Gwinn Estate

Description

Sheltered in the quiet of Bratenahl Village, the Gwinn Mansion sits on the shoreline overlooking Lake Erie. It was home for William Gwinn Mather, the "first citizen" of Cleveland and one of the many wealthy industrialists who inhabited Bratenahl at the turn of the twentieth century. One million dollars went into the construction of his mansion in 1908. The Italianate villa is considered to be one of the finest of architect Charles A. Platt's works. The gardens at Gwinn, whose cost equaled that of the mansion, became as famed as the house they surrounded.

William G. Mather lived alone at his estate until he married his widowed neighbor, Elizabeth Ring Ireland, in 1929. Mr. Mather had made millions from Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company, the business he inherited from his father and expanded. But these millions did not just build his estate. Along with being a prominent industrialist in Cleveland, Mather was also known as a philanthropist. He was the president of the Cleveland Museum of Art for many years and donated many pieces to its collection.

Mrs. Mather was devoted to civic involvement in Cleveland, a commitment that seemed to grow after her marriage to one of the city's most prominent leaders. Her love for gardening led her to start the Garden Center of Greater Cleveland (now Cleveland Botanical Garden) and underwrite a master plan to redesign University Circle, the city's cultural commons. Through both of these endeavors she was able to help beautify the city of Cleveland. Besides serving as President of the Garden Center and hosting fundraising events at Gwinn, Mrs. Mather devoted time to the Red Cross. She even gave her talents to city government when she became the first female foreman of the grand jury in Cuyahoga County.

Mr. Mather died in 1951, and Mrs. Mather followed him just six years later in 1957. She left Cleveland-Cliffs stock to the University Circle Development Foundation in her will. She also instructed her son to make Gwinn into a community center. For a few years after her death, Gwinn continued to be used by civic groups for fundraisers and meetings for free. Today the estate is privately owned and not open to the public. In this and other ways, Gwinn embodied much of the character of both Mr. and Mrs. William G. Mather: millionaires, civic leaders, and socialites. It was the home and sanctuary for a couple who devoted themselves to their city.

Photos Show

Gwinn as Seen from Lake Erie, 1955

Architect Charles Platt's design of Gwinn mansion was not typical for the time period. While most architects were building asymmetrical, intricate mansions at the turn of the twentieth century, Platt chose to embrace a much more Classical design. He is said to have been "rebelling" against the typical Victorian architecture of the time.

Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

Mr. and Mrs. William G. Mather in 1932

William Gwinn Mather and his wife, Elizabeth Ring Mather, were at the top of the social hierarchy during the first half of twentieth century. The two had previously lived next door to each other in Bratenahl. When they were married in 1929, Mr. Mather was 71 years old and Mrs. Mather was 38. Not only did they take on leadership roles socially. The couple also lead the way in a number of civic activities intended to make Cleveland a better city.

Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

Mr. Mather in His Garden, 1941

This photo shows Mr. William G. Mather standing amid his famed gardens. Designed by Warren H. Manning, the landscaping around Gwinn became as famous as the mansion itself and was an example of Manning's "wild garden." Manning designed gardens for other large estates such as Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company founder F. A. Seiberling's Stan Hywet Hall in Akron, and railroad baron George Washington Vanderbilt II's Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina.

Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

Party at Gwinn, 1957

Society pages often held the juicy details of parties held at Gwinn. Who attended, what was served, how long it lasted, and any other tidbits the column could find were published frequently. Mrs. Mather was known for her incorporation of flora and fauna into the decorations for parties at the mansion. This photo shows a party on the front terrace, which is adorned with the splendor of real foliage.

Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

Garden Club Floral Arrangement, 1930

One of Mrs. Mather's community-minded activities was the Garden Club of Greater Cleveland. Here she is pictured on the right at one of the club's events during her term as president. The Garden Club founded the Garden Center of Greater Cleveland, which would become the Cleveland Botanical Garden. This group performed a wide range of activities, from growing food during the Great Depression to setting up educational programs through the Cleveland schools.

Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

Gwinn Library, 1958

Mr. Mather had diverse interests. One of those interests was books, as seen here in the Gwinn library, which housed his large collection. Also seen in this photo is another one of his interests: art. His love for art led him to become president of the Cleveland Museum of Art during the 1940s. He donated many pieces of artwork to the museum as well.

Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

Luncheon at Gwinn, 1959

After Mrs. Mather's death in 1957, Gwinn continued to be used for social gatherings. Her instructions to her son, James Ireland, specifically requested that Gwinn be used for community group gatherings. There was no cost. The only requirement for the groups was that they would use the caterer that Mrs. Mather had always employed. This photo shows the Cleveland Art Museum Junior Council having a luncheon at Gwinn in 1959.

Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Division of Special Collections. Cleveland Press Collection.

Cite this Page

Kelsey Smith, “Gwinn Estate,” Cleveland Historical, accessed October 23, 2014, http:/​/​clevelandhistorical.​org/​items/​show/​363.​
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