History of Founder’s Hall

Springer Mansion at Zion United Church of Christ

The following was written by Balladeer Neil Harrell)

I have found that many members of the Queen City Balladeers don’t know that Founders Hall at Zion United Church of Christ, where Leo Coffee House is returning this Fall, is actually the first floor of a Mansion that dates back to 1891. A couple of years ago when QCB was meeting at Zion, I became interested in learning more about the mansion part of the church. I searched online and discovered quite a bit of information about Zion church and the original owners of the mansion.

Now that QCB is returning to Zion I thought that other members might be interested in knowing a little bit about the history of Zion and the mansion.On Zion’s website, under history, I found out that the original church, which “was born as Zion Reformed Church in 1892” moved to the “Springer Mansion” in 1926. The mansion now houses the “Founder’s Hall, kitchen, and the upstairs classrooms surrounding the Children’s Chapel.” Incidentally, the stone sanctuary adjacent to the mansion was built in 1935 “with the help of one particularly resourceful member who arranged to purchase.

building stones from a wrecking company that was dismantling mansions in Walnut Hills.”

(http://zionchurchucc.org/history/)

So, who was Springer? With another search on Google for the Springer Mansion, and a little luck, I found a 13-page biography entitled “A Family of Chemists, The Life and Times of Alfred Springer, 1854-1946” by William B. Jensen, Professor of Chemistry at U.C. There on page 4 was a photo of the Zion mansion titled “A winter view of Springer’s Norwood mansion as it appeared in its prime.”

If you would like to know more about Alfred Springer and the Springer family, I would encourage you to read Professor Jensen’s complete paper. I found it an interesting read.

(http://www.che.uc.edu/jensen/W.%20B.%20Jensen/Reprints/228.%20Alfred%20Springer.pdf)

Some interesting details from Jensen’s paper include:

  • Alfred Springer graduated from Hughes High School (then located on West Fifth St.) in 1870 at the age of 16. 
  • He then attended the University of Heidelberg in Germany to study under renowned chemist Robert Bunsen, for whom the Bunsen Burner is named. 
  • Springer, who apparently was a child prodigy, graduated two years later at age 18 with a doctorate in chemistry. 
  • His chemistry degree was chosen to prepare him to work in the family chemical business, Alexander Fries & Bro., run by his two maternal uncle’s, Alexander and Gustave, and owned, in part, by his mother, Antoine.
  • Alfred and his wife, Eda, moved from their home at 387 West Fourth St., Cincinnati, to the larger Springer Mansion in Norwood in 1891.
  • The mansion originally was sited on 10 1/2 acres on Montgomery Rd. and was planted with at “least two examples of every variety of scrub and tree indigenous to the Southern Ohio Valley.”
  • According to a family story, in the 1880’s Alfred worked on standardizing the formula for a new product, Coca-Cola, for which he was paid in stock—stock that he sold a few years later before it would eventually have grown into a fortune.
  • Alfred lived with his son, Alfred Jr, and his daughter-in-law in their home at the Belvedere Apartments (which still stand in Avondale) after his wife died in 1937.

In my research, I also found the website of the Norwood Historical Society which includes a page titled “Montgomery Pike-1896”. The page details an 1896 directory which lists the owners of and workers at many of the buildings on Montgomery Pike. In addition, family members likely to have lived at residences have been added from census records. A search for Springer took me to the listing for the home listed at Main (Montgomery Pike) and Mound. Residents/workers in order listed include: Alfred (42); his mother, Mrs. Antonia Springer (66); his wife Eda (40); daughter Elsie (14); son Alfred Jr. (7); Eliza Fertig, Tresa Geiger, and Bertha Voss (presumably employees); Jas.Kennedy-coachman; and his uncle, Alexander Fries (75).

(http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~ohnhs2/Main1896.html)

I also learned that Alfred Springer was involved in the building of Norwood’s Water Works which was approved by voters in 1892. Dr. Alfred Springer along with George Puchta and Henry Rikhoff were appointed water works trustees by Mayor McNeill to oversee the construction of the water works. This included the water works plant on Harris Ave. along with a water tower located on Indian Mound Ave. approximately 1240 ft away from Dr. Springer’s home (as the crow flies per Google Maps).

(http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~ohnhs2/book1894F.html)

The “Montgomery Pike-1896” page also lists James A. Gibson as a plumber, gas and steam fitter. He is credited as having “put in the first branch tap in Norwood at the Dr.Springer home on May 22, 1894.”

Looking at the mansion in aerial photos on Google maps I found that the front porch of the mansion faces almost directly West to face Montgomery Road (then known as Main Street or Montgomery Pike). Of course today the view of Montgomery Rd. from the mansion is blocked by single dwelling homes and apartment buildings. Although I couldn’t find a map showing the plot of land that made up the Springer estate I was able to find an historic plat that shows the land had been part of the W.B. Ferguson farm which was subdivided in 1870. The subdivision shown on the map as owned by Thos. Sherlock was at least part of the Springer estate and may have been the entire estate.

(http://recordersoffice.hamilton-co.org/plats/pdfs/P_003_144.pdf)

It is interesting to note that Springer mansion apparently only stayed in the Springer family for 35 years. Built in 1891 it was passed on to the Zion Reformed Church in 1926. It is also interesting to note that as early as 1900 the area around the Springer estate was starting to be developed for neighborhood homes. Several apartment buildings on Montgomery Road directly in front of the mansion, on land that was presumably part of the Springer estate, were built between 1926 and 1928. The house directly in front of Springer Mansion (2330 Sherwood Lane) was built in 1929. This development was likely spurred in part by the building of the nearby water tower.

So there you have it. A little bit of the history of the place the Queen City Balladeers will again call home on Sunday evenings. The next time you are listening to music in Founder’s Hall look around at the woodwork, the fireplaces, the tall windows and remember the family that touched the woodwork, warmed themselves by the fireplaces and gazed through the windows many years ago.

Neil Harrell
9/5/2015