This 30-acre park in Bexley, Ohio features walking trails through natural woodlands filled with sycamores and cottonwoods, sugar maples and oaks, white pines and blue spruces, wildflowers, spring-blooming ephemerals and a magnificent mansion. In 1941, the mansion and its grounds were gifted to the City of Bexley by the Robert H. Jeffrey family to be used for community recreation and education.
I returned to the scene of this photo shoot recently, when Jeffrey Mansion and its caretaker’s cottage — now the homes of the Bexley Recreation and Parks Department and the Bexley Historical Society —- participated in Ohio Open Doors, the Ohio History Connection’s annual initiative to promote and inspire pride in Ohio’s heritage and historic preservation efforts. During this week-long event, historic buildings and landmarks across the state open their doors for special behind-the-scenes tours and events.
Born in 1873 to Joseph A. Jeffrey, founder of Jeffrey Manufacturing Company, Robert joined the family business and was elected as mayor of Columbus in 1903. During his only term in office, he hired local architect Frank Packard to design a home for him and his family at 165 North Parkview Avenue. Inspired by the British country house tradition, Packard placed the Tudor-style home at the end of a long, tree-lined drive surrounded by spacious, wooded parkland. The home was completed in 1905.
In 1908, city leaders joined Jeffrey on the back terrace of his home and chose the name “Bexley” for the fledgling community located east of Downtown. In 1922, Jeffrey added an entrance wing characterized by a large stone stairway and great banks of leaded-glass windows. It is on one of these landings that he stood and watched President Warren G. Harding, his friend and golfing partner, approach the home for a visit in 1922.
While the mansion is now used as a community center and a preschool, the house’s basic structure is remains the same. A formal living room, library and dining room — all with lavish fireplaces — were located on the first floor, together with a butler’s pantry, servants’ area and kitchen. Bedrooms, an exercise room, an office and sun porches were located on the second floor. Servants’ quarters, an attic and a tower room were on the third floor.
Jeffrey found an outlet for his skill in arboriculture by joining with his gardener to select and oversee the landscaping of the surrounding grounds. They planted trees and shrubs, selected flowers and created a formal rose garden to complement the swimming pool, tennis court, horseshoe area, greenhouse, putting greens and skeet shooting area on the estate.
Plans are under way to refresh the master plan for Jeffrey Mansion, which is designed to improve parking, the availability of spaces for programs, accessibility for the disabled, and other enhancements, while preserving the unique characteristics of the mansion and park.
In the mansion’s former caretaker’s cottage at 2080 Clifton Avenue, the Bexley Historical Society presents exhibits illustrating the community’s history, from artifacts belonging to the Adena Native Americans who first lived in the area, as well as the Nelson family of pioneer settlers who traveled from Pennsylvania and built a log cabin and a sawmill along Alum Creek in 1801.
A quilt made by community residents in 1978 depicts 12 scenes from Bexley’s history. One room recreates the ornate Victorian-era parlor from the boyhood home of Bexley’s first mayor, Frank Holtzman, which was built in 1895 at the corner of what is now East Main Street and South Parkview Avenue. A carved frieze on display is one of the home’s few remaining pieces. It also tells the story of Camp Bushnell, named for Ohio Governor Asa Bushnell and established in 1898 for thousands of soldiers training for the Spanish-American War. The camp was located on 500 acres near Broad Street and what now is Drexel Avenue.
Robert Jeffrey’s brother, Malcolm, built a Jacobethan Revival home at 358 North Parkview Avenue in the 1920s that is now the Ohio Governor’s Residence.
The home across the street from the caretaker’s cottage, at 2115 Clifton Avenue, was designed in 1965 by Noverre Musson, a Columbus architect and architecture columnist for The Columbus Dispatch who apprenticed with Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1930s and watched the architect design his legendary creation, Fallingwater. The home incorporates many signature Wright details — such as an abundance of glass and natural materials, deep cantilevered eaves and a low horizontal plane — but also with several of his own touches, including a removeable entryway skylight allowing plants below to be watered with rain, and a roof constructed of two W-shaped inverted trusses.