Frank Seymour Barnum: Designed more than 20 homes on Millionaire’s Row, fireproof building pioneer

Frank Seymour Barnum worked in the field of architecture for more than 40 years. Born and raised in Norwalk, Ohio and educated in local schools there he came to Cleveland in 1871 at the age of 21 to work in the office of architect Joseph Ireland as a draftsman.

Ireland was an excellent mentor. He pioneered the construction of fireproof buildings—something destined to exert great influence on Barnum’s future design philosophy.

Now an Administration building on the campus of Cleveland State University known as Parker Hannifin Hall, it is the only one of the twenty mansions on Euclid Avenue’s Millionaires’ Row designed by the architectural firm of Coburn and Barnum to have sBy 1876 Barnum was fully qualified as an architect and opened an office in partnership with Forrest A. Coburn, a partnership destined to last until Coburn’s early death in 1897.

The Coburn & Barnum firm’s notable buildings include the George Howe Mansion on Euclid Avenue. Presently a part of the campus of Cleveland State University, the house is the only survivor of the 20 houses on Millionaire’s Row designed by Coburn & Barnum.

The Olney Gallery in Tremont is another notable example of the firm’s surviving work. The firm’s heavy workload is said to have been a significant factor in Coburn’s death at age 49.

Their other significant designs include The Furniture Block and the Blackstone Building in 1881 and 1882, with the Blackstone on West 3rd and Frankfort Streets being a great example of fire-resistant mill construction and a remarkable four-story interior light court.

W. J. Morgan House designed by the Coburn and Barnum in 1889 is no longer standing but was located at 8915 Euclid Avenue on the grounds of what is today the Cleveland Clinic. Coburn & Barnum's churches included the First Congregational Church on Franklin Ave. and Euclid Avenue Congregational Church. Residential designs included homes for William. J. Morgan and the Washington H. Lawrence mansion in 1898. Institutional and cultural buildings include the Western Reserve Historical Society building and several buildings for Western Reserve University and Case Institute of Technology.

Barnum was notable as mentor of younger architects. Beginning their careers under Barnum’s supervision, Benjamin Hubbell and W. Dominick Benes went on to establish one of the most significant architectural firms in Cleveland history, responsible for such local icons as the West Side Market and the Cleveland Museum of Art.

After Coburn’s death their firm was reorganized as F.S. Barnum & Co.

The Washington H. Lawrence Mansion in the 1900s

Barnum designed the Caxton Building in 1903, a steel framed office building eight stories high, and followed up the following year with the Park Building in Public Square, a structure notable for its use of reinforced concrete floors, one of the first examples of this innovative design in Cleveland.

In this era Barnum achieved perhaps his greatest impact as superintendent of buildings for the Cleveland Public School System. He served in this capacity for two decades, from 1895 to 1915 and designed approximately 75 buildings for the school district during this time. These buildings were notable for their fireproof design, efficient use of interior space, electric lights, and steam heat.

After Barnum’s retirement in 1915, F.S. Barnum & Co. remained active under the name Briggs & Nelson.

Barnum resided in Florida after retirement, dying in Miami in December 1927.

Read more articles by Tom Matowitz.

Recently retired after a 37-year career teaching public speaking, Tom Matowitz has had a lifelong interest in local and regional history. Working as a freelance author for the past 20 years he has written a number of books and articles about Cleveland’s past. He has a particular interest in the area’s rich architectural history.