A lot of legends are attached to the building that now is home to Briceland Funeral Services on the green in Brookfield Center.
A recent exterior renovation project has added a new one.
The project fulfills a long-time goal for Daniel and Kristin Briceland.
“We have been wanting to do this since we bought it, honestly, and just didn’t have the ability or the time,” said Daniel Briceland.
The Bricelands bought the building at 379 Route 7 in 2010, and extensively renovated what had been a home, doing the work themselves. This time, ARMS Construction Group, Brookfield, is doing the work. The company has removed the stucco siding from the building and is replacing it with cement board siding to return the building to the look of the clapboard siding that was on it circa the 1870s, Daniel Briceland said.
“It (stucco) was falling off the building,” Briceland said.
ARMS also removed two windows from the front of the building, again restoring the 1870s look.
“Trying to make it look like it used to be,” said Jim Smith, one of the ARMS workers. “It’s fun to make something that was old new again.”
ARMS has replaced some rotting wood, but, “The overall bones of the building are good, for being 200 years old,” Briceland said. “I was surprised.”
During the course of the work, “We found a surprise,” he said. “There is a trap door upstairs in one of the rooms that was never touched, with two steps leading down.”
There probably will never be a way to definitively state the purpose of the trap door, but Briceland has a theory that enhances the legends of the house.
“We all know it’s been documented that the Obermiyer building was on the Underground Railroad,” he said of the building at the corner of Route 7 and Warren Sharon Road, also in Brookfield Center.
The Obermiyer building basement used to have a tunnel that was used to secretly move slaves who were traveling northbound to freedom, and two artifacts – a shoe and a shackle – from the tunnel are in the collection of the Brookfield Historical Society.
“I’ve always been under the impression that neighboring houses participated in that harboring, at some point,” Briceland said. “That, to me, is proof that this house was part of that harboring. I don’t know how you prove it, but why would there be a trap door there?”
The historical marker on the green lists two other buildings in the center that were stations on the Underground Railroad, and details other aspects of Brookfield’s participation in helping slaves escape.
Many other elements of the history of the Briceland building also are open to debate.
“There’s two different histories: One showing this was Navy Capt. James Christy’s home, the other history showing that it was the Webster Hotel,” Briceland said.
Joe Tarkanick, author of the history book “The Brookfield That Was,” presented one of those histories of the house in 1991, when the house was featured on a Brookfield Heritage Days commemorative plate.
“Supposedly, Indians dug the well that’s out there,” said Kristin Briceland.
“Mr. Tarkanick told me there is an etching in the bottom of that well that I would be interested in,” Daniel Briceland said. “I’m gonna put a camera down there one of these days.”
Tarkanick said that Christy was the original owner of the building. Christy first came to Brookfield in 1814 and had Charles Hart build a home in 1815 or 1816, he said. The house was a multi-purpose dwelling that included quarters for carriage travelers, Tarkanick said.
The building housed a post office in the 1830s, and a drug store occupied an addition on the north side in the 1870s, Tarkanick said.
Christy died in 1871, Tarkanick said.
A later owner, James Clark, welcomed William McKinley in the house prior to McKinley’s election as U.S. president, Tarkanick said.
Lois Werner of the Brookfield Historical Society presents a different history. She said William Amburson purchased the property in 1819 from Samuel Hinckley, the founder of Brookfield Township. The tax value of the property – $562 – indicated it already contained some sort of building, she said.
Werner agreed that Charles Hart built the first structure, and that it “likely began as a wagon/carriage house and stable with sleeping quarters for drivers upstairs.”
Andrew Webster purchased the property from William and Silas Amburson in 1832, and documentation lists the building as a hotel, Werner said.
“Something happened to the building in 1843, likely a fire, when the value plummeted to $223 and remained at a low level until 1852 when it returned to a value of $438,” she said.
It appears a new hotel was built and, in 1852, the property was sold to Freeman O. Arms and became a general merchandise business.
James Clark, an undertaker and businessman, bought the property in 1873, after which the post office and drug store moved in, Werner said.
The property passed through several hands until James Clark, unrelated to the previous owner of the same name, purchased the property in 1918.
“He added the large lower-level windows and covered the exterior that had formerly been wood siding with stucco,” Werner said. “He was known for his extensive rose gardens and planted the only gingko tree in the area.”
Clark’s son, Harlan, worked for the state department and traveled the world.
The house passed to James Clark’s son, Paul. In a 1991 interview, Paul Clark noted that he and his dad “worked for all our lives getting utilities in the house.”
The Clarks frequently opened rooms to boarders, and Clark specifically remembered school teachers and out-of-town engineers from Westinghouse staying there.
Paul Clark died in 2002 and ownership passed to others until the Bricelands bought it in 2010.
Daniel Briceland said he wants to do right by the community by keeping his building in good shape.
“You need to reinvest back into your community and into your properties and keep them looking the way they need to look,” he said. “That’s the real purpose (for undertaking the renovation), other than the siding was falling off.”
Traci Manning of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society will lecture on the Underground Railroad at the Dec. 9 meeting of the Brookfield Township Historical Society. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at the Brookfield Township Administration Building, 6844 Strimbu Drive, and is open to the public.