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Friday, June 4, 2010

Toddle House / Church Mystery — SOLVED!

Posted By on Fri, Jun 4, 2010 at 9:57 PM

First Congregational today
  • Photo courtesy Google Images
  • First Congregational today

If you've been reading this blog (and really, what else is there to do?), you know I recently turned up an intriguing old photo of a Toddle House nestled in the shadow of a large Gothic Revival church, and everyone has been offering suggestions and theories about the precise location shown in the photo (see the previous post and all your comments below).

It was quite a mystery because the photo, dated 1937, had a notation scribbled on the back "Highland - St. Luke's." But even the folks at St. Luke's said it wasn't St. Luke's. And a caption at the bottom said "J.C. Stedman, Memphis" but I have since discovered that Stedman wasn't a local photographer, but was the developer of almost ALL the Toddle Houses built across the U.S.

And I can now say with 99.99% certainty that the buildings in the old photograph are NOT located on Highland. Not even close. In fact, they are not even located in Memphis.

The picture shows the First Congregational Church of Christ in Columbus, Ohio. It's still standing today, as you can see from the photos here, "borrowed" from Google and Bing, but the charming little Toddle House is now a parking lot, dang it. The photo here is taken from just about the same position as the original photo; the little red dot shows the approximate location of the old Toddle House. (Scroll to the next page for an aerial view that's a bit more clear.)

All credit for solving this vexing mystery must go to Laura Cunningham, who works in the history department at the Benjamin Hooks Central Library, with additional help pinpointing the correct structure from "critter42" here. Laura knew that the original photo had been mislabeled, and this afternoon, while I set about to slog through old city directories and newspaper files, she disappeared for about 10 minutes and then told me, "I found the church." And she was right.

What she did was truly astounding. Laura began her detective work by — no, I won't give it away here. I will let her research secrets remain a secret, but let me just say that I was very impressed, and the Lauderdales are rarely impressed by anything. Why should we be?

But, to show my gratitude, not only will I give her praise here, but a plug as well. Laura is the author of the very interesting book, Haunted Memphis, and she is currently hard at work on another, to be called Lost Memphis. I'd say she's also got a good start — the first few pages anyway — on a third book, Lost Columbus, Ohio.

And thanks again to critter42 for his fine detective work as well.

The church in Columbus has a long and rather fascinating history. I won't go into that here, because at the rate I'm going these days I will just get it wrong, so visit their site. Or better yet, drive to Columbus and see for yourself.

Though surrounded by parking lots and office buildings, the church has endured after all these years. Too bad we can't say the same about the little Toddle House that once stood next to it.

By the way, thanks also to Wayne Dowdy, the archivist at the main library for his always-capable assistance.

Whew! Now I can finally move on to other things. As soon as I think of them ...

First Congregational today
  • Photo courtesy Bing Images
  • First Congregational today


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