Sunday, May 13, 2018
May is National Preservation Month.
Here is a lost treasure: John D. Rockefeller's Forest Hill.
John D. Rockefeller was a strong believer in homeopathic medicine. When he learned that a mineral spring existed at the base of a hill in rural East Cleveland Township in Cuyahoga County, the 34-year-old oil baron purchased 79 acres of land around the spring in 1873, most of it bordering the then-exclusive Euclid Avenue. A company, the Euclid Avenue Forest Hill Association, was established and shares in the company sold. The company established a "water cure resort" at the summit consisting of a three-story Victorian hotel.
The venture failed in 1878, and Rockefeller bought out the other investors. He tried to run the mansion has a club for wealthy guests in the summer of 1878, but that also failed. Rockefeller then renovated the hotel into a house, and used it as a home for his family. Although the Rockefellers owned a modest, four-bedroom Second Empire-style brick mansion at 3920 Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, the family spent more and more time at "The Homestead" in what Rockefeller called Forest Hill. Over the next decade, Rockefeller added to the estate, until it reached a whopping 700 acres. Riding trails, carriageways, an ice skating pond, and more were added. In the winter, the children thrilled as they toboganned down the hill in front of the house.
Rockefeller's company refined oil in Cleveland. But it sold oil in New York City, and Rockefeller was spending more and more time in the city he decided to buy a home there. In 1876, Rockefeller purchased a seven-story Italianate 1870 brownstone mansion located at 4 West 54th Street. The Rockefellers moved there in 1884, although the family returned to "The Homestead" for summers until Rockefeller's wife, Laura Spelman Rockefeller, died in 1915. Rockefeller longed for a country home closer by, however, and in 1893 he purchased 3,400 acres in Westchester County, New York, near Pocantico -- the 1,000-acre estate of his younger brother, William. (William built a Castellated Elizabeth-style, 204-room mansion there, named Rockwood.) John D. Rockefeller began construction of a 40-room Neo-Georgian mansion he named Kykuit ("lookout") in 1913. It was finished in 1919.
Rockefeller sold his Euclid Avenue home in 1910. While Kykuit was under construction, Forest Hill burned to the ground in 1917. In 1938, Rockefeller's son, John D. Rockefeller Jr. had the W. 54th Street mansion razed. (The site is now the sculpture garden of the Museum of Modern Art.) Rockwood Hall was sold in 1922 to a country club, which went bankrupt in 1937. The property was re-acquired by John D. Rockefeller Jr., who had Rockwood razed during the winter of 1941-1942. Pocantico was later donated to the state of New York as a park.
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John D. Rockefeller sold Forest Hill to John D. Rockefeller Jr. in 1923 for $2.8 million. In 1939, the younger Rockefeller donated 235 acres of the estate to the cities of Cleveland Heights and East Cleveland, with the stipulation that they be used for public recreation. Redeveloped by the Cleveland Heights landscape architect A.D. Taylor, Forest Hill Park opened in 1942.
Here is a shot of Forest Hill Park underoing redevelopment in 1938.
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This photo was taken in 2017, standing on what would have been the front porch of John D. Rockefeller's Forest Hill home.
This image was taken while standing at the bottom of what is now Sled Hill in Forest Hill Park. To the right, the marshy patch is the likely location of the mineral spring which first drew Rockefeller's attention to the area.
At the summit of the hill is where Rockefeller's mansion stood.
This image was taken standing on what would have been the back door of "The Homestead". You can see Lake Erie beyond.