Samuel Forward and the history of the 1815 Tavern

John Kudley Jr.
Special to the Aurora Advocate
The 1815 Tavern as it appears today.

The second family to settle in Aurora was Samuel Forward, Esq. and his wife, Susannah, and their seven children: Samuel, Jr., Oliver, Chauncey, Rennsellaer, Dryden, Betsey and Julia. Another son, Walter, and his family settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania after initial coming with the family to Aurora. The Forwards arrived in 1803 moving from Granby, Connecticut, just three years after Ebenezer and Lovee Sheldon had established their homestead. Forward was born on April 21, 1752, in Hartford, Connecticut and died on May 3, 1821, at the age of 69. His headstone can be found in the Aurora Cemetery.

The Forwards settled on a homestead of 800 acres in the center of village which encompassed an area bounded by what became South Chillicothe Road (Route 43), Route 82 and what was at one time called “Bissell St” (Bissell Road) The large tract of land covered what is today the center of town where the Town Hall, the Church in Aurora, the 1815 Tavern and businesses to the south along Route 43 extending westward where the fire station, Aurora High School, the Woods in Aurora, the city’s Service Center and lands on both sides of West Pioneer Trail to Route 82. His son Samuel Jr. and his wife Abigail moved into a cabin near Harmon Pond (Sunny Lake).

A 1874 print of Aurora’s town center. Forward’s homestead, town hall and Congregational Church.

Upon arrival in Aurora the family settled into a log cabin and set about making a homestead in the wilderness in an environment totally different from that of Connecticut. With very few white settlers in the area, there was always the fear of their relations with the region’s Native Americans. In a letter to Israel Phelps of Granby, Connecticut dated October 28, 1808, Forward describes that relationship indicating that there was probably a greater danger of a conflict with Native Americans back home than there was in Aurora. “As to the Indians we have had no Disturbances with them here and never have apprehended any Danger from them anymore than I should in Hartford if we should have a war with England it might be that some people that Live back might be in some Danger, but I apprehend no Danger here.”

Corner of West Pioneer Trail and South Chillicothe Road circa 1910.

In addition to being one of Aurora’s largest landowners, Samuel was prominent in the formation of the small settlements first governments. On Dec. 14, 1807, the village of Aurora was formally organized. Forward, Ebenezer Sheldon and Phineas Perkins were elected as trustees. Forward was also appointed at the “overseer” of the poor house because if his “strongly sympathetic nature and his old-fashioned community heart.” His son Oliver served as the village’s first clerk. In April 1808, Forward was also elected as Justice of the Peace and later as an Associate Judge of the Portage County Court.

Well known and a highly respected citizen of Granby, Connecticut, he was influential in directing westward settlers to Aurora. Forward’s commitment as one of the village’s leading citizens was demonstrated when on July 4, 1807, his home was opened to the community to celebrate the nation’s Independence Day and to observe the “patriotic exercises of the day.” As the population of Aurora continued to grow, the township trustees planned to meet the educational, spiritual and governmental needs of the community. In 1816 Forward gave to the township Lot #18 creating a town center upon which a log cabin school was built where City Hall now stands. Adjacent to the school the land was also dedicated for the erection of the Congregational Church and a town hall. The only condition that Forward placed upon his gift to the town was that he would be able to “reserve his pew in the Presbyterian meeting house.”

Samuel Forward was also recognized as a leader in the congregation and was called upon on at times to investigate accusations that were made against members for their actions that were considered to be “inconsistent with Christian character.” On one occasion Forward along with David Loomis accused Ebenezer Sheldon of “using spirits to excess.” In a separate charge Sheldon’s wife Lovee was accused of calling another member of the congregation a “cheat.” Both Ebenezer and Lovee were called before the congregation where they acknowledged their faults and “professed sorrow and promised to be watchful” in the future. However, Forward must not have condemned drinking, just drinking to excess, because as early as 1810 he had been operating a “public house.” In 1821, he formally petitioned to the county to be able to “keep a House of Public Entertainment.”

The 1815 House prior to its 1984 renovation.

Forward’s also distinguished themselves. Samuel Forward, Jr. open the first school in Aurora located near the corner of East Pioneer Trail and Page Road. Three of Ebenezer’s Sheldon’s children along with Samuel’s two brothers and his sister were his first students. Oliver Forward also taught school. In 1804 Sally (Granger) Oliver’s wife gave birth to the first child born in Aurora, a boy name Cromwell. His eldest son, Walter moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1806. In addition to his law career, Walter was an editor of newspaper The Tree of Liberty. He served in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, later becoming a member of the U.S. Congress. In the 1830s he played an important role in the formation of the Whig Party. From 1841-1843 he was U.S. Secretary of the Treasury in the term of office of President John Tyler. During the Presidency of Millard Fillmore he served as the U.S. Minister to Denmark. Chauncey Forward, after initially settling with the family in Aurora, moved to Somerset, Pennsylvania practicing law. He also served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and later in the Pennsylvania Senate. From 1823-1831 he was a Pennsylvania representative to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Initially Forward’s homestead consisted of a log cabin, barn, livestock and orchards. In July 1807, Robert Bissell, a local carpenter, was contracted by Forward to “finish boarding and shingling” his barn. Bissell was again hired to build Forward’s “mansion” on the property, making it the oldest standing house in Aurora. The house was completed in June, 1815. As early as 1810 Samuel Forward was keeping a tavern on his property where travelers could have a place to stop, have a meal and a drink, seek lodging and have a place to stable one’s horse.

The Tavern was later run by Robert Bissell. Upon Forward’s death in 1821, ownership of his properties went to his eldest son Walter of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Walter sold 100 acres to Moses Eggleston in 1826. A land speculator, Eggleston began to sell off portions of the property along South Chillicothe. C.R. Harmon (Wayside Workshop) built his store adjacent to the “1815 House” and his cheese warehouse (The Secret Garden), next to which was Dr. Streater’s establishment (Mad Jack’s) and various other shops and homes.

Operation of the Tavern after Forward’s death continued under Robert Bissell, Moses Eggleston, Isaac Lacey, Doctor Birge, Artemus Stocking, William Baker, Nelson Eggleston, Noble Winteral, and last once again by Nelson Eggleston. Nelson had owned his own home on his father’s property at 270 S. Chillicothe and signed it over to the wife of the Presbyterian minister which served as the church’s parsonage. He took control over the 78 acres remodeling the tavern into a home for his family. The central chimney was removed and replaced with two end chimneys, adding a balloon framed wing to the west, and a porch along the entire front of the house. Floor to ceiling windows along with a Victorian styled door were added in the front.

In 1864, Nelson Eggleston sold the property to Calvin Harmon who continued to use the building as a tavern under the management of Winteral. As already mentioned, in 1871 Nelson bought back the property. Upon his death the tavern was left to his sons Addis and Robert, with the condition that if the house were to fall into “disrepair or was mismanaged” the grandchildren would inherit the property. Apparently Nelson’s dubious concerns about the ability of his sons proved real with the house falling into disrepair and Robert falling into debt and unable to pay the taxes on the property. The grandchildren sued for possession of the property and under a court order gained ownership.

The house/tavern was once again sold in 1925 with major alterations being made. Plumbing and heating was installed, the interior stairwell was relocated and the western addition was converted to a garage and maid’s quarters. In 1985 ownership was taken over by Robert and Ruth Tuttle who sought a zoning change from the city allowing for the commercial use of the property. A major restoration and renovation of the building was undertaken preserving the significance of this historic landmark. In 2015, Terri and John Updike purchased the 1815 House and on February 15, 2016 opened the 1815 Tavern adding a kitchen area to the west along with a patio for outdooring dining.

It is hard to imagine what Samuel and Susannah Forward and their children envisioned as to what their homestead in the wilderness would become. From a simple log cabin, barn, orchards, and livestock the land they called home is today a central focal point of Aurora’s town center.