In 1926, a bit of France landed in the middle of north central Ohio in the form of Kingwood, the home of Charles Kelley King. Ninety years-plus later, it forms the centerpiece for one of the region’s foremost attractions and one of the best-known public gardens in the entire Midwest.
Mr. King was a Mansfielder who made his fortune with the Ohio Brass Company. Hired as the company’s first trained electrical engineer in 1893, he became its secretary in 1895 and a vice-president in 1905. He was the guiding force behind Ohio Brass’ move into new areas, particularly the manufacture of electrical fittings for railroads and trolley car systems. Mr. King would later become President and Chairman of the Board. He was married and divorced twice, and had no children.
The 47-acre estate opened as a public garden in 1953, one year after Mr. King’s death. Mr. King, who was married and divorced twice, never had children. He left most of his estate to the private foundation that continues to operate Kingwood Center Gardens today.
The King home was designed by prominent Cleveland architect Clarence Mack, who made a career of building fashionable homes in Lakewood and Shaker Heights. Mack’s father, grandfather, and uncles were all home builders. After traveling to Europe to study architecture in the years before and after World War I, he spent his pre-Depression years designing large homes for industrialists and other executives. Kingwood was his largest commission.
The cost of construction for Kingwood and its outbuildings was a then-staggering $400,000. When completed, a photo essay of interior views was published in the pages of Architectural Record. Composed of a main block and two flanking pavilions, Kingwood has French style characteristics in the mansard shape of tower roofs, its courtyard approach, and its formal gardens. Similar in massing to French chateaux, its library furniture was purchased in Paris.
At the opening of Kingwood Center in 1953, hundreds gathered on the front lawn, outside the drawing room. Speakers included the Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, Director of the Garden Center of Greater Cleveland, Chair of the Kingwood Center Administrative Board, President of the Richland County Historical Society, and ministers and priests from First English Lutheran Church, Grace Episcopal Church, and St. Peter’s Catholic Church.
By 1955, Kingwood was welcoming 225,000 visitors per year.
Images from the 1926 opening year photo essay, housed in the Cleveland Public Library Digital Gallery, can be accessed here. Click any image for a larger version.