The quest to locate a long-forgotten spring that played a vital role in the founding of modern-day Cleveland is a sordid tale of lawsuits, adultery and sibling treachery, as well as a temporary truce declared between two city leaders.
Cleveland businessman Allan Jones revealed the saga during a recent address to members of the Cleveland Rotary Club. Jones was there to discuss plans for a park where Taylor Spring is located.
Jones said his research into the location of the spring led him to the office basement of a rival city leader, with whom he had been feuding over placement of a proposed Interstate 75 exit near the home of attorney James Webb. However, mutual interest in the spring’s place in history offered a chance to engage in a little diplomacy.
“We declared a truce,” Jones said. “Webb and I were head butting about the need for an exit on Harrison Pike,” Jones told the Rotarians. “He lived on Harrison Pike, and so he didn’t want the exit. We got into it.”
Jones said the disagreement reached a boiling point during a joint Kiwanis-Rotary meeting.
“I was about 32 and it was a case of the young bull taking on the old bull,” Jones said. “It wasn’t a debate, but I spoke. He got up to argue and he argued and argued until everybody left, including his wife.”
After their argument cooled, Jones said Webb didn’t have a way to get home.
“He said, ‘You’re taking me home.’”
Jones replied to Webb that he didn’t like him and wasn’t taking him.
Jones ended up giving Webb a ride.
But when Jones was told years later where the long-sought-after spring was located, he was very surprised.
“It was a hard call to make when I found out the spring was in Jim Webb’s (office) basement,” Jones said.
Webb, however, was courteous when Jones called. He then invited Jones to see the portion of the spring not covered by concrete.
Of their truce, Jones said, “It was like you turned a fuse off. He took me down to the basement the to see the fountain. I was amazed to see it.”
Jones said he knew that something needed to be done to preserve the spring.
“I told him the city needs to own this,” Jones said. “That’s all I said, and then I walked out. Then we became mortal enemies again.”
Jones’ hunt for the furtive spring began decades ago when he was attempting to learn if he was related to a man named Andrew Taylor, noted as being Cleveland’s first settler of European descent.
“I was always told I was related to Andrew Taylor,” Jones said. “I set out to find out myself. I wanted to find out if it was just a family tale.”
However, Taylor’s trail went cold, prompting Jones to hire a genealogist from Texas to conduct research.
The genealogist also confirmed Jones was not related to Taylor, who he refers to as a “mystery man.” He later hired another genealogist, Michael T. Slaughter, who compiled his findings in an extensively researched publication titled “Andrew Taylor: Man of Mystery.”
Jones learned the water source influenced settlement in the region during the early 19th century. However, that spring was eventually forgotten and covered up by development decades ago. Although Jones was already aware he was unrelated to Taylor, he nevertheless continued his search for the spring that flowed on Taylor’s former property. Also, a nagging question plagued him.
“Why did Taylor disappear?” Jones asked himself. “And, where is the spring?”
According to Jones, Taylor lived in a log cabin situated where the old post office is located downtown. In addition, Jones said a vote by citizens long ago decided the city’s fate. He also learned that the spring was an important factor in establishing the city as a population hub in the county.
“I wanted to know how Cleveland became Cleveland,” Jones said.
Jones discovered that when the area was experiencing growth in its early years, the railroad planned to establish a route nearby. However, members of the community voted that they wanted to be located near the water source, instead of the railroad. As a result, the railroad bypassed the area they decided to settle. They issued was decided by one vote.
According to Slaughter’s research, while it seemed Taylor’s home was located far away from the creek, it was approximately 700 feet from the water source. Typically, according to Slaughter, pioneers built their residences on high ground to take advantage of summer breezes, as well as some distance from water to avoid insects such as mosquitoes.
Jones said speculation about the spring’s existence varied.
“People tried to tell me the spring dried up,” Jones said. “I told them springs don't just dry up.”
According to Jones, Taylor lived in a cabin that was located on the corner of Worth Street and Central Avenue, facing “Stagecoach Road.” In addition, Taylor began selling parcels of his land as the population increased.
However, Jones said research shows an 1846 lawsuit prohibited Taylor from selling additional land. The lawsuit made that declaration because the land was located in an area that fell under a treaty that stated Cherokee women were considered heads of household. As a result, the court ruled the land did not belong to Taylor, but to his wife – a Cherokee woman.
Interestingly, Jones said research found that Taylor had engaged in an affair with another man’s wife, causing embarrassment. The revelation of the affair resulted in the man divorcing the woman with whom Taylor was having the affair. Fallout from the clandestine relationship, as well as the sense of unfairness of the lawsuit, resulted in an angry Taylor leaving the area for Oklahoma.
Taylor never gave up on receiving compensation for the property he lost.
In the booklet commissioned and published by Jones, Taylor continued “battling the government to be paid for his land, finally prevailing in 1855 when he and his brother, David, each received $26,000 (approximately $600,000 in today’s dollars).
However, Taylor disappeared with the money, bilking his brother of his share. He was never seen again.
While the truce between Jones and Webb wilted soon after their meeting in the basement of Webb’s office building, Jones said their interest in the spring caused them to cross paths again to forge an alliance of sorts.
“Thirty years later, Webb donated the land to the city, but they didn’t do anything with it,” Jones said. “He took it back from the city and donated it to me. So, I ended up taking possession of it and giving my word that I was going to get this done for him.”
The building was later demolished, revealing the spring. Webb died in 2016.
According to the Taylor’s Spring Renovation Fund website, the spring will be the location of a park where people can see it and learn about its history.
In addition, more information can be found at www.taylorsspring.com where a PDF of Slaughter's book can be downloaded for free.
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