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At the turn of the 20th century, the Industrial Revolution was transforming the very fabric of America, fueled by the genius and entrepreneurial spirit of innovators and visionaries like F.A. Seiberling. His impulsive purchase of a vacant building in downtown Akron forced him to consider ways to put it to good use. Seeing an opportunity to serve a booming market by building bicycle tires, he co-founded The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company with his brother C.W., naming it not for himself, but for the man who actually invented the vulcanization process that made it possible for their company to grow.
It was one of many enterprises F.A. pursued in his lifetime – and without question, it was the most successful one. As Goodyear was on the rise, he and his wife Gertrude needed more space for their family to gather and grow. The answer was Stan Hywet Hall, and it was virtually the house that rubber built.
The Seiberling Letters
F.A. Seiberling began to purchase land at the end of 1910 and continued to add to the parcel through 1917. The original tract was over 1000 contiguous acres and stretched as far back as the present day Summit Mall. It also included the land where Sand Run Park now sits.
Until Stan Hywet became their home, F.A. and his wife Gertrude rented a house next door to his mother on East Market Street. When the prospect of building the Estate was discussed, the senior Mrs. Seiberling prevailed upon her son and daughter-in-law to not make any such changes until after her passing, so the family could continue its many beloved traditions. It was 1911 before they felt free to begin creating the home they had dreamed of.
In preparation to oversee the professionals selected to handle the work, Gertrude took classes in interior decorating, landscape architecture, architecture and horticulture at Buchtel College — now The University of Akron.
When the time came for the Seiberling’s to select an architect and a landscape architect, F.A. exchanged letters with a friend in Boston discussing the matter. The letters reveal something of his thinking.
“F.A. Seiberling to Harvey Ruhe — May 5, 1911”
I am figuring on building a home on a country place and am seeking to locate the best landscape architect and the best architect of country homes, particularly of the English type, that I can find. It occurred to me that in New England some one or two men might stand out conspicuously as filling these requirements, and if so, you could give me their names…My property has woods or natural forest as one side overlooks the Cuyahoga Valley and has a fine view. I want a home of the English type to fit it, and in fixing up my ground I want to stay to the natural position of things as much as possible and avoid the artificial filigrees that most landscape architects try to work in.
“F.A. Seiberling to Harvey Ruhe — May 11, 1911”
I would much prefer to have a local or Cleveland architect…but the difficulty is that the best ones have all done work in Akron and …I did not want any duplication; that I wanted my home original and outside of anything now existing in Akron.
“Harvey Ruhe to F.A. Seiberling — May 27, 1911”
Now in regard to the landscape architect I agree with you and I believe that an eastern architect would eliminate the chance of duplication and a man like Manning would give you something original and different from anything existing in Akron.
Warren Manning, the landscape designer hired by the Seiberlings walked the property for the first time in June 1911. He created an initial sketch with proposed siting of the Manor House, service buildings and gardens. In his words to F.A. “I will at the outset say that very few of the thousands or more properties that I have examined and made plans for, offer within a hundred acres, so many and such varied incidents that will give a home estate distinction and interest.” (W. Manning to F.A. Seiberling — June 23, 1911)
On March 8, 1912, contracts were signed with George Post & Sons, a New York City architectural firm. The project would be managed out of their Cleveland office by architect Charles Schneider. The decision to hire Schneider followed an architectural competition among six or eight firms from Cleveland to New York to Boston. Also in 1912, F.A., Gertrude and their eldest daughter Irene traveled to England and France with Schneider to glean ideas for the style of home they would build. Ultimately, three English manors provided the most significant inspiration for the Tudor Revival style created for Stan Hywet: Ockwells Manor, Haddon Hall and Compton Wynyates.
Ground was broken on the foundations in December 1912.
There are no records as to just how many people worked on the construction of Stan Hywet. However other details about the actual construction are known. Seiberling retained an old barn that would have been located on Portage Path, near to the site of the present day Carriage House, that he had retrofitted to act as a work camp site. The barn was equipped with a make-shift dining facility for the workers and a dormitory-style bedroom for sleeping. There are some invoices remaining that show the expenses of this camp site. It employed workers under Warren Manning, who helped to clear the foundation of the house and complete a lot of the physical/manual labor — moving rocks, building walls, moving dirt. The invoices also list a lump sum every two weeks for wages, but they in no way indicate how many men were paid. Different skill levels made different amounts, so it is difficult to try to back track and create an estimate that is in any way accurate.
Seiberling also purchased a bus or van that was used to drive down to the street car stop on Market Street to pick up workers who lived locally and commuted each day to the work site.
There was a labor shortage in Akron throughout most of the construction. Correspondence between Seiberling and Manning especially continue to discuss how to find qualified men to complete all of the needed work. Rubber factory jobs paid better and were easy to get, which pulled men away from other unskilled/skilled professions. The rubber strikes in the spring of 1913 also affected the construction at Stan Hywet. There are indications that other workers struck in solidarity with the rubber workers, creating an almost standstill on all work throughout the city at that time.
There was a lot of skilled labor needed to complete all of the wood paneling and plaster ceilings in the house. The Hayden Company of New York City, was contracted to complete the designs found in such spaces as the Linenfold Hallway. Two English carvers stayed in Akron and worked throughout the construction process, supervising the creation and installation of all wood carving and paneling.
Supplies for the home were brought right to the front door. The Seiberlings originally owned the property on both sides of the railroad tracks that bisect the property on the north side. A spur was laid from the main rail line up to almost the front door of the Manor House. It was used to transport all building materials as well as furniture deliveries, landscape materials, etc. to the house.
One worker, William Dennis, was hired by Manning to act as a supervisor for the landscape installation. Seiberling was so taken with Dennis, that he offered him the position of Head Gardner when the house opened. Dennis accepted and he and his family lived in the Gate Lodge until his death in 1923.
Stan Hywet Hall was one of the finest examples of the American Country Estate movement, which flourished during the Industrial Age. The family moved into the Manor House on Christmas day 1915, and while the Estate was designed to serve nearly every need and desire of their vast, extended family, its use was not by any means, confined to them.
When they moved into the home, F.A. was 56 years old and Gertrude was 49. Their oldest son, Fred was 27 and was serving in the Ohio National Guard, stationed in Fort Bliss, Texas. Irene was 25 and lived with her parents, as did Franklin who was only 7 years old when the family moved into Stan Hywet. Their other children, Willard (23), Penfield (17) and Virginia (16), were each away at school. Both F.A. and Gerturde resided at the Estate until each of their deaths (Gertrude in 1946 and F.A. in 1955). Gertrude’s mother, Elsie Penfield, also lived there until her death in 1917.
F.A. and Gertrude were passionate about living well, but also about sharing their wealth and talents with others. They immersed themselves in the spirit of philanthropy, providing important leadership that extended far beyond the boundaries of their beloved Stan Hywet and permeated throughout Akron, and beyond.
Giving back to the community was one of the greatest rewards of their legacy. In doing so, they set an unparalleled example for their family who made the choice to carry forward their parent’s generosity by gifting Stan Hywet to Akron.
While F.A. was hailed as a titan of the rubber industry, Gertrude established her own reputation as an accomplished artist, musician and patron of the arts. In fact, Stan Hywet’s design and décor were largely influenced by her personal taste. While the family was in residence, she also used her style and influence as a founding member of Tuesday Musical, the Akron Garden Club and other institutions that remain strong, vibrant and iconic organizations even today.
Stan Hywet became a beacon of progress for F.A. and his business associates who often met at the Estate to discuss and negotiate the challenges of the day. It served as an international stage for well-known figures in music, the arts and politics. Throughout the next 40 years, Stan Hywet played host to large family celebrations, including two weddings, and to such luminaries as Presidents William Howard Taft, Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge, as well as Helen Keller, Will Rogers, Thomas A. Edison, the Von Trapp family and many others.
The extended family also contributed to the community. The Seiberling’s oldest son Fred, his wife Henrietta and their three children lived in the Gate Lodge on the property. In the Gate Lodge on Mother’s Day, 1935, Henrietta Sieberling introduced Dr. Bob Smith and Bill Wilson, co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. This is considered the first meeting of the organization. Henrietta had a concern regarding her friend Dr. Bob Smith’s drinking. When Bill Wilson, a successful Wall Street financier who also battled alcoholism made a desperate phone call to Henrietta from the Mayflower Hotel, she thougt the two men might be able to help each other. For the next three months, Henrietta, Wilson, Smith and his wife Ann, studied the Bible and Oxford Group literature and prayed together. They discussed spiritual principles extensively; sought out alcoholics to help; and attended regular Oxford Group meetings at the Williams residence.
From personal to public
F.A.’s death in 1955 occurred before any decision had been made about a way to provide for Stan Hywet’s future. By this time, he had not been in a position to endow it, something that caused him a measure of worry during his lifetime. It prompted Irene to promise her father that she would find a way to save the Estate and keep it alive as a community treasure.
In the last years of F.A.’s life he had moved into the Library and much of the house had been shut up. The grounds had also fallen into neglect without a staff to care for all of the gardens. There were discussions about turning the house into a country club, nursing home, even possibly a children’s home. None of these proposals were satisfactory to the family. They did not want the house cut up or changed as would most likely happen with any of the proposals.
In September 1955, 75 family members and community leaders representing nearly every organization in Akron as well as its leading citizens gathered at Stan Hywet to discuss what might be done with the Estate. During that meeting, it was decided that a committee would be formed and a study underwritten by some of those present, including Akron’s major rubber companies – Goodyear, Firestone, General Tire and Goodrich – to determine what might be required to sustain the Estate. It was determined that a $1 million endowment would be necessary, a decision that the men would not support, but the women of Akron did.
These strong-willed women began a “crusade,” rolling up their sleeves to clean and repair the Manor House, gardens and grounds, and to raise the needed money to open it up for the public to enjoy. They demonstrated the epitome of the American Spirit. The original group of women evolved into the Women’s Auxiliary Board (now the Auxiliary Board), and remains today a proud and integral partner in helping to sustain Stan Hywet’s work, primarily through Ohio Mart, their signature annual fundraising event for the Estate.
Today, Stan Hywet remains a testament to the success of the Industrial Age as well as a symbol of the American Country Estate movement. It is nationally accredited by the American Alliance of Museums – one of only 776 out of 17,500 museums in the country, and the 6th largest historic home in the nation open to the public. The Estate welcomes more than 107,000 visitors every year.
Among the most significant aspects of Stan Hywet are the authentic collections, nearly all of which are original to the home and the family. The furniture, furnishings, paintings, journals, photographs, china, silver – even the hairbrush one might see on the vanity was owned by the Seiberlings.
This year, Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens celebrates its 100th Anniversary. The season will be filled with special exhibits, tours and events – while continuing its 2nd Century Restoration & Sustainability Campaign and beginning some of the major restoration work being funded by the campaign. Collectively, these plans for the season honor Stan Hywet’s 100-year history while celebrating its promise for the future under the theme: 2nd Century in Bloom.
Among the many new things to see and do is to tour the Manor House, which has been re-staged for the season to look just as it did in 1915. Family photos provided the important references needed to pull some objects from the archives and move others into their original positions.
Also Playgarden returns, with six outdoor interactive spaces inviting family fun for every generation.
A highlight of 2nd Century in Bloom is a new specialty tour, Blueprints to Bricks: Manor House 100th Anniversary Tour. Offered twice daily, this tour, both inside the Manor House and outside on the grounds focuses on how the Estate was planned and constructed, with a new tour route in the Manor House, where guests will see and venture into areas and unique spaces that are usually not accessible.
In the gardens, Bloom! is on display, June 2 to September 20. This unique installation features the glass artistry of Craig Mitchell Smith. Thirty-two larger-than-life kiln-fired and nature-inspired glass sculptures will be “planted” in the gardens; 12 are inspired by, and designed specifically for the Estate.
The sculptures will be up-lit for special Twilight & Flashlights evening tours on Thursdays and Fridays from August 20 to September 4, inviting guests to enjoy the gardens, grounds and tour the Manor House against a backdrop of music and a selection of food offerings. Picturing the Past features 15 select oversized photographs of the property, dating from 1912-1915. These images are strategically placed throughout the grounds at the photographer’s vantage point, giving guests who visit in 2015 a look at then and now.
Stan Hywet hosts its official 100th anniversary celebration at Community Day on August 16. Admission will be free for registered guests (by telephone or online) and the day includes vintage base ball, games, music, Playgarden, complimentary tours, antique cars, a Goodyear Band Concert, fun and informative presentations on butterflies, gardening, horticulture and more, historic interpretations by the History First Hand acting troupe, a formal program featuring dignitaries to help us honor Seiberling family members and volunteers, and much, much more.
Special events that are guest favorites are also returning. Inspiration in Bloom, opened the season with a fresh floral exhibit on display in the Manor House, April 10-12 and a special Seiberling Home Tour Tea featuring tours of Tri-Acres, the home of C.W. Seiberling and many other family homes, followed by a formal tea in the Manor House.
Founders’ Day commemorates the 80th anniversary of the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous at the Gate Lodge, and the Father’s Day Car Show features century cars from 1915 and earlier, live music, and a display of vintage bicycles by the Ohio Wheelmen. The annual Gala, Shakespearean Ball on June 19 is inspired by the Seiberlings’ housewarming party shortly after they took up residence at Stan Hywet.
The 49th annual Ohio Mart is October 1-4, with highlights that include a 100th anniversary store and a museum tent celebrating the history of Stan Hywet’s volunteer Auxiliary Board at this annual artisan craft festival. In keeping with the year-long theme, Deck the Hall in November and December focuses on The Seiberling Family Christmases with an exhibit of the family’s traditions in the 1920s, and a scale model of the Manor House — made out of gingerbread. More than 800,000 lights will illuminate the Estate, including Dazzle and Gingerbread Land.
“ We are honored to be the stewards of this magnificent estate. The Seiberlings left us with an enduring legacy, which we have the privilege to share, and a rich archive which will be presented throughout the 2015 season. We are dedicated to ensuring the gardens are always in bloom, the Estate is preserved and restored, the stories are shared and every generation in our community helps set the stage for the second century of this national historic landmark,” notes Linda Conrad, President and Executive Director of Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens.
It is obvious that the team at Stan Hywet is proudly guided every day by a mission that is passionately embraced and celebrated by staff, board and volunteers alike: To preserve and share [our] historic Estate and serve as a resource for educational, cultural and recreational enrichment.
Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens is well positioned for at least another century.