What’s your earliest remembrance of the Jeffrey Mansion? Mine is passing some of my Tenderfoot and Second Class requirements for Scouting in the meadow and woods in 1942. Certainly, we have known it is a grand recreational park and conference center for major community events and private parties. These thirty-four acres include a great nature trail leading along Alum Creek amongst a wide variety of trees shrubs, and flowers. Recreation facilities include outdoor tennis, swimming pool and a meadow for playing ball, tag or what have you. Let’s not forget the playground equipment for the preschool and elementary set. But, what of the history of the estate and family who built and maintained it as home?
Robert Hutchins Jeffrey (1873-1961), was one of four sons and two daughters of Joseph A Jeffrey, the founder of the Jeffrey Manufacturing Company, maker of coal mining equipment beginning in 1883. The mansion was built between 1903 and 1905 during the time Robert was serving as thirty-second mayor of Columbus. Attaining this position at the age of 29 years, he was to remain prominent in public life, but to devote his major attention to successfully managing the family business. He, among others, played a significant part in shaping what became the Village of Bexley in 1908 and a city in 1931.
Having recently married Alice Kilbourne, he had aspirations, as many wealthy families at the turn of the century, to emulate the aristocracy of Great Britain with their palatial country estates. He was joined by other Columbus families, including his brother-in-law, Colonel Lincoln Kilbourne and, later, brother, Malcolm Jeffrey. As much as Robert wanted the residence for Alice, he was attracted particularly to the designing and maintenance of the grounds. He amassed over sixty varieties of trees and shrubs from parts of the British Isles and continental Europe, even bringing some over himself in his pocket.
Among the cadre maintaining the estate was Herman Carl Kaestner, a recently arrived immigrant who brought gardening experience from the then famous F.C. Heiman Gardens in Germany. The estate became a showplace with it lengthy paths through the woods, and meadows of well marked trees and plants. Many were nurtured in the early years by a one cylinder gasoline motor that pumped water from Alum Creek, as explained by Karl’s son, Carl Kaestner in 1976.
Frank L. Packard was asked to design the home in the Jacobean Rival style that resembled some of the country estates in England. He had to his credit the designing of such well known buildings as the Governor’s Mansion on East Broad Street, now home to the Columbus Foundation, as well as the Seneca Hotel and Broad Street Presbyterian Church. Running out of money prevented the completion of the plans. In 1922 the first addition, of the massive window and front entrance along with the huge limestone stairway, was built costing nearly as much as the original structure. The Jeffreys hosted a reception for President Warren G. Harding while he was in office in 1922. He was, perhaps, the most notable of all the leading personages to visit the Jeffreys.
By the late thirties Robert Jeffrey, now living with his second wife, the former Mary P. Allen, saw living on the estate through different eyes. His children had grown up; few of his contemporaries had estates quite as grand as his; and his first wife; Alice, for whom the estate originally had been conceived, had long been dead (1922). The expenses of maintenance, and with the Second World War at hand, suggested a different life-style. In 1941, the City of Bexley was the fortunate recipient of the estate, which was then valued at $250,000.
Incremental efforts were made following the 1941 gift, with the community swimming pool completed in 1963. It was 1968 before the Bexley Recreational Department moved in full-time. The latter 1980’s have seen some major renovations under the guidance of Samuelson, Grado, Kitchen, Darbie Architects.
The most evident addition was the large Terrace Room beautifully incorporated into the facade of the original building. It features a floating oak floor and oak encased windows offering a panoramic view of the meadow and playground with the woods as a backdrop. The addition provides an excellent assembly room for groups to up to five hundred with appropriate entrances from the adjoining original living and dining rooms.
The Jeffrey Mansion and the surrounding estate has become an irreplaceable community treasure with genuine family history that is part of our legacy. Let’s make the most of it.
By Edward Hamblin
Bexley Historical Society President, 1998
Originally published in Historical Herald , May 1998
Bexley News, “Jeffrey Mansion is Done,” Vol. 4, No. 7, May 17, 1989
The Columbus Citizen, “Bexley Gets Jeffrey Estate,: November 26, 1941
The Columbus Dispatch / Metro, “Enduring Architecture – Walking Tour to recall Packards,” September 13, 1995
Columbus Journal, “Bexley to Take Over Park April 26,” March 25, 1942
East Columbus Messenger, “Son of Jeffrey Mansion Gardener Recalls Grandeur of Earlier Times,” May 3, 1976
Eastside Messenger, “Renovated Jeffrey Mansion Nearly Ready for Reopening,” Vol. 15, No. 5, May 1, 1989
Eckert, Eleanor, “Our Pictorial Past – Bachelor Dinner of Robert Jeffrey, 1901,” Eastside Messenger, January 15, 1900
Eckert, Eleanor, “Our Pictorial Past – Jeffrey Family Portrait in 1888 Taken in Germany,” August 4, 1986
Eckert, Eleanor, “Our Pictorial Past, Jeffrey Mansion,” Eastside Messenger, July 27, 1987
Eckert, Eleanor, “Our Pictorial Past, Jeffrey Mansion,” Eastside Messenger, August 3, 1987
Jeffrey Service (In-House Publication), “J.A. Jeffrey, A Long and Successful Business Career,” September 1, 1914
Jeffrey Service (In-House Publication), “New of Mrs. J.A. Jeffrey in Death Brings Sorrow to Many,” Vol. 11, No 9, May, June 1925
Jeffrey Service (In-House Publication), “Captain Malcolm D. Jeffrey Buried with Full Military Honors,” Vol. 12, September 1925
Jeffrey Service (In-House Publication), Vol. 13, No. 5, January 1927
Jeffrey Service (In-House Publication), “Mrs. R.H. Jeffrey Mayor 50 Years Ago,” December, 1952
McDonald, Brenda J. (Unpublished graduate student research paper) “The Preservation of the Jeffrey Mansion,” November 28, 1979
McGill, Brian (Unpublished paper), “The Jeffrey Family,” property of the Bexley Historical Society, 1976