In September of 2017 an inquiry arrived from a gentleman in California who was requesting assistance as he delved into genealogical research regarding his family, the Ungers. He had already uncovered extensive information regarding his family and their Stark County lineage.
Walter Unger and his wife Marti subsequently traveled to Ohio and met with archivist Mark Holland, volunteers, Judy Pocock, and Tom Haas and they spent time in the research library.
As it turns out, Walter Unger’s father Leslie had been friends with E. T. Heald, who had written the six volume compendium of Stark County history, called The Stark County Story, which is one of the most comprehensive sources to explore regarding our community’s legacy.
According to Unger family lore, George Unger Sr. (1774-1843), his wife, and three children arrived in Stark County in 1826 on a Prairie Schooner from Pennsylvania and purchased 160 acres of land in the Southwest Quadrant of Section 28 in Plain Township.
In 1852, George Unger Jr. (1813-1874), the son, purchased a log home and parcel of land in the Southwest Quadrant of Section 33 in Plain Township (immediately south of Section 28). As it often turns out when research is being done, a serendipitous discovery was made. The home that George Unger Jr. purchased is still standing and has been lovingly cared for and restored by its current owner, educator Joyce Lemke.
Joyce graciously opened her home for a visit from Walter and Marti Unger and a research team from the Ramsayer Research Library. The home sits on 25th Street near Malone University. Joyce, who has owned the home since 1985, has a wonderful collection of documents and photographs reflecting the history and provenance of this home and its prior owners.
In 1976, a historic preservation study of the home was completed by Gary A. Thompson, from the Dept. of Architecture at the University of Cincinnati, at the request of then owner D.W. Lanning. The original log home was completed in 1811.
Log construction in Ohio began around 1780. In fact, the oldest structure in Ohio dates to 1788, the Rufus Putnam House in Marietta, made of poplar pit-sawed planks.
This Stark County home had previously been known as the Lanning Home and before that the Unger Farm House. It is the oldest known standing home in Canton. For history buffs, the Shorb House built in 1810 is now gone. The Landmark Tavern still stands and was built in 1817.
The Unger/Lanning/Lemke house is unique in that it contains 2 frontier styles in the same house (both log and half-timbered). The land on which it sits was first sold to John Hannon in 1810, who then sold it to Andrew Newman in 1811. Newman then sold the land to Daniel Smith, who built the house in 1811. The property was then sold to John Smith in 1829, who sold it to George Unger in 1852 and for many years his heirs lived there. The house then went to the Lanning family, who lived there from 1930-1985, when Joyce Lemke purchased it.
At the time of the original purchase, Ohio was a very different landscape, with many Native American tribes still living here. There is an apocryphal story that when Daniel Smith was a First Lieutenant in the Cumberland County Militia, his wife and child feared for their safety being alone in the house and rode by horseback to a neighboring farm.
Upon returning the next day, they supposedly discovered two Native Americans on the second floor, both dead after a fight. The story was that you could still see traces of their blood on the floorboards.
Many alterations and renovations of the property were undertaken over the years. In 1820, a half-timbered 2-story structure was added. In the early 1900’s, the log house was converted into a garage. In 1932, both structures were extensively altered under the supervision of architect Herman Albrecht, who designed many homes in Massillon and in the Ridgewood neighborhood in Canton. A new entrance was completed and there was a large rear addition. Fireplaces and dormer windows were added. Today, the house still boasts original pine flooring as well as a beautiful front porch and stone cellar. The log house has an excellent example of 4-sided hewed logs with full dovetail notch.
Although short-lived, the house had even operated as a bed and breakfast in the mid 1980’s, known as Holly Hock Cottage, under Joyce Lemke’s proprietorship. The guest bedrooms were known as the Rose, Trellis and Loft Rooms. Today, the lovingly-curated home exudes a calm and serene timeliness. One wants to sit in the library under those rough-hewn beams and dig into an old classic, or sit shaded from the sun on the front porch sipping a lemonade.
To close, here is a statement from Gary A. Thompson, the Cincinnati architect who did the historic preservation assessment of the home in 1976:
“My Philosophy of Historic Preservation I view buildings as if they’re like people in that they are a living, growing thing and normally they change with time. The decades and centuries of use and adaptation leave their presence on them. Therefore, a building should present a picture of a quiet, unconscious evolution of use. The aim of restoration, therefore, is to create not the original by distorting all that has preceded, but to merge the old and the new into a quiet and friendly cohesiveness, to create an air of timelessness and persistent vitality.”
McKinley Presidential Library