This lovely photographic view book by Thomas A. Knight is a visual stunner. Published in 1903 and gifted to the Cleveland Museum of Art Library on September 29, 1919, the photographs are, "views and descriptive matter, illustrating the country seats of prominent Cleveland Business Men." And it is not merely a display of wealth and acerage, but hightlights advances in husbandry and horticulture.
Author Knight goes to a good deal of trouble to describe the term "country estate" and how the definition has grown to include even a mere 5 acres, not just the 5,000 run by the "multi-millionaire beautifying his grounds, and through his hired help maintains a model farm." So of course we see fabulous houses surrounded by glorious lawns but also grist mills, sheep barns and even a Japanese "bungolo"! There are windmills and stables, prize-winning animals and views down country lanes. Mr. P. Murray sports "an immitation Toad Stool" in his front garden -- think mushroom treetop, as does Mr. H.B. Van Cleve, calling his an umbrella bower.
Mr. and Mrs. S. Prentiss Baldwin worked from photographs of New England to design their country home. They wanted old-fashioned decorative details, down to the lamps, rag carpets and hardware. Situated on about four hundred and fifty acres in Gates Mills it portrays "a scene of perfect pastoral beauty" replete with waterfalls and stone gateways.
The book entered the library as a gift from William E. Ambler, secretary of the Curtiss-Ambler Realty Company. One can imagine the interest the subject of the book might hold for someone in the field of realty. For his part, Mr. Ambler maintained a home in the city at 1696 Magnolia Drive, just five minutes walk from the museum.
It is always so interesting to see how monied Cleveland created both urban and country living, and how easy it is to forget that our city was once one of the most powerful and wealthy in the country.