When I think of Akron, the first thing that comes to mind is Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, the lovely country estate where I gave a presentation as part of the “Models of Change: Keeping the Doors Open” symposium in September 2009. But after my mother and six of her friends took a recent day trip to the fifth largest city in Ohio, I’d like to check out two more of the city’s historic attractions.
Stan Hywet is the former home of Franklin “F.A.” Seiberling, co-founder of The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. Cleveland architect Charles S. Schneider designed the Tudor Revival home where F.A., his wife Gertrude and their family lived from 1915 to 1955. Its 64,500 square feet of space contains more than 65 rooms, including 18 bedrooms, 23 bathrooms and 23 fireplaces.
Inside, you can see some beautiful artistic features. One hallway features intricately carved oak panel walls which were handcut and machine-tooled to resemble folds of linen fabric. With its carved black walnut paneling and hand-painted oil-on-canvas ceiling panels, the library includes a bookcase that has a secret passageway to the three-story-high Great Hall. Stained-glass windows in the tower are commissioned copies of windows at Ockwells Manor in England. Samuel Yellin created the decorative wrought-iron hardware throughout the house, as well as its front gates, while Mary Chase Stratton of the Pewabic Pottery Company in Detroit, Michigan designed and manufactured the tile in the sun parlor’s floor and fountain. Decorated in blue, white and gold, the breakfast room looks out onto its own garden of flowers reflecting those same colors.
Stan Hywet derives its name from the Old English term for stone quarry, which was a prominent natural feature of the estate. Today, the 70 acres of landscaped grounds and formal gardens surrounding the Seiberlings’ home are the star exterior attraction.
First designed by landscape architect Warren Manning, the grounds include a Japanese garden, a 550-foot long allée vista made up of 100 birch trees, two stone garden pavilions, a bowling lawn, a grape arbor and gardens of roses and wildflowers. Then, in 1928, Mrs. Seiberling asked landscape architect Ellen Biddle Shipman to redesign Manning’s walled garden so that it resembled an English cottage garden, packed with blue, white, pink and yellow flowers. Shipman responded by creating fanlike formations of over 3,300 perennials, complemented by peonies, wisteria and flowering dogwood and crabapple trees.
Other features on the estate include the Gate Lodge, the home of the estate’s superintendent that later became the residence of eldest son Frederick and his wife, then was the birthplace of Alcoholics Anonymous. The Gothic-style Corbin Conservatory is a historic replica of the original greenhouse, and is used for growing fruits and flowers.
Several new attractions make visiting Stan Hywet worthwhile this season. The Seiberling family’s travel journals, photos, postcards and memorabilia inspired “An Influential Journey,” a special exhibit highlighting the family’s travels to the American West, around the world, and to Cedar Lodge, their Michigan summer home. The exhibit also features a replica of the RMS Lusitania, the ship on which the family sailed to Europe, that is made of nearly 200,000 toothpicks.
A new outdoor sensory experience called Playgarden opens later this month. It features six interactive adventures for children, including a splash fountain, an antique Ford Model A truck, an archaeological dig and a Tudor Revival playhouse. Members can also reserve a new courtyard for birthday parties.
My mom and her friends made two more stops in Akron. One was Perkins Mansion, one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in Ohio. Built in 1837 by Colonel Simon Perkins, the son of Akron’s founder, it is the current home of the Summit County Historical Society. A two-story portico, sandstone walls, a widow’s walk, elliptical frieze windows and Federal-style interior woodwork are some of the distinctive features of this historic house museum. Adjacent buildings include an 1865 office building and a wash house and windmill constructed in 1895.
Greystone Hall, a seven-story downtown Akron landmark, was originally constructed by the Freemasons in 1917 for their business and social gatherings. Today, it’s available to rent for banquets, meetings and special events. Enter the lobby with its marble walls and floor, then climb the grand staircase to various floors, where you’ll find the hall’s original billiards room, a two-story ballroom, rooms decorated in the Egyptian and Doric styles, and a theater, now home to Actors’ Summit, a full-season theater.
Greystone Hall is open to the public for lunch on Tuesdays from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm. Last week, my mother and her friends feasted on cheesy broccoli with ham and potato soup, a gourmet salad bar, fresh fruit salad, grilled chicken Greek salad, asparagus with lemon butter, garden vegetable wild rice, chicken cacciatore, slow-cooked savory beef tips, and assorted desserts and beverages.
If you’re interested in seeing more of the Seiberling home, check out the University of Akron Press’s 2000 publication, Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, with photographs by Ian Adams and Barney Taxel, text by Steve Love, and a foreword by John Seiberling. For some different looks at Akron’s history, don’t miss four books by David Giffels, an assistant professor of English at University of Akron. My favorite is All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling-Down House, Giffels’ tale of his epic restoration of his Akron home. Are We Not Men? We Are Devo! is a look at the rock band of Akron musicians best known for its 1980 single, “Whip It,” while Wheels of Fortune: The Story of Rubber in Akron provides a history of the city’s rubber industry. Giffels’ new book, The Hard Way on Purpose: Essays and Dispatches from the Rust Belt, is a collection of essays about how Akron illustrates Midwestern culture. Giffels will read a selection from that book when he is the featured author for the Thurber House’s literary picnic on Wednesday, June 25. Click here for more information.