Very little remains at the site of the former Bousson mansion, on their property near Frenchtown, but at one time this elegant home was the center of social life.
The Bousson family story begins in the village of Foncine-le-Bas in France. In the early 1800s there lived a French government employee named Pierre-Alexandre Jeunet who was married twice and had five children. His children were Jeanne-Françoise Cesarine, Marie, Xavier, Josephine, and Joseph.
Cesarine, Xavier, and Joseph all immigrated to the United States, while Marie and Josephine remained in France. Prior to moving to the United States, Cesarine married Claude-Antoine Bousson. In 1840, the couple decided to move to the United States so that Claude could avoid the draft into the French military. Claude and Cesarine did not get along, so they decided to separate after the births of their four children. Their children were Alfred, who died at the age of ten, Marie-Lydie, Marie-Therese Othilie, and Adolph. Cesarine and her four children lived in Connecticut for several years before moving to New York.
In New York, Cesarine began making men’s shirts for the carriage trade and selling them. Her business became so successful that it expanded into a factory with over 200 sewing machines and 50-100 workers. After the factory was well established, Cesarine put her 15-year-old daughter Othilie in charge. Cesarine then moved to Frenchtown to be closer to her family and had nothing more to do with the factory. She lived on the family property until her death in 1879. Othilie and her sister Lydie, who assisted her, made over $500,000 in the following 10 to 15 years that Othilie was in charge. The sisters travelled in Europe for two years, and while in Paris, in 1879, Othilie married Martin Friedrich. Their first child, Dolly, was born later that year.
After returning to the United States, Lydie, Othilie, and Martin settled on the Frenchtown property, where the house and two barns were built. The Bousson mansion was constructed in 1881 by Auguste (Gus) Poly, a cousin of Othilie and Lydie Bousson. Gus made all of the bricks for the two-story, 12-room mansion from local clay on the Bousson mansion. The main hallway had a roof made of glass to provide natural sunlight. The mansion was the epitome of Frenchtown wealth in the 1880s and was a constant source of parties, balls, wedding receptions, and fun for the family and the residents of Frenchtown.
The family eventually accumulated a total of 321 acres of property. Martin and Othilie had their second child, Alfred, in 1883. But disaster began to strike the family and its fortune. In 1883, the steam, planing, and shingle mill that they family had on the property for income burned to the ground, and in 1884 Othilie passed away from tuberculosis. In 1887 Lydie started to get nervous about the dwindling family fortune and made several very bad investments, costing the family the rest of their money.
Martin decided to go to medical school at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland and become a diagnostician to earn money, however he was never successful. He got a job as the Head of the Cleveland Board of Health, and the family moved to Cleveland, leaving their beloved mansion to thieves and vandalism. Lydie died in 1924, Dolly died in 1953, and Martin was killed in a trolley accident in 1921. Alfred had a family and lived in California until the end of his life.
In 1928, the 321-acre property was acquired by the Kiwanis Club of Meadville in a sheriff’s sale. It was purchased by Allegheny College in May 1935. The mansion was razed by Allegheny College in the 1930s after being deemed too hazardous and vandalized to renovate.