April 24--Away from the soot and strife of industrial Akron, "Ohio's Most Beautiful Suburb" arose like a utopian enclave on the outskirts of town.
Developers promised 100 years ago that 1,000-acre Fairlawn Heights would rival the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights in elegance and attractiveness.
The Akron Development Co., led by President Hugh M. Eaton and Vice President and General Manager Edward O. Handy, announced April 25, 1917, that "a wonderful place to live" would be built on rugged, rural West Market Street.
As the businessmen rather breathlessly explained in their advertising: "Out beyond the smoke, yet only twenty minutes away from the center of Akron, with the serenity and beauty of the country about you -- woods, streams, ledges, hills and valleys -- yet close to the city and business, you may build a home in Fairlawn Heights -- such a home as you have dreamed of all your life, out of the rush and the noise, with the neighbors you would like to have, sure that the beauty and distinction of your surroundings can never be marred, proud to feel that you are living in one of the seven finest residential districts of America."
Who wouldn't want to live there?
How it started
A few years earlier, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. co-founder F.A. Seiberling had purchased the late Alfred M. Barber's 306-acre farm for $150,000 (about $3.6 million in today's dollars) with plans to develop it for his family's estate. Instead, he built Stan Hywet on North Portage Path.
Seiberling realized that the West Market property would make an ideal setting for a community of splendid homes and a recreation center dedicated to golf, tennis and lawn games. He purchased adjoining tracts for a total of 1,000 acres: 300 north of West Market and 700 south.
"The proposition is one of the biggest ever attempted in this part of the country," Eaton boasted. "The fact that we are starting work on an 18-hole golf course there shows the importance of the project."
The Fairlawn Heights Golf Club filed Ohio articles of incorporation April 20, 1917, with $50,000 in capital stock (about $956,000 today). The incorporators were a who's who of Akron businessmen: Charles S. Marvel, cashier at First-Second National Bank; John A. Rishel, sales manager at B.F. Goodrich; Francis Seiberling, attorney with Slabaugh, Seiberling & Huber; Irving R. Bailey, department manager at Goodyear; and Charles W. McLaughlin, treasurer of Mohawk Rubber Co.
William B. Langford of Illinois designed the first nine-hole course at the resort now known as Fairlawn Country Club. H.S. Wagner, superintendent of parks, supervised construction.
Goodrich President James D. Tew and Akron Development Co. GM Edward O. Handy played the first match in April 1919, but the formal opening for the club's 200 members wasn't until August. Harry K. Harris served as golf pro.
Construction was completed that fall on a $35,000 stucco clubhouse that included lounging rooms, reading rooms, a locker room, kitchen, basement and boiler room.
Across West Market Street, a luxurious neighborhood began to take shape. Boston landscape architect Warren H. Manning, who had designed the grounds of Stan Hywet, also laid out the winding streets and boulevards of Fairlawn Heights.
Lots were available for $2,500 (about $48,000 today) for "no more than 700 residences."
"Naturally, Fairlawn Heights is highly restricted," the developers noted. "There must be no crowding. Each home spot must include close to or over an acre of ground. No individual may develop his property in a way to detract one iota from the attractiveness of the whole."
Arrangements were made for sewer and water systems and for the installation of gas, electricity and telephones. Brick streets were not enough for the enclave. Fairlawn Heights promised to pave its streets with coal tar.
For those who did not own automobiles, a bus service was planned between Fairlawn Heights and the end of the West Market streetcar line. The suburb was a 20-minute ride by automobile to Main and Market streets in downtown Akron.
"Fairlawn Heights is Akron's new residence district -- where you will find your natural associates," the developers noted. "Elegant, at reasonable prices, and with inviting terms, it belongs to the coming men of Akron and to those who have arrived."
When completed in the early 1920s, the tree-shaded neighborhood lived up to the hype. Magnificent homes rose from the hill overlooking Fairlawn Country Club. Rubber executives, business professionals and other corporate leaders brought their families to live in the sprawling suburb.
Life was good. For those who golfed or played tennis, it was better.
F.A. Seiberling sold the course and property to the club in 1928, the same year they added nine holes, but disaster struck Sept. 24, 1929.
Fairlawn Patrolman Jack Bline noticed smoke pouring from the clubhouse and raised an alarm. The Portage Township Volunteer Fire Department responded to the scene, but the first hydrant was dry. Then the hose burst on the second hydrant.
By the time the Akron Fire Department arrived, the clubhouse was engulfed in flames.
Faulty wiring was suspected. The loss was estimated at $100,000, but the building was insured for only $35,000.
In December 1929, only two months after the stock market crash that ushered in the Great Depression, the golf club's stockholders approved plans to build a new $157,000 clubhouse near the 12th and 18th greens. Architect C.W. Frank designed the building, whose first social function was a dance Dec. 27, 1930.
And it's been entertaining guests ever since.
Fairlawn Country Club is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Festivities kicked off last week with a cocktail party.
The private club bills itself as "a family center for long and lasting friendships as well as a spectacular setting for business and social events."
Fairlawn Heights still remains one of Akron's most elegant and desirable neighborhoods. With a nickname like "Ohio's Most Beautiful Suburb," how could it not?
Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or [email protected]
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