Chauncey Wack House, 43 East Vine
Oberlin Architecture, College and Town -- A Guide to its
Social History (Oberlin, Ohio: Oberlin College, 1985).
The main section of this frame house, built in 1847, derives from the
Greek Revival, as indicated by the returns at the eaves of the gable facing
the street. The west wing, with its Italianate bay, is a later addition.
Chauncey Wack, Oberlin's nineteenth-century anti-hero, lived here. A native
of Bennington, Vermont, Wack arrived in the village at age 24 in 1840.
Over the next half-century, whatever Oberlin cherished, Wack normally
opposed. For a long time he ran a rather disreputable hotel on the east
side of South Main Street near the railroad depot. Among his overnight
guests were the slave catchers who provoked the Wellington Rescue of 1858,
a succesful Oberlin effort to save fugitive John Price from being returned
to slavery by way of Wellington, ten miles to the south. At the trial
of the rescuers for violating the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, Wack was
a star witness for the prosecution.
Another boarder at his hotel in those days was Stephen Dorsey, a mobile
young man from Vermont who married Wack's daughter Helen in 1865. Dorsey
went on to achieve wealth and notoriety as a spectacularly corrupt U.S.
senator from Arkansas in the 1870s. It was during Dorsey's service in
Washington that Wack retired from the hotel business and moved into this
house with daughter Helen. Meanwhile he had emerged as Oberlin's staunchest
Democrat and was in the habit of hovering about the polls on election
day to challenge blacks who tried to vote. Despite an overwhelming local
Republican majority, he served a term or two on the village council, and
when Grover Cleveland became president in 1885, Oberlin's 126 Democrats
unanimously voted to make Wack the local postmaster. To their dismay,
Cleveland chose another man.
A few years after Wack's death in 1900, the house became the home of the
Dietz family, which moved from New York City when Father Peter Dietz,
a prominent "labor priest," took charge of Oberlin's fledgling
Catholic parish. An advanced spokesman of Catholic trade unionist thought,
Father Dietz remained in Oberlin from 1906 to 1912 when he left for Milwaukee
and a wider field. His parents and sisters stayed on in their Oberlin
home, a place of complex local memories.