The Kingwood Center is an historic home with elaborate surrounding gardens originally built for Charles Kelley King and open to the public since 1953. Kingwood Hall is a massive, stunning exemplar of a French Chateau-style home with Georgian Revival influences; it was designed by Clarence Mack and completed in 1926. The surrounding manicured grounds and gardens, originally laid out by the firm of Pitkin and Mott and since expanded upon, are nationally significant masterpieces of landscape architecture. King himself made his fortune with the Ohio Brass Company, of which he was ultimately President and Chairman of the Board. He granted his estate to the public upon his death in 1952, and, today, it offers multiple tours, workshops, events, and educational activities across its forty-seven acres.
Backstory and Context
Charles Kelley King joined the Ohio Brass Company of Mansfield as its first electrical engineer in 1893. The company had previously been a small foundry, but was in the process of shifting into the electric streetcar industry. King’s skill was the major reason for the overwhelming success of this change and the Company. The streetcar market boomed through the 1890s and into the next century, powered by parts made by the Ohio Brass Company. By the 1920s, the Company was a national industry that had produced several millionaires, among them C. K. King. He was promoted to Secretary in 1895, Vice President in 1895, and then President in 1928, ultimately becoming Chairman of the Board. Employees called him an exacting but kind supervisor.
King’s personal life was also intriguing, if shrouded in a degree of mystery. (He ordered his personal papers and photographs destroyed after his death.) He first married a daughter of a prominent Mansfield family, but she left him in 1913 due to his numerous adulterous improprieties. His second wife, Luise, was often drunk. He was married to Luise when he began construction of what was to be Mansfield’s grandest manor on the outskirts of the town. He moved his previous wood frame house to clear his chosen site, then relocated trees from one side of his property to another to create a better setting for his in-progress mansion. He hired Cleveland architect Clarence Mack, known for his extravagant homes, to design the dwelling. Mack crafted a Georgian Revival-style home that bears striking similarity to opulent French chateaus. The brick mansion was completed in 1926. At the same time, King engaged the Cleveland landscape architecture firm of Pitkin and Mott to lay out gardens and grounds surrounding his stunning edifice. These gardens were lavish masterpieces, and they have grown in size and grandeur in the years since.
King ultimately divorced his second wife and continued his string of affairs and trysts. He also entertained lavishly, hosting extravagant parties and prominent guests. (Dana Jenney, 1930s and ‘40s starlet, later credited King with using his connections to launch her career.) A bartender at a fashionable Detroit hotel is quoted as saying, “When God Almighty is short of cash he goes to Mr. King for a loan.” However, that was not the extent of the interesting storied behind Kingwood. In November 1929, shortly after the stock market crash, a guard was shot and killed on the property by an unknown assailant.
Childless and unmarried, King deeded his property to a private foundation following his death, with the intent that they operate it as a public garden. He passed in 1952, and the Kingwood Center opened the following year. Since that time, the gardens have been further expanded and modified. The house has been adjusted to include office space on the upper floors, but the main floor has kept most of its historical integrity. Today, the nonprofit Kingwood Center Gardens offers multiple tours, educational activities, and other events (including a summer concert series). They also maintain the gardens and run a greenhouse and garden shop.
1) Green, H. Bradford. Klimoski, Gretchen. Kingwood Center, National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination Form, Ohio Historical Society. November 7th 1976. National Archives Catalog. Accessed July 21st 2020. https://s3.amazonaws.com/NARAprodstorage/lz/electronic-records/rg-079/NPS_OH/76001523.pdf.
2) Kingwood Center Gardens. Accessed July 21st 2020. https://kingwoodcenter.org/.
3) Landmarks Of Mansfield: Kingwood, 1812 Blockhouse. December 13th 2018. Accessed July 21st 2020. https://1812blockhouse.com/history-tourism/landmarks-of-mansfield-kingwood/.
4) McKee, Timothy Brian. Kingwood in the '20s: Mystery and murder Part I, Richland Source. January 25th 2020. Accessed July 21st 2020. https://www.richlandsource.com/area_history/kingwood-in-the-s-multidimensional-postcard-views/article_89ae123e-b5e1-11e3-99e9-101f742c0dee.html.
5) McKee, Timothy Brian. Kingwood in the '20s: Mystery and murder Part II, Richland Source. February 1st 2020. Accessed July 21st 2020. https://www.richlandsource.com/area_history/kingwood-in-the-s-multidimensional-postcard-views/article_0312dc34-b9bd-11e3-adff-10604b9ffeb6.html.
6) Schock, Brittany. Behind-the-scenes at historic Kingwood Center offers unique view, Richland Source. September 19th 2016. Accessed July 21st 2020. https://www.richlandsource.com/life_and_culture/behind-the-scenes-at-historic-kingwood-center-offers-unique-view/article_f45bac74-79e1-11e6-b01a-3fe1a61e12e3.html.
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