party that Caroline attended, an adoring cluster of men gathered around mesmerized by her repartee.
One such admirer that caused the most talk about town was that of a certain teacher from the high school, a strikingly handsome man, 11 years younger than Caroline. They were often seen together at town events, arriving in the Baldwin cutter, laughing while falling in one another’s arms, practically tumbling out of the rig. Caroline’s youthful persona matched perfectly with his boyish charm.
As Caroline’s romantic life unfolded, another man threw his hat in the ring. He was an old friend of the Baldwin family. Perry H. Babcock and his former wife had been frequent guests at the Baldwin home. After his wife died, Perry’s visits became more numerous. It soon became obvious that he had marital intentions toward Caroline. Perry was 11 years older. What could this all possibly mean?
Well, as life would have it, things got a little complicated. Two marriage proposals arrived at the same time on the doorstep of Caroline’s heart. Not able to decide which one to let in, she considered her options from all sides. Friends and family were called upon to give advice. In the end, Caroline’s heart chose Mr. Babcock.
They were married in 1884. Caroline moved to Perry’s home on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland. A man of substantial means, a well-known banker and civic leader, Perry Babcock wrapped his life around Caroline like a soft summer breeze. Caroline settled into the comfort of his love and assumed her new role as lady of the house with all grace and dignity.
They had a happy and satisfying marriage of 27 years when Perry passed away at the age of 81. His obituary was a testament to what a fine man he was when it stated, “Perry H. Babcock was a man of great executive and business abilities as well as of sterling moral worth.”
Caroline became a very wealthy woman. However, such new-found affluence did not alter my cousin’s sense of frugality. She remained a woman of prudence and good sense .
Although she loved her life in Cleveland and had made many great friends, Caroline returned to her home in Hudson shortly after Perry’s death. She had something on her mind, something that she had been wanting to do her whole life, and now she had the money to do it – establish a library for her hometown – not just an ordinary one, but a library that also could serve as an historical society and learning institute.
She discussed the concept with many friends and acquaintances. Caroline wanted to make sure that the project would be well received and supported. She began a correspondence with James W. Ellsworth, Hudson’s great benefactor, to enlist his help. He immediately responded in a letter dated July 8, 1910, “I will do everything necessary to promote Hudson’s best interests and provide a place for the keeping of all this material that is so important to the village.”
Mr. Ellsworth arranged for one of his attorneys to draw up the legal papers necessary to form a public institution. He offered one of his buildings to use for the new library – the beautiful newly-remodeled, six-columned, Greek Revival that stood stately at the corner of Aurora and College. How fitting that this grand structure would house Hudson’s first library!
With this first step in place, Caroline could turn her attention to the rest of her dream – that of providing free public lectures for the purpose of “training so that as we walk, or run or motor, we shall know when we find uncut jewels in our path. Knowledge is worthwhile,” she added: “For myself I’ve been hungry for it all my life. I beg each and all of you to help the effort being made to open treasures that will make character for strong men and women.”
Caroline arranged for the library trustees to manage the endeavor. She stipulated that they would be required to spend “not less than $500 or more than $700 annually for lectures on science, art and history which will be free and for the benefit and pleasure of Hudson citizens.”
Caroline’s extensive travels gave her the backdrop on which to design an impressive lecture series. She had made many trips to Europe and had gone around the world once. She envisioned discourses on paper-making for example, so that children could learn how U.S. currency was made thereby instilling respect for the dollar and a desire to treat it sparingly!
She made a list of talks on subjects such as St. Peter’s and the Vatican, Chinese embroideries, pottery, glass-blowing, hand-tooled books, tapestries, gardening and Hudson beautification plans.
Caroline included local history as an integral part of the overall program. She wanted excerpts from the diaries of the village forefathers read. She believed that, “We are better able to appreciate our blessings of today if we pause a bit to think on the hardships and discouragements that those first settlers endured.”
I am thrilled that you have so beautifully restored my cousin’s home. Caroline would be so pleased to know that her home is shared by four organizations that do so much to enrich the lives of Hudson residents and that right next door is a foundation which provides support for entrepreneurs. Caroline would be impressed to know that community support and business development are side-by-side.
I understand that this is now known as the philanthropic corner of Hudson. How fitting that the legacy continues. What good can come of this has no limits. It reminds me of what Mr. Ellsworth used to say, “The best is none too good and everyone must do his best.”
Speaking of the best, that new library you’ve built across the way is quite a testament to the value that Hudson still places on the pursuit of knowledge. Caroline would be speechless at the sight of it! I know it would bring her to tears to know how much the town benefits from its extensive resources. I think what would delight her even more, though, would be the continuance of her beloved free public lecture series. Thank you for making my dear cousin’s dreams come true.
Isn’t it amazing how one woman’s vision of one hundred years ago can become such a beautiful reality?