Canal Fulton’s successful grocer Mr. Timothy Sullivan first acquired the property (known as Lot no.47) at the corner of Liberty and High streets in 1870. Sullivan owned a grocery and building materials store on Canal Street, and set about building a fine home. By 1879, he had built his showcase Italianate home.
The Victorian Italianate style referred to the period it was built (Queen Victoria’s reign when the new American middle class desired all things austere and “high-styled”), and the style in which the house was built (in this case, the Italianate style, influenced by the vertical Tuscan villas which dotted Italy).
This early Victorian style is common in the North and the Mid-west (but not the South which was experiencing an economic crisis during Reconstruction), and it was popular in the 1860’s and 1870’s. The era of mass production (and perfection of the jigsaw) was dawning, and middle class gentlemen could order elaborate trim, pre-built bays, and other architectural features that would have been quite costly had they been custom made. Perhaps it was the frugal nature of a building supply dealer to purchase materials for a style that was almost twenty years old or perhaps it merely took that long for the style to be accepted vernacularly, whatever the reason, the Sullivan-Held house has elements of the Italianate style and the style immediately following, the Victorian Stick Style.
The Italianate style is known for the vertical rectangularity of the building, the low-pitched roof with overhanging eaves supported by delicate brackets, angled bay (or double-bay in this case) windows, and columned porticos (or porches). The Sullivan house exhibits these features; however, the later (1870’s and 1880’s) Stick style is evidenced as well. Clapboard siding set off with contrasting strips of wood trim at the corners, around windows, and at the end of the eaves; and the delicate cut-out wood trim in a radiating (or sunburst) pattern from the corners of the porticos. The trim at the corner of the porticos is interesting and shows two common types of styles. The cut out is in a tri-foil pattern (like a pointed three-leafed clover), and the “stick” like projections radiate in the classic sun burst pattern. Ready-mixed paint encouraged many to paint their Victorians in bright, fashionable colors. Careful research reveals the soft, sunny yellow, chocolate, and butter colored trim that the restored building wears again today.
After building the remarkable house, Mr. Sullivan sold it to Mr. E.R. Held in 1880. Mr. Held began his career as a delivery/stock boy in Mr. Sullivan’s grocery and hardware store, but evidencing classic middle-class values of skill, energy, and imagination, he worked his way into becoming Mr. Sullivan’s business partner. Having the only safe in town was apparently enough criteria for Mr. E.R. Held to also found the first bank, the Exchange Bank, which he located eventually at the south east corner of Canal and Liberty (Market) streets.
From 1880 until 1900, Mr. Held carried on his business in Canal Fulton and lived in the Sullivan-Held house. By 1900, the opportunity to help found the Central Savings and Trust Bank in Akron led Mr. Held away from the village. He leased the house to C.R. Dailey who lived in the house and carried on his undertaking business there.
The next tenant, in 1921, a prominent Massillon physician, Dr. P.A. Paulson, kept his office in the house until 1925 when Mr. Held sold the house to Mr. W.L. Keller.
The nearly sixty-year old structure required some repair by 1948 when the heirs of Mr. W.L. Keller and his wife Nell (a schoolteacher) sold the house to the ten year old library board. The purchase and rehabilitation was made with $30,000 funds donated by Mr. and Mrs. George P. Muhlhauser.
The Canal Fulton School District Free Public Library opened officially July 19, 1949 in the Sullivan House. Many renovations have slightly changed the façade of the original building, including a 1958 addition that featured Palladian windows, and a lower-level for a children’s room. (The addition caused a bit of an uproar, over the period appropriateness of the Palladian windows (a style of window that is seen in architecture from the Italian Renaissance when it was conceived by architectural designer Andrea Palladia to current new construction), but the town was assured of the historic veracity.) Renovations were also made in 1992 and in 2004, despite the modern conveniences and materials, the library still evidences the grandeur and beauty of Timothy Sullivan’s fine home.