Needham Castle

Where a grocery store and parking lot now stand on the south side of Detroit Avenue just west of West 58th Street there once stood a mansion so large that neighbors called it "Castle Needham" after the man who built it. The castle was said to be "surrounded by spacious grounds, on which flowers and fruit trees grew in rich abundance." Other sources noted the "marble fountain on the front lawn which distinguished it from its neighbors," and that it was "one of the most interesting landmarks in the residence district."

Castle Needham, or Needham Castle as it was later called, was built in 1836 by Needham M. Standart, a nineteenth century Lake Erie shipbuilder who was born in New York and moved to Milan, Ohio in the 1820s. In the 1830s, Standart relocated to fast-growing Cleveland where he built a number of Lake Erie steamers, including the famous steamboat Cleveland. He served as mayor of Ohio City from 1840-1841 and was one of the commissioners who in 1854 negotiated the terms of the annexation of Ohio City to the City of Cleveland.

In the decades leading up to the Civil War, Needham Castle was the site of "brilliant evening parties" that were said to be the talk of the west side for weeks afterwards. It was also rumored that more than "brilliant talk" occurred at Needham Castle and that its famed cupola was often used in these years as a hiding place for runaway slaves as part of Cleveland's Underground Railroad.

Shortly after the end of the Civil War, Needham Standart, whose son William had commanded the famous "Standart's Battery" of the 1st Ohio Light Artillery during the war, suffered a severe business reversal and was forced to declare bankruptcy. Needham Castle was sold to pay his debts. In the early 1870s, it was acquired by early Cleveland industrialist Daniel P. Rhodes (the father of historian James Ford Rhodes), who attempted to preserve the castle while redeveloping the surrounding mansion grounds into a residential subdivision. Before Rhodes could complete the project, however, he died suddenly in 1875.

In the 1880s, Needham Castle was purchased by Herman and Ida Stuhr. Herman Stuhr, a German immigrant architect and lumber dealer, designed several commercial buildings in Cleveland and built a number of the houses on West Clinton Avenue that still exist today. In 1912, Stuhr decided to convert Needham Castle into a three-family residence for his extended family. Shortly after completing the project, Herman Stuhr, like previous owner Daniel Rhodes, died suddenly.

In the years following Herman Stuhr's death, Needham Castle continued to be the subject of neighborhood talk. Every March 6, for more than 50 years from the early 1880s until the mid-1940s, Herman Stuhr's widow, Ida, who lived to age 95, hosted a grand dinner party at Needham Castle for friends and family in celebration of her birthday. She continued to host these parties at Needham Castle until 1946 when she moved out to live with her daughter and sold the castle to St. Mary Romanian Orthodox Church.

In the years following World War II, St. Mary used the castle as an apartment house for Romanian immigrants coming to America in the wake of the communist takeover of their country. The castle also served as a photography studio, its beautiful Victorian era rooms and decor serving as the perfect backdrop for parish wedding pictures.

St. Mary also had planned to eventually build a new and larger church on the mansion property, but abandoned the plan in the early 1950s when its parish priest could not resolve his differences with city leaders over living conditions in the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood. Instead, St. Mary built its new church on a site on Warren Road. In 1954, Needham Castle was purchased by a realty company which tore down the historic old mansion and built a Kroger grocery store in its place.

Some mysteries of Needham Castle, including the rumor that it served as an Underground Railroad site, have been largely lost to history. However, one mystery has been solved. Although Needham Castle had stood at 5913 Detroit Avenue for nearly 120 years and was widely touted as one of the most famous landmarks on Cleveland's west side, an exhaustive search in 2011 of newspapers, city and county records, public libraries, and private historical society collections, failed to uncover a single photo, painting or other image of the house. Then, in 2014, a descendant of Herman and Ida Stuhr, who had read this story online, generously provided copies of photos and sketches of the historic mansion. A number of those now appear in the photo array that accompanies this story.

Images

Map