The Stately Beech Trees of Kingwood

This is an article about trees.  There are trees in the title to help you keep that in mind because quite a bit of the writing on the way to them has to do with finances and industry and topics of Local History that are not Natural History.  But all that is simply to lay the groundwork so that when trees come into the picture you can truly appreciate their illusive value. 

Trees are mostly ignored or invisible in our time.  Maybe if you hear what they have to say about another time—a hundred years ago—you might see them differently.

The Twentieth Century

The 1920s decade in America was, without question, the Age of Exuberance.  The nation was wildly flush with victory after WWI, and the economy matched that enthusiasm with great leaps of swollen confidence: making millionaires by the dozens out of speculators and industrialists.

Mansfield rode the crest of this surge with spectacular factory expansion, hundreds and thousands of immigrant workers lining up for new jobs, and, correspondingly, new housing pushing out the city’s limits. 

It was in the middle of this mad dash of New Money that Kingwood Hall was conceived.

Kingwood was built and named by Charles Kelley King, whose rise in fortune not only paralleled Mansfield’s growth from the 1890s to the 1920s, but also largely propelled it.  He brought his visionary sense of business opportunity to town in 1893 for the Ohio Brass Company, and steered the company—and the entire transportation industry—to spectacular influence in America by manufacturing everything it took to equip any city with an electric streetcar system.

Then, by the 1920s, as streetcars were being replaced in the public imagination by automobiles, King redirected Ohio Brass to a clearer focus on electrical elements of the nation’s growing power grid, and, in the process, amassed a whole second growth of fortune for the company and himself.

By that time, in his fourth decade as a Mansfielder, King already had a sizable country estate on the edge of town where he entertained a broad spectrum of anyone in the city who loved gardens.  The house was homey and wood framed, in the popular Midwestern style of the day, but Mr. King was a visionary who recognized that Mansfield’s unique status in American esteem was rising to bump shoulders with older metropolitan cities of industry.  There were tall buildings going up downtown that gave the city a whole New World profile, and what it needed to add depth to its cultural portfolio was a grand palace, to set a foundational tone from the Old World.

He found an architect who shared his enthusiasm for the grandeur of French chateaux, and had him lay out a mansion to be filled with art and books and comfortable spaces in which to enjoy music and dance and fine food.

He found a landscaping genius who could transform Kingwood’s grounds for the flowers, statuary, fountains, and graceful sylvan panoramas that make a Normandy chateau truly regal.

All of this construction was taking place behind CK’s house, hidden from view on Park Avenue West by his wooded back yard.  When the grand Hall was ready, he had his residence removed by cutting it into segments and taken to nearby neighborhoods as new addresses.

Then he was ready to turn his attention to the trees.

C.K. King’s first house was also called Kingwood, built on the same Park Avenue West grounds in 1910. The Craftsman style home was not far off the road, near what is today a statue garden of the estate.

The gardens of King’s first home were quite modest compared to later plantings, yet the grounds were impressive and often full of visitors, as the Kings entertained often and grandly.

One of King’s portraits created in the 1920s was designed to show his love of Old World rural life as seen in the Normandy Coast of France.


The Normandy coast of Northern France has given its name to a distinctive style of architecture that developed over several hundred years.  All of these Chateaux, whose characteristics are easily recognized in the Main Hall at Kingwood, are within an hour’s drive of the English Channel.  Seen (clockwise) here are Chateau de Bruyeres, 1816; Chateau de Brecy, 1660s; Chateau de Julien, 1641.

At first glance, this postcard of Chateau de la Mare is easily mistaken for Kingwood Hall, as it displays many of the same characteristics of Normandy style architecture that evolved during the French Renaissance: elements like the steeply pitched roofs, tall chimneys, curved and serpentine walls, and ornate dormer windows.

For hundreds of years poets spoke of the courtly beech trees of the Normandy coast, but they have been largely forgotten in recent decades until recently when they got into the news as thousands of people stood up to protect particular weathered old trees from developers’ plans. 
These are known as the “Name Trees” near the coast, where US soldiers, who stormed ashore during the D-Day invasion of 1944, stopped to camp overnight and carved their names into the trees. 

In his travelogue from 1756, The Grand Tour; A Journey Through the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and France, the author Thomas Nugent characterized Normandy Chateaux simply in two iconic images as, “red chimneys through beech trees.” The European beech tree, only slightly different from our American version, is the second most common tree species in France and constitutes about ten percent of French forests.

The Trees

The final phase of finishing Kingwood was to prepare a suitable vista by which the passing public could experience the majesty of King’s creation.  The stand of trees between the mansion and the road would need to be selectively cleared to establish a noble proscenium by which the scene would be staged. Unfortunately, though there were dozens of oaks and maples and ashes on the site, none of the trees left in the lawn were particularly imposing.

Landscapers knew what was missing.  The scene was a Normandy mansion, and that region of northern France was known for its distinctive old-growth Beech Trees. They needed those massive smooth gray barks.

Mr. King already had the beech trees—stately old ones with lofty canopies.  The only problem was, the picturesque trees were located far back on the property, on a sandy hill above the creek.  That’s where they like to grow. No machinery large enough to do the job could get back there.

A man whose dreams span centuries and oceans and epochs of culture could hardly be deterred by details so mundane.  He hired a whole crew of men with shovels—as many as it took—to dig up the grandest beech tree they could find.

The men wrapped the roots of the tree into a ball that was as tall as the landscape foreman.  Men and winches got it on to a wagon, and then a team of horses moved it up to flank one side of the mansion.  Then they went back for another one to put on the other side. Then they brought up several more.

Kingwood was complete only when there was a cast of hoary elderly statesmen standing their ground in a dignified drama suitable for a majestic setting.

The trees in the foreground of the Kingwood Hall (upper) photo, taken in 1926, are the same ones see in the background of the first Kingwood on Park Avenue West (lower) picture, taken around 1920.

In the early 1900s, the western end of Mansfield on Park Avenue was the farm of Samuel Au, who named his acreage Ausdale. As the land was incorporated into the city and developed into neighborhoods, that end of town retained the name into the 1920s.

This photo of Kingwood Hall was taken by its architect, Clarence Mack when construction of the building was newly completed. At that time, the lawn facing Park Avenue was still mostly wooded.

This postcard view from the 1960s captures five of the original transplanted beech trees.

This aerial view taken in 1957 shows the beech plantation after three decades of Kingwood’s life.

Not all of the original transported beech trees have survived to stand on the lawn today, but those that remain lend fully the dignity that Mr. King envisioned in 1926.

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