Folklore or facts?: Rediscovered log home in Harrison Twp. leads to forgotten tales of gypsies

Credit: Dayton.com

Caption
A log home rediscovered behind cedar boards and aluminum siding has residents of a Harrison Twp. neighborhood recalling fabled tales of gypsy royalty.

Credit: Dayton.com

‘I prefer the story to the truth’

A log home rediscovered behind cedar boards and aluminum siding has residents of a Harrison Twp. neighborhood recalling fabled tales of gypsy royalty.

“I knew nothing until I actually started stripping it apart a month ago,” said owner Jerry Schutt.

As Schutt and his wife Jodi Vuotto yanked down plaster during a renovation they discovered hand-hewn logs 12-inches thick.

Jerry Schutt and his wife Jodi Vuotto, pictured with their granddaugher Bailey Anthony, are the owners of a home at 2021 Gipsy Dr. in Harrison Twp. Recently they discovered the home was made of logs covered with layers of cedar and aluminum siding. The home is linked to folklore about the Stanley family gypsies and that it was once their summer home.  LISA POWELL / STAFF
Caption
Jerry Schutt and his wife Jodi Vuotto, pictured with their granddaugher Bailey Anthony, are the owners of a home at 2021 Gipsy Dr. in Harrison Twp. Recently they discovered the home was made of logs covered with layers of cedar and aluminum siding. The home is linked to folklore about the Stanley family gypsies and that it was once their summer home. LISA POWELL / STAFF

The house has been in Schutt’s family since 2016, but they were unaware of the local lore connected to the property. But its location — 2021 Gipsy Dr. — hints at a fabled past.

“People started driving by saying they didn’t realize the house was still standing. As soon as they saw the skeleton, they realized this was the gypsy house,” Schutt said.

As more logs were revealed, neighbors and long-time residents of Harrison Twp. stopped by to tell Schutt tales of the home — what they believed to be the former summer home of the King of the Gypsies.

Every storyteller had their own version: Sometimes the original king and queen, Owen Stanley and his bride, Harriet, built the log home; others say it was the next generation, King Levi Stanley and his wife Queen Matilda who built it; or maybe it was Levi Stanley Jr., the last known king who also went by the name Sugar Stanley.

Stanley family history

The Stanley family immigrated to the United States from England in 1856 and appear in the 1860 census in Miami County before moving to Dayton, according to Angela Hoschouer, manager of development and marketing at Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum.

Hoschouer has researched and written extensively about the family for the cemetery where more than 50 members of the extended Stanley clan are buried, including the Harrison, Young, Broadway, Joles and Jeffrey families.

Census records describe the family as wanderers, according to Hoschouer, and later their occupation is listed as horse traders. Enamored with the Miami Valley countryside, they invested in land.

A log home in Harrison Twp. was recently rediscovered under layers of cedar and aluminum siding.  The home, at 2021 Gipsy Dr., is associated with tales that it was once the summer home of Levi Stanley, King of the Gypsies. Property records don’t verify the claim but they do record a name tied to the Stanley gypsy clan. Jerry Schutt, the owner, hopes someone can help preserve the home. LISA POWELL / STAFF
Caption
A log home in Harrison Twp. was recently rediscovered under layers of cedar and aluminum siding. The home, at 2021 Gipsy Dr., is associated with tales that it was once the summer home of Levi Stanley, King of the Gypsies. Property records don’t verify the claim but they do record a name tied to the Stanley gypsy clan. Jerry Schutt, the owner, hopes someone can help preserve the home. LISA POWELL / STAFF

Matilda Joles Stanley, wife of Levi, was known to have “a wonderful faculty of telling fortunes, when she pleased and remarkable powers as a mesmerist,” according to an 1878 New York Times article.

Perhaps the best-known Gypsy Queen, Matilda still captivates the imagination today. She died in Mississippi in 1878 and her body was embalmed and sent back to Dayton, where it was placed in a receiving vault until tribe members could arrive for her funeral.

More than 20,000 people attended her funeral — the largest ever held at Woodland Cemetery. The crowd paying respects to her on Sept. 15, 1878 included a dozen gypsy chiefs and their tribes. A grand monument marks her final resting place. It is among the cemetery’s most visited and tributes to the gypsy queen are often left behind.

Ever home to gypsies?

Montgomery County property records show members of the Stanley family owned land in north Dayton around Herman Avenue and Troy Pike. They also had a farm north of town, southeast of where Taylorsville Dam is now. There’s no documentation that shows Levi Stanley or any other Stanley lived on property around Gipsy Drive or the intriguingly named Nomad Avenue nearby.

But could a member of a Dayton-area gypsy clan have built or lived in the house?

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“There’s no proof that there is but there’s no proof that there’s not,” said Tina Ratcliff, records and information manager at the Montgomery County Records Center and Archives.

Ratcliff traced property records back to 1811 when John Sutherland and Henry Brown bought a 160-acre section of land from the United States government.

While no one with the name Stanley was found in 210 years of property records, it’s possible — but uncertain — a previous owner of the property, Henry Jeffrey, who purchased the property in 1871, was related to the Stanleys.

Montgomery County property records record the 1871 sale of property related to 2021 Gipsy Dr. in Harrison Twp. from Elizabeth Smith to Henry Jeffrey. Henry Jeffrey may be part of the Stanley gypsy clan buried at Woodland Cemetery in Dayton. LISA POWELL / STAFF
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Montgomery County property records record the 1871 sale of property related to 2021 Gipsy Dr. in Harrison Twp. from Elizabeth Smith to Henry Jeffrey. Henry Jeffrey may be part of the Stanley gypsy clan buried at Woodland Cemetery in Dayton. LISA POWELL / STAFF

Buried within the Stanley family plot at Woodland Cemetery there are a number of graves marked with the names Jeffrey and Jeffries. The spelling Jeffrey matches the Montgomery County property record from 1871 but doesn’t match an 1875 Harrison Twp. map which identifies the property owner as H. Jeffery.

Though there are many versions of the Jeffrey name in the cemetery, Hoschouer said they belong to the same family.

“I think that it’s all one and the same,” she said. “A lot of people only had an eighth-grade education. We have a lot of first and last names spelled phonetically in our own cemetery records.”

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A 1931 story in the Dayton Daily News written by Howard Burba and titled, “When Dayton was the Home of the Gypsies,” may also point to a connection.

“After establishing their headquarters here they became much interested in what for many years has been known as the Smith farm, a few miles out of the city,” Burba wrote. “When it was disposed of at public sale at the courthouse in the early sixties Mrs. Stanley Jeffries, a daughter-in-law of King Owen Stanley, purchased it above all other bidders.”

County records do show 120 acres of property owned by the Smith family was purchased by a Henry Jeffrey, but not until 1871.

The log home mystery

If Auditor’s Office records are accurate and the Gipsy Drive house was built in 1823, Owen Stanley could not have been the builder. He didn’t arrive in America for another 33 years.

But confounding the property’s history, the house didn’t appear on property tax rolls until 1926, according to Ratcliff’s research.

Ratcliff, who has studied photographs of the log home, believes it was built well before 1926 and said county records don’t always indicate if a structure was original to a site or moved from someplace else.

“I’m limited to what the records tell me and sometimes that’s not the whole story,” she said. “I can’t go back in a time machine and see.”

The roof of a log home at 2021 Gipsy Dr. in Harrison Twp. is held up with rafters made of bark-covered timbers. The home has been covered with cedar boards and aluminum siding and the rediscovery has residents recalling fabled tales of gypsy royalty.  LISA POWELL / STAFF
Caption
The roof of a log home at 2021 Gipsy Dr. in Harrison Twp. is held up with rafters made of bark-covered timbers. The home has been covered with cedar boards and aluminum siding and the rediscovery has residents recalling fabled tales of gypsy royalty. LISA POWELL / STAFF

Schutt also believes his log home dates to the early 19th century. The roof is held up with rafters made of bark-covered timbers. Chinking — the insulation between the wall logs — appears to be made of clay, straw and horsehair.

He and his wife plan to build a new home on the site. Gypsy connection or not, he hopes someone will be interested in preserving the log home.

‘I prefer the story to the truth’

It’s not surprising many people accept the folk tales over facts.

Local television stations recently reported the home was owned or lived in by Owen Stanley as if it were so. A Northridge history book author makes the same incorrect claim and when contacted said he did no research of primary sources and based the book on “folklore” he was told.

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The Dayton Daily News has also contributed to the belief, repeating the same yarn from a 1975 homeowner under the headline “Gypsy King’s ‘Palace.’”

Ratcliff said people often come to her county office looking to verify what they’ve heard about their own property’s history.

“When we come up with a record that proves it wrong, they all say to me, ‘I prefer the story to the truth.’”