Keturah Hershberger was confident she could build a house.
If the Lord didn’t want her to do it, He wouldn’t have provided so many beautiful stones.
Or so much natural sand.
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It came to her in a vision as she gazed into her backyard in East Akron: There was plenty of room out there to add a cottage. So, in 1947, the great-grandmother began to build a cottage.
To quote Proverbs: “By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is erected. By knowledge his chambers are filled with all the precious and pleasant riches.”
However long it took, she would hold out because she had Job’s patience.
Hershberger was firm, diligent, creative and deeply religious. Her life revolved around family and faith, and she belonged to the Apostolic Pentecostal Church in Akron.
Be fruitful and multiply
The former Keturah Susanna Fausnight was born in 1879 on a farm in Marlboro Township in Stark County, one of 10 children born to George and Sarah Fausnight. Her first name was biblical, a reference to Abraham’s second wife in the book of Genesis.
In 1901, she married Hartville farmer Robert Boyd Hershberger, a Holmes County native, and they raised nine children: Sadie, Joyce, George, Eli, Kenneth, Theodore, Mary, Paul, and Grace. A 10th child, Emory, died in infancy.
When Robert Hershberger got a job at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. around 1916, the family bought a house at 1667 Shakespeare Ave. off Seiberling Street, near the other “poets’ streets” of Spencer, Darwin, Poe and Twain.
Keturah was a housewife, housekeeper and award-winning baker whose apple-raisin pie won first prize in a Beacon Journal competition. Here’s her folk recipe, though you’ll have to figure out a few things for yourself, including oven temperatures and baking times.
Peel and cut 1 liter of sour apples. Simmer 3/4 cup raisins in 1/2 cup water with 1/3 cup sugar for a few minutes. Fill an unbaked tart tin with apple slices. Mix 2/3 cup sugar and 3 tablespoons flour together. Sprinkle over apples. Dot with butter. Pour over the raisins, cover with the top crust and bake in a hot oven until the edges of the pie are browned, then reduce the heat and bake until the insides are soft.
In 1934, the Hershbergers built a house on Elika Street, a few blocks south of the Poet Streets. In the Old Testament, Elika the Harodite is a guardian of David, but this alley was less than mighty. It had only five houses.
Keturah lost her life partner in 1940 when Robert Hershberger died at the age of 69. She kept busy at church and at home, enjoyed her role as the matriarch of the family, and loved grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
A labor of love
As instructed in 1 Thessalonians, she made it her ambition to live a quiet life, do her business and work with her hands.
She sold the Elika Street house to her son Paul, who handed over the land to his mother for life. In 1947, the 68-year-old woman started building the sixth house in the street directly behind the parental home. Akron’s building code was less restrictive at the time.
Hershberger paid a worker $17 to lay the foundation. She then made concrete blocks from scratch and decorated them with colorful pebbles she found on Newton Street on Goodyear property the company had set aside for employees to grow vegetables.
“I went to Goodyear Gardens one day and found some nice stones and decided I would make them in my house,” she explained in a 1953 interview.
‘My son said, ‘You’ll never be able to save enough rocks, Mother.’ But I just kept going. I have requested permission from Goodyear to collect the stones. Then I got some gravel and sand in the back.
“I made the shapes for the cement blocks myself from old pieces of wood that I found.”
On fine days in Ohio, Hershberger was out working with a wheelbarrow, shovel, and hoe to make the blocks. She colored them blue, yellow and red and put pebbles in the wet cement to create floral patterns. Sometimes she used a sledgehammer to break large stones into smaller pieces.
“First I mix the cement with some gravel for the bottom of the molds,” she explained. “Then I put sand and cement on them to make them smooth. Then I stick my rhinestones all over the top as decoration as if I were making beautiful cake decorations.
After the “cakes” set, she opened the molds, removed the blocks and set them in place. The cottage, which resembled a gingerbread house, became a nearby attraction.
The house of many colors
Hershberger named her creation “Joseph’s Coat House” after the Genesis story about Jacob giving his son Joseph a coat of many colors. She wrote the name in stone on a block she cemented by the front door. She also wrote “In God We Trust” and “Jesus Saves”.
Volunteers from her church helped put in the roof, but she laid the wooden floor herself. When her grandchildren came to visit, they loved making pebble patterns together.
As she read in the Good Book, “Children are a crown for the elderly.”
Traveling friends brought stones from other states, and Hershberger designed special stones for the house, in which “Arizona”, “Colorado”, “Kansas”, “Minnesota”, etc.
“The patterns come out better when it’s wet, so I’m always happy when it rains,” she said. “Then people from all over the world come to see my house.”
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She also added other opportunities and goals – everything that stood out to her. One block, for example, was decorated with red and black drug tube caps.
“I had a skin problem and my doctor prescribed ointments,” she explained. “There has to be at least $100 of meds represented in those red tops and black tops.”
She really was an artist. When she entered a hobby show in M. O’Neil’s auditorium for three blocks, she won first place.
“I can’t take my whole house with me, can I?” she said with a laugh.
Hershberger moved into the cottage as he continued to work on it, adding sidewalks and other features. Her daughter Grace and grandson Walter lived with her while her son Paul lived in the front house on Elika Street.
Our end is near
At age 80, Hershberger built a conservatory for “Joseph’s Coat House” in 1959. She continued to work on the house for several more years, but was never really finished. There was always some improvement she wanted to make.
Declining health forced her to hang up her trowel in 1965 after 18 years of labor.
Keturah Hershberger was 87 years old when she died on March 22, 1967. The survivors included nine children, 36 grandchildren and 65 great-grandchildren.
“For we know that if our earthly house were to be lifted up from this tabernacle, we would have a building of God, a house made not with hands, eternally in heaven,” wrote Paul in 2 Corinthians.
Hershberger’s cottage is no longer there. Her street and adjacent avenues were swept away in the late 1970s to make way for a test track at Goodyear’s Proving Grounds off Seiberling Street.
Fences and high shoulders obscure the view of the road as motorists pass by.
But if they look closely at the ground, they may see beautiful stones.
Mark J. Price can be reached at [email protected]
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