Monday, December 1, 2014
The Gate Lodge at Stan Hywet -- birthplace of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Stan Hywet (pronounced "Stan Hewitt") is a Gilded Age country manor house and estate located in Akron, Ohio. The estate was built between 1912 and 1915 for Frank A. Seiberling, founder of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. The name Stan Hywet is Old English for "stone quarry", and it reflects the site's earlier use as a stone quarry. Architect Charles Sumner Schneider designed the Tudor Revival house, and Hugo F. Huber was its interior decorator. The 3,000-acre grounds were landscaped between 1911 and 1915 by landscape architect Warren H. Manning. The English garden was redesigned in 1929 by landscape architect Ellen Biddle Shipman.
Seiberling, a college dropout, got his start in his father's farm machinery manufacturing business. The company was bankrupted in the Panic of 1893. In 1898, Frank Seiberling was an unemployed 39-year-old with a wife and three children. Seiberling borrowed $3,500 ($100,000 in 2014 dollars) from his brother-in-law to buy an abandoned factory in Akron. He had no idea what to do with it. But after a week of brainstorming, he decided to go into the rubber manufacturing business. He chose the name Goodyear to honor Charles Goodyear, the discoverer of vulcanization (who had died penniless almost 40 years before). Seiberling's vision was to automate rubber production, which no one else was doing. Within 10 years, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. was one of the largest companies in the United States and Seiberling one of the richest men in America.
At the end of World War I, however, the American economy went into recession. For years, Seiberling relied on company profits to sustain Goodyear's capital needs. But with profits wiped out, the company suddenly needed immense bank loans to sruvive. Seiberling personally co-signed loans to try to save his business, but it wasn't enough. He tried to get New York banking firms interested in Goodyear, but they had no faith in Seiberling's management skills. Stockholders asked the investment banking firm of Dillon, Read for help. It refinanced the company's debt, but Seiberling was out. His net worth fell from $15 million to zero, as banks took his personal fortune to secure the loans he'd co-signed.
Yet, within nine months, Seiberling and his brother had raised enough money to start the Seiberling Rubber Company. Within six years, it was the seventh-largest tire and rubber company in the nation. Frank Seiberling died at the age of 90 in 1955. His company was acquired by Firestone for $20 million in 1965.
The Seiberling family reacted to the financial crisis of 1921 by subdividing and selling off several hundred acres of Stan Hywet. Another 900 acres were sold in 1955 after Frank's death. All but 70 acres of the estate were sold in 1957. Proceeds from this final sale went to an endowment which established the Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens Foundation -- a nonprofit which today runs Stan Hywet as a museum and historic site.
Frank Seiberling and his wife, Gertrude, had six children: John Frederick "Fred" (born 1888), Irene (born 1890), Willard (born 1892), James (born 1898), Franklin Jr. (born 1908), and Gertrude (born 1899). John Frederick -- who used his middle name, "Fred" -- enlisted in the United States Army in April 1917, and was commissioned a lieutenant. He went through officer training in Texas, where he met his future wife. On October 11, 1917, Fred married and Henrietta McBrayer Buckler (born 1888).
After the war ended, Fred went to work as a manager at the Seiberling Rubber Co. factory in Pennsylvania. The couple had three children: John Jr. (born 1918), Mary (born 1920), and Dorothy (born 1922). Fred and Henrietta's marriage was never strong, and the financial strain put on their marriage by the Great Depression left Fred almost ruined. They separated in 1935, and Henrietta left Pennsylvania and took up residence in the Gate Lodge -- a small, two-story, Tudor-style house about a quarter mile from Stan Hywet on the carriage drive leading to the manor house.
Henrietta was a devout Christian, and she believed that prayer could help save her marriage. She joined an organization called the Oxford Group for assistance. Dr. Franklin N.D. Buchman, a Lutheran minister, had founded it in 1921 as "A First Century Christian Fellowship", but the group changed its named to the Oxford Group in 1931 to reflect the place where Dr. Buchman had had his first religious re-conversion.
The Oxford Group believed in social activism, and Henrietta Seiberling soon was helping in the fight against poverty, racism, child labor, and alcoholism. Dr. Bob Smith was an Akron surgeon who was a secret alcoholic. Seiberling became aware of Smith's drinking problem, and invited him to a meeting of the Oxford Group in early 1935. It was at this meeting that Smith publicly admitted for the first time that he was an alcoholic.
In May 1935, Bill Wilson traveled to Akron for a business meeting. Wilson was a recovering alcoholic who'd gotten involved with the Oxford Group in New York City. His friend Ebby Thacher had convinced Bill that only "God" could help him stop drinking. When Bill resisted spiritual conversion, Thacher told him to choose his own concept of "god". It was a deep philosophical revelation, and after being released from an alcoholism treatment hospital on December 18, 1934, Bill Wilson joined the Oxford Group in New York City and began aggressively trying to help other alcoholics recover.
During his business trip, Bill Wilson felt the urge to drink beginning again. He contacted a local minister, who put him in touch with Seiberling. On May 12, 1935, (Mother's Day), Wilson and Smith met with Seiberling at the Gate Lodge. Smith considered Wilson a religious nut, so he insisted their meeting be limited to 15 minutes.
It lasted six hours.
During this meeting, Smith and Wilson reached the fundamental insight that alcoholics needed one another to help them to stop drinking. As the day wore on, the three drafted the 12 Steps -- the tenets that still mark Alcoholics Anonymous to this day: never to drink again, to lead a spiritual life, and to share their experiences with others. Seiberling added the belief-dimension that Smith resisted and which Wilson had seen fail time and time again in New York City. Both men wondered whether this would turn alcoholics off. Seiberling replied, "Well, we're not out to please the alcoholics. They have been pleasing themselves all these years. We are out to please God. And if you don't talk about what God does and your faith, and your guidance, then we might as well be the Rotary Club or something like that. Because God is your only source of Power."
Smith's last drink was on June 10, 1935, and this is considered to be the founding date of AA. Smith and Wilson eventually broke from the Oxford Group, a process which began in 1937 and ended in 1939. This process led to the writing and publishing of The Big Book, and the establishment of AA itself as a separate organization.
And Henrietta? She never did divorce Fred. She moved to New York City in 1944. Fred moved to Stan Hywet in 1953, and lived there almost until his death in 1963. Henrietta died in New York in 1979.
Their son, John F. Seiberling, Jr. became a nine-term U.S. congressman from Ohio. He died in 2008.