Banner Staff Writer
ome say it was haunted. Others just saw a house that had sat empty for long time. (It was purportedly built in 1890.)
But A.J. Tomlinson, the first general overseer of the Church of God, saw the two-story house on Gaut Street as a home for his family when he moved to Cleveland from North Carolina in 1904. Tomlinson came to Cleveland on Dec. 8, 1904, to prepare the home for his family — his wife and his children, Homer, Iris and Halcy followed within a few days. He noted in his diary that he purchased it for a small amount of money because it was said to be haunted and “no one would live in it.”
Maybe so. There was an account of a prayer meeting in the house one morning. During the service, it was related, Tomlinson’s violin was lying on the bed and it seemed an unseen hand was playing it — at least, the story goes, the most glorious music came from it.
Almost 100 years after Tomlinson acquired the house on Gaut Street, David Arrington purchased it. It had passed through several owners’ hands, but always fulfilling its purpose in ministry. He noted also, the mysterious sounds and appearances that seemed to survive with the house, but “nothing alarming,” he said, as he mentioned the piano playing, a toilet flushing and the sound of footsteps on the stairs.
In 1906, the younger son of the Tomlinsons was born. A notation in his diary said, “A son came to our house about 6 p.m. Mary wants to name him Milton.” The son was named Milton Ambrose, after his paternal grandfather and his father, appropriate because, “he was destined to succeed his father in the position of general overseer and as editor and publisher of the church paper.” (“A.J. Tomlinson” by Lillie Duggar)
Not only was the house on Gaut Street used for his residence for as long as Tomlinson lived, but it was also the “hotel” for students attending Bible school, for missionaries and people coming into Cleveland on church business and assemblies. Through the years, it entertained thousands of people and others made it their home for months and sometimes for years.
It was in the “House on Gaut Street” the publishing of the Evangel and Sunday school literature began. And it was there, prayer meetings were held and revivals began. It served Tomlinson as his office, his family as home, the church as headquarters and his staff as a workplace, as well as the place for meals.
The offices and publishing were later moved across the street, but time spent there did not diminish. In 1910, the first issue of The Evening Light and Church of God Evangel was printed. Subscribers to the paper numbered 125.
In 1908 a great revival broke out in Cleveland. Tomlinson told of the Thanksgiving Day meeting which began at 10 a.m. At noon outside the house on Gaut Street, dinner was spread, and afterwards, continued in the service. He noted that 35 were received in the church, then two more, and then that night, eight more.
A letter written by daughter Halcy on April 7, 1911, told the story of Tomlinson’s struggle to carry the Gospel and at the same time minister to his family. His wife was deathly sick. Halcy wrote, “Dearest Papa: I wonder how you are this evening. I do wish you were at home. We need you oh so bad. Mama is sick again, been pretty sick for about two weeks, but, Papa, she had the worst spell today. Even Brother Bryant gave her up, but I didn’t, Papa, even though she got so she could hardly talk and was cold. I couldn’t think the Lord would forsake us and you out working for him.”
Mrs. Tomlinson did recover and spent quite a few more years in “doing whatever her hands found to do.”
The house became a hospitality center of Cleveland. Being near the railroad — the main mode of travel in the early 1900s — the Tomlinsons had many other guests since hobos and vagrants found their way to a hot meal and other accommodations if needed. Students who came to the Bible schools were fed and housed at the house on Gaut Street. It was also a favorite place for the neighborhood children, as Mrs. Tomlinson kept a big tin of cookies behind the kitchen door for all the eager hands to help themselves.
During the flu epidemic in 1918, Mary Thomlinson cared for the sick in her home. It
all happened the first year of the Bible school, during which a woman died.
When the publishing arm of the church grew, it was moved across the street and the workers could still eat at the Tomlinson’s table. And it was a church, prayer center and revival center. Meetings were held daily and when revival filled the house to overflowing, it moved to a tent and filled the city with prayer and rejoicing. These events led to the house being called “The Hallelujah House.”
Ruth Fox, a resident of Cleveland, told of the times she attended girls’ classes taught of Mary Tomlinson in the basement of the house on Sunday afternoons. “I can show you the place in that basement where I was saved,” she confided.
Formerly property of the Church of God of Prophecy, it served also as a girls’ orphanage home. The house was used in later years by Life Challenge and the late Mary Jane Howle to house participants in the prison inmate rehabilitation program. After Life Challenge merged with Teen Challenge, the ministry was moved to Chattanooga and the house was put on the market.
A member of The Church of God, Arrington said he felt it was a miracle that it came into his hands. But, he said, “the Lord moved and wanted me to buy this.”
According to new owner, the house once again serves God and the church — making a full circle of use.
The first year in the house, he said, six BTI students were housed there. It has been the home of foster children under the care off Arrington and his wife, Wanda. More than 30 children were placed in the home over an eight-year period. And prayer meetings are still held weekly attended by people from the area, including Georgia.
When Arrington purchased the house in 2003 — it closed June 12, 2003 — the Arringtons spent the first night on a mattress on the floor in the “Tomlinson’s bedroom.” He began restoring the property immediately. Floors and stairs were taken back to the original wood, rooms were painted or papered (with patterns used in the historic Biltmore House in Asheville, N.C.) and the house received new siding and a new roof. Windows are on the list next for installation. “We’ve tried to keep everything authentic,” Arrington said.
Arrington said he believes the house on Gaut Street has been visited more over the years than any other historic home in Cleveland. He said it feels like home and they wouldn’t trade it for any house. He said it was a God-given dream fulfilled for the family. They have five children — two girls and three adopted boys.
A marker, which was erected at the house by the Church of God of Prophecy, notes the date Nov. 26, 1904, along with one of Tomlinson’s favorite Scriptures: Joshua 24:14-16 — “... but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
And so, according to Arrington, this “House on Gaut Street” will continue its mission which began 100 years ago ... serving.
EDITOR’S NOTE: A.J. Tomlinson wrote in his diary, “Hold steady, beloved, God is with us and wonderful things are being done through and by the name of the Holy Child Jesus, the head of the Church. Hallelujah!” Before her death, Wanda Tomlinson Edwards, the granddaughter of Tomlinson, wrote and directed a video, “The Hallelujah House,” about the Tomlinson House and its role in the history of Cleveland, which was produced by the Voice of Salvation Radio and Television Ministries of the Church of God of Prophecy.