Breathing Life into a 173 Year-Old Ohio Historical Building

Until very recently, the Richard Howe House in Akron, Ohio was a neglected, blue-painted eyesore. The former mansion built in 1836 had been the home of the resident engineer of the Ohio & Erie Canalway, whose transportation project transformed northeastern Ohio into a bustling commercial center critical to many areas of a young America. Over subsequent decades, the Howe House took various turns, being home to an antique shop, grocery store and even a tattoo parlor. Thanks to a painstaking renovation, it is now a restored architectural showpiece that sits two blocks from its original location.
On June 30, 2008, the fragile three-story building, weighing 400 tons, was precisely raised onto a fleet of remote-controlled eight-wheel tractors and slowly rolled the two blocks to its new site. The three-hour spectacle fascinated hundreds who watched the building crawl along its way, taking up the width of the closed four-lane roadway. From there, the on-site rehabilitation of the building lasted 16 months. Unseemly pale blue gave way to vibrant red brick and a glimpse into history.
“The Howe House had been forgotten, but it’s been turned into a jewel in downtown Akron,” said Dan Rice, CEO of the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition (OECC). “The community is very surprised, even somewhat shocked to see how beautiful the house is.”
A partnership between the OECC and City of Akron allowed the $2.2 million project to come to fruition. The home, one of only two remaining historical high Federal style structures in the city, was in danger of being demolished to make way for new development. With the risk of losing the building to history, the coalition, which was committed to restoring the house and moving its offices there, decided to pick it up, re-site it and rehabilitate it. The OECC engaged Braun and Steidl Architects.
“Our design process included researching the architectural style in order to restore or duplicate features that would have been part of the house during the year 1886,” said Phil Steinberg, AIA, CSI, of Braun and Steidl Architects.
Significant time was spent restoring the floor plan. “Basically, two thirds of the first floor walls were missing from the original building because there had been multiple additions over the years. This included designing temporary structural shoring systems to support those openings where they had put the additions on so that restorations could be completed,” Steinberg explained.
In addition to load-bearing elements, the Federal style stone lintels and door surrounds were restored along with historical dentil trim and double-hung windows. Foundation stones from the home were salvaged and used as exterior veneer.
For the structure’s roof, Braun and Steidl spec’d The Tapco Group’s InSpire Roofing brand. The composite slate is often used on historical projects and was already familiar to the firm. InSpire tiles carry an authentic slate texture, but in a sustainable blend of limestone and virgin resins.
“There was slate roofing added at some point in the home’s history during the selected time period we were trying to comply with. We used a historical color blend for the roof as well as the other colors on the façade to match the 1886 appearance,” Steinberg noted. “InSpire really does a wonderful job of complementing the historical renovation of this structure,” Rice added.
A mix of three roofing colors was used; 40 percent Slate Grey, 40 percent Pewter Grey and 20 percent Dover Grey. InSpire’s 25 colors include a full range of historically-sensitive shades such as Charcoal Grey, Plum and Emerald Green, along with exclusive blended-color tiles that feature grey color mixes. The ratio of grey hues used was a joint recommendation from Braun and Steidl and In- Spire. “We sat down with the InSpire people and had extensive conversations on historical aesthetics,” Rice said. “We clearly recognized the need to rely on their expertise.”
To install the new roofing, general contractor Welty Construction turned to USA Roofing, Inc. of Twinsburg, Ohio, a company specializing in commercial shingle roofing on structures like large churches, hotels, banks and school buildings. “When I stand across the street, I can’t tell the difference between this composite and natural slate,” said Dusty Basmagy, project roofer with USA Roofing. “The InSpire roof looks good. If I had a 150-year old house, I would consider installing it.”
Nationally, InSpire is installed on museum buildings, historical churches and other landmark structures. It is also used to discern homes of various architectural styles, from a Queen Anne mansion in Beverly Hills to a massive mountaintop estate in the slate-heritage area of eastern Pennsylvania.
“You wouldn’t know that those tiles are a synthetic product with recycled content. They are very, very beautiful,” said Rice. “We have several other historical projects that we’re working on and we hope to partner with InSpire again.”
Below the revitalized slate roofline, more choices and challenges had loomed. Braun and Steidl had to find a matching brick similar to the handmade brick of the 1836 façade. They also had to analyze the composition of the home’s lime putty mortar to restore the original brick walls.
Because a particular section of the building could not be moved, there was also a need to recreate an historical addition to the home. Now, that addition sits just off the water’s edge of the canal, with doors opening to overlook the project that Richard Howe spent so many years on.
Inside the rejuvenated Howe House, the first floor entryway contains a visitor’s information center with a main exhibit space and an area for exploring the heritage of Richard Howe, “whose canal-building mission is the very reason for why Akron came into being,” Rice noted.
“The Howe House was in very sad shape, really deprived due to a lot of deferred maintenance. We’ve been able to turn a local eyesore into a regional destination,” Rice said. “It’s very exciting to see the ideas and dreams that people had for this structure realized.”
“Our vision was to restore the Howe House to a recognizable historical structure,” said Steinberg. “We’re very pleased with the way it has come out and happy that we could restore the building back to its 1886 appearance. From the state it was in before it was moved to the new location, you would never have recognized the beauty that was hidden inside.
Inspire by Boral is a U.S. Green Building Council Member. For more information, visit: or call 1-800-971-4148.