There are a handful of structures standing in Mansfield today that very much “connect the dots.” These buildings tie important eras in the city’s history together, serving therefore as important landmarks that continue to inform and inspire.
One such building sits at 145 Park Avenue West, known locally as The Women’s Club.
It has been claimed that The Women’s Club was built in the 1840s and is one of Mansfield’s largest mid 19th century homes. If that is true (and we are aware of no precise date), it would also be true that it was transformed over time, as elements of the exterior would seem to suggest a later date of construction.
What is known is that the building was the home of Henry Clay and Lucretia Zimmerman Hedges, a prominent attorney and his wife. Henry was the nephew of James Hedges, who laid out Mansfield in 1808 with Jacob Newman and Joseph Larwill. One of eleven children, Henry Hedges gradated from Ohio Wesleyan University and went on to become the law partner of US Senator, Secretary of the Treasury, and Secretary of State John Sherman for some 24 years.
In 1900, Hedges became chairman of the National Republican Committee Speaker’s Bureau. He was very active in the Odd Fellows movement, serving at one point as Grand Master of Ohio. The Hedges were also involved at the First Methodist Church.
When downtown’s Vasbinder Fountain was dedicated on July 4, 1881, Henry Hedges gave a rousing keynote speech which included these lines:
“Here eye shall be delighted by the glistening drops and glistening jets…Joy smiles in the fountain, health flows in the rills, and the ribbons of silver unwind from the hills.”
Perhaps it is not surprising that at the time of his death in September of 1914, it was said of him that he was “gifted with a wonderfully brilliant mind and a memory that was a marvel”
Lucretia Hedges continued to live in the house and was active in missionary work, particularly in the US south. She died in 1925 after suffering a fall from a chair on the front porch at 145 Park Avenue West, resulting in shock from a fractured hip.
Mrs. Hedges’ will gave $10,000 to the Ohio Wesleyan library’s history section and made other bequests. The Hedges house, however, was given to the Mansfield Federation of Women’s Clubs for use as a meeting and reception facility – with one or two rooms to be open at all times for a certain kind of young women. One account said that this was for “wayward girls,” while another described the requirement as being for “respectful girls who were temporarily out of funds.” Rooms were initially furnished by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.
Since that time, the house has continued to be used for The Women’s Club. In its rooms have been held luncheons, recitals, meetings, and receptions. Major renovations and expansion occurred in 1952. Visitors to the house for activities have included famed muckraking journalist Ida Tarbell, columnist Erma Bombeck, and First Lady Bird Johnson.
The house has also now been visited by hundreds during Downtown Mansfield, Inc.’s Secret City Tour, and by paranormal enthusiasts.
Consistent with an early date of construction, the brick house features plain stone lintels and a wide, plain cornice. The interior woodwork is also relatively plain, suggesting that it might well be a pre-Civil War structure. Other elements, including decorative brackets under the eaves, ornamented dormer windows, and round circular bay with tower, would likely date from the late 1800s or early 1900s.
In fact, these dates are corroborated by the earliest Sanborn Fire Insurance Map that shows this part of Park Avenue West, from 1897, which shows 145 Park Avenue West without the corner tower. The Womens Club Building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.