Inside Gore Orphanage aka Swift Mansion

The legend of the “Gore Orphanage” is just that: a legend. There was never a Gore Orphanage. The building that’s been called this institution for decades was originally known as the Swift Mansion, or Rosedale, built by Joseph Swift in 1841. However, since it has rested in ruins off of Gore Orphanage Road for nearly 100 years, the pieces of local history morphed together into an urban legend that resembled the following: “Old man Gore was a mean old man and ran an orphanage in which he’d beat the children and kept them locked in their rooms. One night, there was a fire, and all the children died since they were locked in their rooms.”

 

The Swift Mansion originally rested off of Gore Road (it was named as such for the wedge shape piece of land it rested on that was established as a map correction), and when the Swift’s left due to personal financial troubles, the Wilber’s moved in. There they stayed until 1901, when Nicholas Wilber passed away (his wife, Eliza, had passed in 1899), and the house was abandoned. The tragedy of the Wilber’s is that of their grandchildren, all four of them succumbing to diphtheria within the span of six days in 1893. It is not believed that they died within the mansion, but since the elder Wilber’s were Spiritualists, it is believed they conducted seances within the house to try to contact the children. As a medium, Nicholas had already been conducting seances within the house to try to contact deceased members of the Swift family, acts to which the more conservative locals thought were sinister and dubbed him instead as a Satanist (which he was not).

In 1903, the Light of Hope Orphanage was established by John and Katie Sprunger up the hill from the Swift Mansion, and the word “orphanage” was appended to Gore Road to make it Gore Orphanage Road. While the Sprunger’s bought the land the mansion rested upon for the fields to farm, they never used the Swift building for the orphanage. Instead, they established both boy’s and girl’s dormitories on the farmland up the hill, as well as a church and a schoolhouse, and a printing press. It wasn’t long before children began running away, and tales of abuse filtered out of the Light of Hope Orphanage. In 1909, there was a formal case against the Sprunger’s after two girls waded across the Vermilion River and sought refuge within the town of Vermilion. Abuse included beatings, undernourishment, inadequate schooling (they only received schooling if there wasn’t work to do on the farms), the same bath water being used for five to six children with accusations mounting up to 12, and their corn was boiled in the same pot as the dirty underwear, among other things. John Sprunger died just two years after the court proceedings, and in 1916 the Light of Hope Orphanage closed its doors for good.

The Swift Mansion, however, still lingered down the hill. Even in the late 1910s and early 1920s, it was a hangout for area teens, and ghost stories began to surface about the building being haunted. In 1923, plans for a restoration of the house began, but an unfortunate fire took the building and destroyed any hope of restoring the Greek Revival structure. So, yes, the Swift Mansion did burn down, but it had long since been abandoned and no children were inside. Headlines in the local paper read, “Haunted House Destroyed By Fire.” Today, all that’s left is a depression in the ground, remnants of the stone foundation, scattered brick fragments, the well, and a defaced pillar from along the old fence line.

Final Note #1: In 1908, the Collinwood School fire in the Cleveland area claimed the lives of 172 children. It’s believed that this story was meshed with with the atrocities of the orphanage to help create the urban legends that came to be.

Final Note #2: In our explorations, Shana and I discovered the bases to two additional pillars along the fence line of the property. Given the size and weight of these, we didn’t believe that the teens that had defaced the one still standing would have made off with these monoliths. When we ventured up Gore Orphange Road, we found them flanking the old driveway of the property on which the boys’ dormitory once stood.

 


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