Our New Old House
701 Milford Street, Clarksburg, West Virginia
701 Milford was built sometime between 1920 and 1930 for Loring and Norma Smith Tonkin. Mr. Tonkin died in 1953, and after Mrs. Tonkin died in 1961, their only son, John, inherited the house. In 1978, it was bought by Irvin and Marie Miller.
The house is at the western edge of what is now known as the Stealey Addition, a neighborhood above the West Fork River southwest of the original center of Clarksburg. Milford Street is now U.S. Route 19, the main road to Weston, but when the house was built, the main road south ran along Chestnut Street and down Lost Creek Road, on the other side of the river.
In the 1920 Census, Loring Tonkin and his family are listed as renters at 701 Milford, with three young children. There are very few houses in the neighborhood. The nearest neighbors, across Hartland Avenue at 613 Milford, were Philip Steptoe, a lawyer, his wife Mary and young children. Across the street at 617 Milford were William Rogers, a lumberman, his wife Mary, and their children. By 1930, Loring and Norma are listed as owning a house worth $15,000 at that address. The foundation of the house is built of 24-inch rock-faced concrete blocks of a type manufactured only between 1920 and 1929.
Loring Lombard Tonkin was the son of Capt. John and Mary Tonkin of Oil City, Pennsylvania, born in 1887. The first oil wells were drilled near Oil City, and it was the center of the early oil and gas industry. His father was originally from Missouri, president of the Central Kentucky Natural Gas Company, and an official of Standard Oil. (New York Times 16 Jul 1929) In 1903, Loring began working for Hope Natural Gas, originally a subsidiary of Standard Oil formed in 1898. Loring graduated from Cornell as a mechanical engineer. He eloped in the summer of 1913 with Norma Smith of Ithaca. That fall he was sued for alienation of affection by the millionaire ex-husband of a chorus girl with whom he apparently had a fling. The plaintiff eventually recovered 6 cents in damages after a second trial early in 1914. (See The New York Times coverage: 21 Jul 1913, 4 Dec 1913, 5 Dec 1913, 6 Dec 1913, 22 Jan 1914.) Mr. Tonkin was elected president and general manager of the Hope in 1939, and chairman of the board in 1951. He retired in 1952 and died the next year. (The New York Times obituary, 13 Dec 1953) His son John Barrett Tonkin was also an engineer and a Hope executive.
1930s Interior Design
Architectural Styles – The house seems to have started out as more or less as a vernacular house of no particular style, with a centered front door and a deep porch across the front. The Tonkins added the half-story bedrooms in 1924, having apparently bought the house they had been renting. The arched dormers, stone terrace, and paneled library with stone chimney, added in 1939, the year Mr. Tonkin became president of the Hope, show French Eclectic influence more than anything else.