Cleveland had its Millionaire's Row along Euclid Avenue in the late 1800s-early 1900s. Unfortunately, all but four or five of those mansions are gone. In Barberton, the spectacular Barber mansion succumbed to the wrecking ball in 1965.
In Akron, Stan Hywet Hall and the Hower House have survived, as have many mansions in other Ohio cities, such as the J.E. Reeves home in Dover. Many of them are owned by historical societies or foundations, which furnish them with antiques and open them to the public.
I've visited at least a couple dozen unbelievable homes built by and lived in by some of the wealthiest industrialists of the 19th century, and I thoroughly enjoy seeing what each has to offer.
In late July, I added another one to the list -- the Hickories in Elyria. Built in 1895, it was the home of Arthur L. Garford, who made a fortune after his invention of the padded bicycle seat and also by selling luxury cars and bicycles.
The Hickories, which got its name because it was built on land with dozens of hickory trees, is on Washington Avenue, which was a smaller version of Euclid Avenue, according to the tour guide who showed me the house.
The Richardsonian Romanesque and shingle-style house was acquired in 1975 by the Lorain County Historical Society, which just last year opened the Lorain County History Center in another large old home down the street.
The tour takes about an hour and covers two floors. There also is a full basement, where items are stored, and a ballroom on the third floor, which is not open to the public. The guide estimated the house contains from 7,000 to 8,000 square feet.
It has a sprawling front porch with stone columns, six fireplaces, Tiffany-style windows and a private chapel. It was the first house in Elyria to use electricity. Out back was a carriage house, which was sold off and turned into a private home.
Some of the ceiling lights are originals. French and gothic styles are apparent in the beautiful oak, mahogany and cherry woodwork. About 70 faces from 1 inch to 5 or 6 inches wide are carved into woodwork in hallways and rooms.
Most of the furnishings are items donated to the historical society which fit in well with the time period when the Garfords lived there. Mr. Garford died in 1933.
For several months through Aug. 31, a display of Garford items graced one room of the mansion. It was comprised of three of Mrs. Garford's dresses, a suit and some top hats worn by Mr. Garford, original Garford bicycle "saddles" and photos and newspaper clippings about Garford and his companies.
ABOUT ARTHUR L. GARFORD
Arthur Garford graduated from Elyria High School in 1875 and became a bank executive by the 1890s. About that time, he invented the padded bicycle seat, then purchased the Fay Manufacturing Co. to produce his product. In 1892, he changed the name to the Garford Manufacturing Co.
The next year he formed the Automobile & Cycle Parts Co. and renamed it Federal Manufacturing Co., then formed the Garford Co, selling it in the early 1900s to the George Worthington Co. During the decade that Garford headed the bicycle seat firm, more than one million seats were sold annually.
In 1917, the Worthington Co. -- which also produced a line of wheelchairs -- and another division of the Fay Co. merged to form the Colson Co., which created a line of children's bicycles, scooters and tricycles sold by such retailers as Sears, Roebuck & Co. The Colson Co. in Elyria last made bicycles in 1953.
The Colson Caster Corp. continues to exist, producing heavy duty, swivel and steel casters and many other types of wheels and bumpers. It is now a part of the Marmon Group.
The Studebaker Co. showed an interest in Garford's auto parts firm and the two partnered in 1904 to produce Studebaker-Garfield cars until 1911. The luxury car sold for about $2,000, and nearly 2,500 were built. Western Reserve Historical Society's Crawford Auto Aviation Museum has a 1907 model in its collection.
Garford sold his interest to Studebaker in 1908, and the firm sold the Garford Co. to the Willy-Overland Co. in 1911. That year, a caravan of four Studebaker-Garford cars completed a historic trip from New York to Los Angeles.
Garford also had a stake in other manufacturing firms such as the American Lace Manufacturing Co., Republican Printing Co. and Cleveland Automatic Machine Co.
He was instrumental in founding the Elyria Chamber of Commerce and was its first president. He was an Ohio delegate to the Republican National Convention around the turn of the 20th century, and ran unsuccessfully for Ohio governor in 1912 and the U.S. Senate in 1914 under the Progressive Party.
LORAIN HISTORY CENTER
I didn't have time to visit the Lorain County History Center before it closed for the day, but hope to return to do so. It's in the Horace Starr mansion, an Italianate-style house built in 1857, which is the oldest structure on Washington Avenue.
The house and its carriage barn are on the National Register of Historic Places. The house was bought in 2003 and the center was dedicated and opened on May 11, 2012. It is open Tuesdays to Saturdays.
The center features seven exhibit galleries, the Johnson Library, a gift shop and historical society offices. Two floors are open to the public.
Rotating exhibits from Lorain County historical societies are featured, along with items from local industries and private collections.
A $1.6 million capital campaign enabled the history center to become reality, including contributions by local businesses and two grants from the state totaling $500,000. The historical society boasts about 500 members and has an annual budget of about $175,000.
OTHER PLACES OF INTEREST
Elyria was founded in 1816 by Herman Ely from Massachusetts. By the turn of the 20th century the
town had 8,000 residents.
The city's population peaked in the late 1960s, and it now has about 54,000.
Elyria has a handful of other noteworthy attractions, some of which I checked out.
The East Falls in Cascade Park just north of downtown are a combination dam and rocky cliff that create a double waterfall on the east branch of the Black River. The old Red Mill once used energy from the falls. A walkway and observation deck overlook the falls.
Ely Square is in the heart of town. It has a beautiful gazebo, fountain built in the early 1900s and veterans memorial, and annually hosts the Apple Festival and Strawberry Festival.
Several historic buildings are situated around the square, including the Lorain County Courthouse to the south and old Elyria Town Hall to the west. The courthouse, built in 1881, is made of Amherst sandstone, but no longer houses county courts. The old Town Hall was built in 1867, with alterations in 1879 and 1936-37.
The old county jail to the south of the courthouse was used from 1893 to 1980 before being demolished.
The old Elyria Post Office, built in 1915, stands on Broad Street, the main east/west route through town and is now occupied by Fifth Third Bank.
A few blocks south of the courthouse stands old Washington School, built in 1894. It recently was renovated and adjoins the new Elyria High School built in 2011. Other buildings on the grounds, built in 1913 and 1924, were razed to make way for the new school, which houses 2,000 students.
One of Elyria's most famous names is Vic Janowicz, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1950 as a member of the Ohio State Buckeyes. Author James Kirkwood Jr. also grew up there.
The city is the headquarters for the Ridge Tool Co., maker of RIDGID Tools, which once had a manufacturing plant in my hometown of New Philadelphia.
A couple of other iconic businesses are Loomis Camera, which began in the late 1800s selling office supplies, greeting cards and stationery and added photo equipment in 1944, and Smitty's Place, a restaurant / bar in operation since 1934, which is famous for its Smitty Burger, which President Barack Obama ate during a 2010 visit to the city.
Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189