Rediscovered log home at Harrison Twp. leads to forgotten stories of gypsies

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“People started driving saying they didn’t realize the house was still standing. As soon as they saw the skeleton, they realized it was the home of the gypsies, ”said Schutt.

As more newspapers came to light, neighbors and longtime residents of Harrison Township. stopped to tell Schutt stories about the house – what they believed to be the former summer residence of the King of the Gypsies.

Each storyteller had their own version: sometimes the original King and Queen, Owen Stanley and his wife, Harriet, built the log house; others say it was the next generation, King Levi Stanley and his wife Queen Mathilde who built it; or maybe it was Levi Stanley Jr., the last known king who was also called Sugar Stanley.

History of the Stanley family

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

Hoschouer has researched and written extensively on 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 vagrants, according to Hoschouer, and later their occupation is listed as horse traders. Lovers of the Miami Valley countryside, they invested in the land.

A log house in Harrison Twp. was recently rediscovered under layers of cedar and aluminum siding. The house, located at 2021 Gipsy Dr., is associated with stories that it was once the summer home of Levi Stanley, the King of the Gypsies. The property records do not verify the claim, but do record a name related to Stanley’s Gypsy clan. Jerry Schutt, the owner, hopes someone can help preserve the house. LISA POWELL / STAFF

Matilda Joles Stanley, wife of Levi, was known to have “a wonderful ability to predict the future, when she pleases, and remarkable powers as a magnetizer,” according to an 1878 New York Times article.

Perhaps the most famous gypsy queen, Mathilde still captivates the imagination today. She died in Mississippi in 1878 and her body was embalmed and returned to Dayton, where it was placed in a reception vault until members of the tribe could arrive for her funeral.

Over 20,000 people attended his funeral, the largest ever at Woodland Cemetery. The crowd that paid homage to him on September 15, 1878 included a dozen gypsy chiefs and their tribes. A large monument marks his last resting place. It is one of the most visited cemeteries and tributes to the Gypsy Queen are often overlooked.

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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 the Taylorsville Dam is now located. There is no documentation to show that Levi Stanley or any other Stanley lived on any property around Gipsy Drive or the intriguing 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 is no proof that there is, but there is no proof that there is not,” said Tina Ratcliff, records and information manager at Montgomery County. Records Center and Archives.

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

Although no person with Stanley’s name has been found in 210 years of property records, it is possible – but uncertain – that a former owner of the property, Henry Jeffrey, who purchased the property in 1871, was related to the Stanley.

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

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

Buried in the Stanley family plot at Woodland Cemetery, there are a number of graves with the names Jeffrey and Jeffries. The Jeffrey spelling matches the 1871 Montgomery County property record, but does not match an 1875 Harrison Twp. Card that identifies the owner as H. Jeffery.

While there are many versions of Jeffrey’s name in the cemetery, Hoschouer said they were from the same family.

“I think it’s 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 history in the Dayton Daily News written by Howard Burba and titled “When Dayton Was Home of the Gypsies”, may also indicate a link.

“After establishing their headquarters here, they became very interested in what for many years was known as the Smith Farm, a few miles outside of town,” Burba wrote. “When it was sold for public sale at the courthouse in the early 1960s, Mrs. Stanley Jeffries, a daughter-in-law of King Owen Stanley, bought it above all other bidders.”

County records show that 120 acres of property belonging to the Smith family was purchased by a certain Henry Jeffrey, but not until 1871.

The mystery of the log house

If the records in the auditor’s office are correct and the house on Gipsy Drive was built in 1823, Owen Stanley could not have been the builder. He didn’t arrive in America for 33 years.

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

Ratcliff, who has studied photographs of the log house, believes it was built long before 1926 and said county records do not always indicate whether a structure was original at a site or moved from another place.

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

The roof of a log house at 2021 Gipsy Dr. in Harrison Twp.  is supported by wooden rafters covered with bark.  The house was covered with cedar planks and aluminum siding and the rediscovery allowed residents to remember legendary tales of gypsy royalty.  LISA POWELL / STAFF

The roof of a log house at 2021 Gipsy Dr. in Harrison Twp. is supported by wooden rafters covered with bark. The house was covered with cedar planks and aluminum siding and the rediscovery allowed residents to remember legendary tales of gypsy royalty. LISA POWELL / STAFF

Schutt also believes his log house dates from the early 19th century. The roof is supported by wooden rafters covered with bark. The folding – the insulation between the wall logs – appears to be made of clay, straw and horsehair.

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

“I prefer history to truth”

It’s no surprise that many people accept folk tales rather than facts.

Local TV stations recently reported that the house was owned or lived in by Owen Stanley as if it were. An author of a Northridge history book makes the same incorrect claim and, when contacted, said he had done no research of primary sources and based the book on “folklore” which had been told to him.

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The Dayton Daily News also contributed to the belief, repeating the same thread of a 1975 owner under the headline “Gypsy King’s ‘Palace’.”

Ratcliff said people often come to his county office to check on what they have heard about their own property history.

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


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