Monday, June 11, 2018

John Long Severance.

His father was Louis Henry Severance (August 1, 1838 – June 25, 1913), who was raised in Cleveland by his physician grandfather. Using his grandfather's connections, he gained employment at the Commercial National Bank. In 1863, the bank loaned money to John D. Rockefeller, Henry Flagler, and Samuel Andrews for their start-up oil refinery business. Using inside information, Louis started an oil exploration business himself in Titusville, Pa., in 1864 -- using a loan from the bank he worked for. He grew wealthy, worth more than $13,000 ($300,000 in 2017 dollars) by 1870. Severance quit the oil fields in 1874 and returned to Cleveland, where Rockefeller hired him as a cashier at Standard Oil. Severance proved so aggressive at the job that Rockefeller promoted him up and up the ladder. Within two years, Louis had become treasurer of Standard Oil. He retired at the age of 56, a multi-millionaire, and died in 1913.

His two children, John and and Elizabeth Severance Allen, inherited his wealth.


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John Long Severance was born in May 8, 1863, and graduated from Oberlin College in 1885. He immediately went to work for Standard Oil, leaving in 1892 to work for Cleveland Linseed Oil, a paint and varnish firm. After selling the company to American Linseed in 1899, he founded the Colonial Salt Co. (a salt mining concern) and the Linde Air Products Co. (an industrial gases company). He sat on the board of directors of a number of big firms, including Cleveland Arcade, Youngstown Steel Door, Cleveland Trust Co., and Youngstown Sheet & Tube.

John Severance was one of the co-founders of the Cleveland Museum of Art, and donated roughly a million dollars or so to it during his lifetime. In his will, he left the museum an art collection worth $3 million ($54.5 million in 2017 dollars). It included a large collection of jade and armor, the massive painting "The Burning of the Houses of Parliament", and a work by Sir Joshua Reynolds. In 1930, he gave $2.66 million of the $7 million needed to build Severance Hall (the home of the Cleveland Orchestra).

About 1899, Severance began purchasing land in Cleveland Heights on the southeast corner of the intersection of Mayfield and Taylor Roads. Amassing 200 acres, he called the estate Longwood. Landscape architect M.H. Horvatch developed the property, which included several natural and man-made brooks and waterfalls, extensive formal gardens, and a large amount of man-made (but natural-appearing) forest.

Severance hired architect J. Milton Dyer to design the living areas on the estate. This included a 50-room Tudor Revival mansion, dairy barn, several stables, and a number of small gardeners' cottages. It took six years to build, and was completed in 1910. Severance hired architect Charles Schweinfurth to completely remodel the home in 1914. Schweinfurth added a tea porch, wine cellar, interior fountain court, and flower arranging room. The servants' wing was detached and a two-story addition built where the enclosed breezeway used to be. The remodeling took two years.


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Across Mayfield Road from Longwood were two more Severance estates. Both were much, much smaller, and had been purchased by the Severance family in the 1880s. Small cottages existed here as summer homes for the Severances. A portion of the land was farmed, but much of it was still forested.

Ben Brae was owned by Severance's cousin, Julia Severance Millikin, and was located where Cleveland Heights Fire Station No. 1 and Council Gardens senior low-income housing complex are today. She and her husband, Dr. Benjamin Millikin, built in 1913 a large but not immense Tudor Revival home on the site. (The two-story home was actually quite similar in size to existing homes in the area today.) They extensively landscaped the estate, adding fountains, lawns, formal and informal gardens, and "naturalistic" groves of trees. Dr. Millikin died in 1916.

The other estate was the much larger, 45-acre Glenallen, owned by Elizabeth Severance Allen. It covered the land where the Bluestone condominiums are today, east to Yellowstone Road, and north to Edison and Woodridge Roads. The Allens hired W.H. Manning to landscape the site beginning about 1905. He added pools, statuary, gazebos, summer cottages, ponds, walks, formal gardens, and much more to the estate. Allen's rich physician husband died in 1914, and she hired Charles Schweinfurth to build a mansion on the site. It's not clear how many rooms Glenallen had, but a good guess is about 60 or more. (Only the floor plan for the basement survives, as far as I can tell.) She married industrialist Francis Fleury Prentiss in 1917.

This image shows the location of the three estates. (The smiley face is about where my house would be built in 1925.)


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John L. Severance died childless in 1936, and his estate was inherited by his second-cousin, Severance Millikin (son of Julia Severance Millikin).

Elizabeth Allen Prentiss died in 1944, and Glenallen was demolished in 1945. Developers purchased her property, and they intended to subdivide it and turn it into homes. Homes were only built along two new streets, Glen Allen Drive and Birch Tree Path. About half the remaining property was sold to Lutheran High School East (which was completed in 1957), and the rest to the Jewish Community Center (completed in 1960).

Julia Severance Millikin died in 1950, and Ben Brae was demolished in 1953. Her land was purchased by the city. Council Gardens was built on the lower two-thirds in 1963, and Cleveland Heights Fire Station No. 1 on the upper third in 1982.

Severance Millikin refused to live in Cleveland Heights, which he felt was socially down-at-the-mouth. He moved to the exclusive community of Gates Mills, where he built the Ripplestone estate. This 150-acre estate consisted of a main house, various cottages, a barn, a stable, a swimming pool, a tennis court, and a climate-controlled gallery to display $1.5 milion art collection.

He immediately tried to develop Longwood in 1937, but local residents defeated his rezoning attempt. He tried again in 1949 and 1952 and was each time turned back. He finally stopped paying taxes on the property in 1953. He told the city in 1954 that he would have the property sold to pay back taxes if it did not relent. This would have sold the property for only a few thousand dollars, depriving the city of significant real estate transfer, property, and other taxes. The city council caved in, despite extensive protest from local residents.

Longwood was demolished in 1960 to make way for the Severance Town Center shopping mall.

Severance Millikin died in 1985. Severance Town Center went bankrupt in 2015. It is now mostly empty, 50 acres of pedestrian-alienating, crime-ridden parking lots surrounded by mostly low-income apartment housing.

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