When I showed Nikolina a stained glass representation of the Ohio state seal at the Statehouse, I thought it had been far too long since our last visit to the landmark that inspired the view that the seal depicts. So when we were picking destinations for last Saturday’s drive, Adena, the Chillicothe home of Thomas Worthington, Ohio’s sixth governor, was a logical choice.
We like Adena because it’s a part of our family history. But Adena also enjoys national architectural significance because it was designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, a 19th century architect best known for his design of the United States Capitol and Baltimore’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the first Roman Catholic Cathedral in the United States.
Adena’s historical importance led the Ohio Historical Society to undertake an 18-month restoration of the mansion and its gardens for the Ohio Bicentennial in 2003. The project also provided for the first complete interior redecoration of the home since 1953, as well as construction of a new museum and education center.
Even though almost a decade has passed since the restoration was completed, the results continue to be breathtaking. A painted floorcloth in the entrance foyer sets the tone for the elegant details found throughout the home. For example, the wallpaper in Worthington’s library and office was recreated from a two-inch piece of the original 1807 wallpaper that was found behind a door frame, as well as a small piece of wallpaper border below the chair rail. Door hardware and carpet patterns were matched with computer analysis. The faux marble pattern on the stair risers was found under several layers of paint and was recreated. One of the turnarounds, or revolving wooden doors with six built-in semicircular trays that Latrobe designed for the formal dining room and drawing room at Adena, was repaired. These turnarounds enabled servants to serve meals and clear dishes without interrupting Mr. Worthington and his guests.
Admiring Adena’s beauty, it’s important to remember that when the home was completed in 1807, the materials that created all that grandeur were brought to the site with horses, wagons and manpower. When dirt-floor cabins were the norm on the Ohio frontier, Adena must have been an especially impressive sight for President James Monroe, the Indian chief Tecumseh, and others who visited Mr. Worthington and his family.
Outside, a kitchen vegetable garden, a vineyard and orchard, a grove featuring ornamental trees and shrubs, and a formal perennial and rose garden have taken hold. Looking east from the north lawn, you can see across the Scioto River Valley to the Mount Logan range of hills. This view is the one that is depicted on the Ohio state seal.
The interpretive displays in the museum and education center help visitors understand what life was like in early Ohio, the path toward statehood, and the Worthington family’s place in Ohio history. Here, you can see the original ceremonial peace pipe in the shape of a tomahawk that Tecumseh presented to Mr. Worthington in 1807. I’m partial to the trunks that cleverly contain artifacts connected to each of the 10 Worthington children. Seeing the one for Sarah Worthington King Peter, the Worthingtons’ second child, reminded me that I need to learn more about this lady who took the unusual step of converting to Roman Catholicism in 1855, started design and arts academies for women, and established convents in Cincinnati to serve the poor.
In the museum, you’ll also spot a quote from Fortescue Cuming, a traveler who visited Adena a few weeks before it was completed in 1807. He described Mr. Worthington’s home as “one of the best and most tasty houses not only of this state but westward of the Allegheny Mountains.” We think that tasty house where my great-great-great grandmother, Friederika, and her father worked is also the tastiest of all the Ohio Historical Society’s sites.
For more information about Adena’s restoration, read “Worthington’s Historic Home Reopens to Public,” my article in the HomeFront supplement to the February 21, 2003 issue of Business First of Columbus.