Hidden history

It would be easy to miss the historic federal-style house at 117 Gilman Ave. that was once the home of Dr. Seth Hart. The entire front of the two-story structure as well as the front lawn is covered with vines and other vegetation.

“Some weeds are growing and an old building is falling down in the backyard, although someone does come out and mow occasionally,” said John Hilton, who lives in a mobile home park next to the house.

Hilton said he also sometimes mows the grass between the curb and sidewalk in front of the Hart home.

“There are still old gas fixtures inside,” he said. “But no one’s lived there for years. I’d like to see it fixed up-to help remind people about the history here.”

The house was constructed in the 1830s and was the home of Dr. Hart who later built a much smaller house on adjacent property that served as his physician’s office. The office structure is also still standing and being used as a private residence.

Born in Berlin, Conn., Nov. 13, 1814, Hart, a general practitioner, came to Washington County in 1825 and opened an office in Watertown in April of that year, according to the “History of Marietta and Washington County, Ohio, and Representative Citizens” by Martin R. Andrews, who was a professor of history and political science at Marietta College.

Hart continued his Watertown practice until 1836 when he moved his office to Marietta’s Harmar district.

Andrews noted Hart had at one time worked in a drug store in Palmyra, N.Y., where he learned about pharmaceuticals.

“He had a practice of keeping and preparing his own medicines…and had an intimate acquaintance with drugs and their use,” Andrews wrote.

Hart practiced medicine in Washington County for 60 years, although he took one year off in 1869 to manage a mining operation in the Rocky Mountains, according to Andrews

Dr. Hart had “the highest reputation as a doctor and integrity as a man,” Andrews wrote. “His visits were an inspiration to thousands of families in the hour of pain and distress…”

Hart died in 1891 and is buried in Mound Cemetery.

According to Washington County tax records, the Hart home belongs to Donald Rose, whose address is listed at the same location on Gilman Avenue. Attempts to contact Rose were unsuccessful, but Hilton said he understood Rose was planning to restore the property.

Tom Vukovic, city councilman for the 4th Ward that includes the Harmar district, said preserving historic properties like the Hart home is a challenge all over Marietta. But his district has seen several older homes razed.

“Just recently another historic home on Maple Street was torn down, although the owner had been working to renovate it,” he said. “One problem in the Harmar area is that once you tear down a structure, you can’t rebuild without elevating the property, due to flood plain regulations. And many people there just can’t afford to do those renovations.”

Fellow councilman Harley Noland said Marietta’s historic nature can only be maintained by preserving properties from the past, like the Hart home.

“We have to see the value of our historic fabric,” he said. “There are tax incentives available for restoration of properties in the Harmar and downtown areas as those areas are part of the city’s historic district. And to rebuild in those areas would be terribly expensive because most of the district in located within the 100-year flood plain.”

Noland said there are other factors that may impact the preservation of properties with historic significance, including how an area is zoned-commercial or residential, and whether the city property maintenance code is enforced.

People are cautious about investing in the restoration of a home that’s in an unkempt neighborhood because that translates to lower property values, he said.

Noland also noted the city has no historic property preservation ordinance, which would help make sure owners keep those properties maintained.

There have been at least three attempts to develop an historic preservation ordinance-the last in 2008. But all three attempts failed, he said.