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.
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.