Filed Under Architecture

Robert Russell Rhodes Mansion

The Italian Villa style house at 2905 Franklin Boulevard in Ohio City was built in 1874 by a businessman who, according to one local historian, zealously sought to avoid involvement in government--even though his extended family was deeply involved in politics for much of the nineteenth century. There is some gentle irony then that, for most of the twentieth century and for the first nineteen years of the twentieth first century, the Robert Russell Rhodes mansion was owned by Cuyahoga County, which used it to provide a variety of different government services to the public.

Robert Russell Rhodes (1846-1916) was a great-grandson of Josiah Barber, the west side pioneer from Connecticut who arrived in Brooklyn Township in 1818 and settled and developed 140 acres of land in what became the heart of Ohio City. In 1836, Barber served as the new city's first mayor. Robert Rhodes was also the oldest son of Daniel Pomeroy Rhodes, who, a decade after Josiah Barber settled in what became Ohio City, migrated to the area from Vermont, married Josiah Barber's granddaughter Sophia Russell, and soon became wealthy in the coal and iron industries. Daniel, a staunch Democrat, was active in local politics his entire adult life. In 1864, politics in the Rhodes family moved to a new level, when Daniel Rhode's daughter Charlotte Augusta married Republican Marcus Hanna, the man who many contend engineered the first modern day political campaign that put William McKinley in the White House in 1896.

Robert Russell Rhodes could never seem to avoid the political influences in his life--even when it came to his own marriage. In 1868, four years after his sister married Marcus Hanna, Robert married Kate Castle, who was the daughter of William B. Castle, a member of the Whig party and Ohio City's last mayor before its annexation to Cleveland in 1854. One year later, Castle was elected mayor of Cleveland--the first westsider to hold that office.

Robert Rhodes, who was heir to many of his father's business interests, spent much of his life on Franklin Circle. He grew up on the southeast side of Franklin Circle in the Rhodes family mansion and, following his marriage to Kate Castle, built his own mansion on the southwest side of Franklin Circle. During these years, Franklin Circle may have seemed to him to be almost like a Rhodes family park. The land for the circle had been donated by Robert's great-grandfather Josiah Barber, and most of the great homes and estates that surrounded the Circle in the mid- to late nineteenth century were owned by Rhodes family members, in-laws, and business associates.

In 1888, Robert Rhodes, like a number of other wealthy Franklin Avenue area residents of this era, sold his mansion on Franklin Circle and moved to Rockport Township--to a stretch of land along Lake Erie that later became the suburb of Lakewood. He died in Lakewood in 1916.

In 1914, Cuyahoga County purchased the Robert Russell Rhodes house from John Meckes, the German immigrant, who had in 1888 purchased the home from Robert Rhodes. In the 100 years that have elapsed since that purchase, the house has served the county as a juvenile detention home (1918-1932), a county nursing home (1939-1962), county welfare department (1962-1963), a school for disabled children (1963-1977), and as the county archives (1977-2019). After the county archives moved from the building, it was sold by the county and is currently being redeveloped as a 33-suite residential apartment building.

Images

Robert Russell Rhodes Mansion The Italian Villa style mansion at 2905 Franklin Boulevard was built in 1874 by Robert Russell Rhodes, son of Daniel Pomeroy Rhodes and great-grandson of Josiah Barber, one of the early pioneer settlers of what is now the Ohio City neighborhood of Cleveland. Today, the building houses the Cuyahoga County Archives. The building to the left of the photo is the Nelson Sanford Mansion, which also serves as a repository for County records. Image courtesy of Jim Dubelko
Rhodes Family Park As this part page from the 1881 Cleveland Atlas reveals, in that year the Robert Russell Rhodes mansion (left of photo and outlined in red) and other Rhodes family residences surrounded Franklin Circle. Across the street from Robert Russell Rhodes' home was the home of his brother, noted American historian James Ford Rhodes. On the other side of the circle was the home of his mother Sophia, who was the widow of Daniel Pomeroy Rhodes. Next door to her was her daughter Charlotte Augusta and her famous son-in-law, Marcus Hanna. One door down from the Hanna mansion was the home of George Warmington, a business partner of Daniel Pomeroy Rhodes and later of Robert Russell Rhodes. Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library, Digital Map Collection
Robert Russell Rhodes The oldest son of Daniel Pomeroy Rhodes and Sophia Russell, Robert Russell Rhodes was born in Ohio City in 1846. He was named after his mother's father, Robert Russell, who had died in 1825 in Connecticut. After her husband's death, Sophia's mother, Abigail Barber Russell, left Connecticut and joined her father Josiah Barber and her younger siblings in Ohio City. There, Sophia met and married Danield Pomeroy Rhodes, a recent migrant to the area from Vermont. Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections.
West Side Wealth The 1880 United States federal census shows the Robert Russell Rhodes family living in their mansion on Franklin Circle. Robert's occupation is listed as "coal dealer"--just one of the many Rhodes family business interests. Listed with Robert are his wife Kate, daughter of former Cleveland mayor William B. Castle, and their two children, William and Fanny. Also living in the mansion with the Rhodes family were four servants--one of them a German-American, one born in Denmark, and the other two born in Ireland. Image courtesy of United States Department of Commerce, Census Bureau.
In the end, a Philanthropist Robert Russell Rhodes died in Lakewood in 1916. He was preceded in death by his wife and both of his children. As a result, Rhodes left the bulk of his vast estate to a large number of Cleveland institutions and charities. His $1.675 million in bequests to Cleveland institutions and charities was comparable in size to the $3 million in bequests that Cleveland industrialist Samuel Mather left at the time of his death 15 years later in 1931. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library, Special Collections
Rhodes Family Monument At Riverside Cemetery on the west side of Cleveland, the Rhodes family is remembered with this sculptured granite monument. Robert Russell Rhodes and many members of his family are interred here, including his father Daniel Pomeroy Rhodes, his mother Sophia Russell Rhodes, his brother and noted American historian James Ford Rhodes, his wife Kate Castle Rhodes, and his two children, William Castle Rhodes and Fanny Rhodes Farwell. Image courtesy of Jim Dubelko
Home for Troubled Boys The Robert Russell Mansion was purchased by Cuyahoga County in 1914. From 1918 to 1932, it served as the County Juvenile Detention Home. In 1932, the County moved the Detention Home to its new building on the corner of Central Avenue and East 22nd Street. This undated photo was taken circa 1920s. Image courtesy of Raymond L. Pianka Collection
County Nursing Home In the years 1939 to 1962, the Robert Russell Rhodes mansion served as a County Nursing Home. This undated photo (circa 1960) depicts the condition of the mansion and the Nelson Sanford mansion next door to it during this era. Image courtesy of Raymond L. Pianka Collection
Franklin Circle School The Robert Russell Rhodes mansion has served a number of the needs of Cuyahoga County over the last 100 years. While it has operated as the site of the County Archives since 1977, during the period 1963-1977, it was the site of Franklin Circle School, a county operated school for disabled children. This photo was taken in 1974. Source: Cleveland State University Library, Michael Schwartz Special Collections

Location

2905 Franklin Blvd, Cleveland, OH 44113

Metadata

Jim Dubelko, “Robert Russell Rhodes Mansion,” Cleveland Historical, accessed May 24, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/536.