Warren resident Kenneth Conklin has always had a passion for historical preservation and antique homes. In the late 1980s, Conklin's opportunity to be instrumental in a historical preservation project knocked on his door along with an opportunity to enhance the appreciation of the suffragist, women's rights advocate, Harriet Taylor Upton, who was born in Ravenna and then moved to Warren with her family in 1861.
"During that time, the Harriet Taylor Upton Association was newly formed and I was asked to join that board," Conklin said. "We went out and we found sponsors for each individual room inside of the house. The sponsors were asked to donate a thousand dollars for each room. That $1,000 paid for renovation, wall coverings, and window treatments for that room."
Since 1988, Conklin has served on the board of the Harriet Taylor Upton Association and is currently president. He has helped with renovations to the Harriet Taylor Upton House at 80 Mahoning Ave. in Warren. Over the years, he has conducted fundraising events and has kept up with renovations to maintain the house in the same manner it was when Upton lived there.
Special to the Tribune Chronicle
Kenneth Conklin, who currently serves as president of the Harriet Taylor Upton Association, handpaints a Victorian stencilled border at the Upton House in Warren.
Conklin said that when he first entered the house, there was a lot of work to be done, but nothing was destroyed.
"We had a designer showcase event for the community," Conklin said. "We had the house totally furnished for the designer showcase. People came to see how the house was decorated and after the designer showcase was over, all of the furnishings were taken out and the house was empty."
Conklin said today the Upton House is completely furnished with antique furniture. He said that the furniture was all donated from people in the community.
"The Upton House is not a museum," Conklin said. "People can rent the house for parties, showers, weddings and business meetings. The Upton House has been a rewarding project for me and the city of Warren. The renovation will never be completed, there is always upkeep."
Debbie McCleery of Warren is a personal friend of Conklin.
"Ken has been on his hands and knees renovating the house," she said. "He has been involved since day one with the Harriet Taylor Upton Association, saving her house. I just think his dedication to the Harriet Taylor Upton House and everything he has done in the community is wonderful."
Charles Hahn, resident of Warren and on the Board of Directors for the Harriet Taylor Upton Association said he has known Conklin and his wife, Elaine, for 30 years.
"I would describe Kenneth as a tireless worker in every phase of the Harriet Taylor Upton Association," Hahn said. "He is instrumental in spearheading all the renovation of the house. He is a great idea person and his energy is great and generates a lot of momentum."
Roslyn Hahn said that Conklin is one of two of the original members of the Harriet Upton Taylor Association.
"The first time we saw the Harriet Taylor Upton House, Kenneth and his wife Elaine were with us," she said. "The house had been used for rental for a long time. It was divided with many rooms and apartments. The early board members of the Harriet Taylor Upton Association made sure that the house got National Historic Landmark status. A lot of people in the community have supported the Harriet Taylor Upton Association, and Kenneth Conklin's leadership has been important to the association."
Conklin was also instrumental in bringing Upton's ashes back to Warren for burial at her home.
Conklin said that during the Great Depression, Upton lost everything, all her books, belongings and her home. Upton then went to California to live with her cousin where she died in 1945 and was cremated there. Conklin wanted to bring Upton's ashes to Warren to give her the proper memorial in her hometown that she deserved.
He contacted Jim McFarland, of McFarland and Son Funeral and Cremation Services, for advice. The Upton Association learned that they needed to hire an attorney in California to present the case to a judge. The case was presented to Judge Mary Thornton House, Superior Court Judge of Los Angeles County.
"She had done her homework, and she looked up the Harriet Taylor Upton Association and Harriet Taylor Upton and she printed out 60 copies of that information," Conklin said. "(She) was so impressed that she said it was an honor to approve this request of bringing Harriet Taylor Upton's ashes to Warren."
The ashes and the original tombstone were mailed to Conklin, and the Upton Association set about planning the memorial that she deserved in Warren.
"It was stressful, but exciting," he said. "Then we planned a memorial service and we had the service at the Women's Park, which is run by the Harriet Taylor Upton Association. In attendance at that memorial service was Judge Mary Thornton House. She flew all the way from California, and told us that we were doing the right thing."
Conklin said at the memorial service, McFarland & Son donated the vault and prepared the grave. He said as a Victorian tradition, people at the service threw dirt into the grave.
"Back in Victorian times when someone died, they would stop the clocks at the time of that person's death," he said. "We found out that Harriet Taylor Upton died at 9:15, so we stopped the clocks at 9:15. We had black crepe material around the door and we covered the mirrors with black crepe material. People came to the memorial service in period dress."
Conklin takes pride in the work that he's done with the Upton House and the Harriet Taylor Upton Association.
"We are a National Historic Landmark and when we acquired that, we were one of the few places in Ohio who have that designation," Conklin said. "This was a major accomplishment. I take great pride in this, and I feel that the Harriet Taylor Upton Association has been an asset to the Warren community."