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 now for the first twelve years of the twentieth first century, the Robert Russell Rhodes mansion has been owned by Cuyahoga County, which has 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-present). Cuyahoga County recently approved the house's sale, as part of the new county government's efforts to consolidate its locations and real estate holdings.