EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was originally published on Richland Source in 2014.
(A place so grand as Kingwood deserves its epic legend, and a story that big necessarily throws deeper shadows in all directions to give it more dimension. What we know of C.K. King in the 1920s survives only in the ephemeral media of memories, glimpses, overheard tales — each of which is a little postcard from the past, with a different view of Kingwood during its halcyon days.)
A View from a Table of the Bridge Club
In the 1920s, Mansfield was essentially controlled by a chessboard of two rows of royal and lesser families. It was a tight social order constrained by certain proprieties, so an interloper from the outside world like C.K. King made a smart move right off by marrying the daughter of a major family on the board.
Within 16 years, however, his wife had run off with the chauffer because she said C.K.’s taste in women ran all up and down the social scale. That scandal hit in 1913. His next wife was much more tolerant of C.K.’s womanizing, but unfortunately much less sober during the Great Prohibition when everyone was acting like they didn’t drink.
After she departed, King might show up at society events with almost any woman on his arm. So he wasn’t actually received in Mansfield any longer by the right families.
A View from the Wary Middle Management
In the 1920s there was a bright, young, talented man in the Ohio Brass Company whose crystal clear understanding of the organization quickly landed him in the middle of everything — as a personal assistant to the President for many years. So if anybody knew all the secrets of who was jockeying for what power plays, what the stakes were, and where all the money was it was this guy.
In 1928 the bright young man was promoted to Secretary-Treasurer at the same time C.K. King was repositioned as the new President. Shortly after the power shifted, the bright guy fell down an elevator shaft.
He survived, albeit with some wobbly aftereffects, and King invited him on a trip to England so the ocean air might restore his nerves. Somewhere halfway across the Atlantic the bright boy mysteriously went overboard and was never seen again.
A View from the Caterers
Mr. King was rather footloose after the second wife was gone. Since his house was made for entertaining, he did quite a bit of it. After all, it was the roaring 20s, when the winds of change were sweeping away everything that smacked of old-fashioned Victorian values. When Kingwood was built, the edge of town was still well east of the hedges. So whatever loud parties, music, roars of outrageous hilarity and Prohibition-defying carryings on happened there were largely unreported by folks in town.
There were the lines of limousines, however, that everyone in town saw rolling off the highway from Cleveland through the streets to Kingwood, filled with smartly dressed women and their cigar-smoking escorts.
There was a regular swimming pool on the grounds of course, with lovely bathers strewn about. But for the caterers, the less forgettable image was the one of young women who lost their shoes dashing through the fountain pealing laughter.
A View from the Bar at the Leland
Joe Kearney the bartender turns and says When God Almighty is short of cash he goes to Mr. King for a loan.
A View from the Florist
C.K. King always wanted fresh flowers in his home, and when there were visitors in the house he checked personally to make sure the guest rooms had fresh bouquets.
When King was out of town for any length of time, the flowers were cut to his specifications and shipped to him at Palm Springs or Martha’s Vineyard.
A View from the Top of the World
In the ’30s and ’40s, one of the most successful, glamorous and photographed women in the U.S. was Dana Jenney, and she was quick to tell you, if it came up in conversation, that she would never have gotten where she was without the help of C.K. King.
He recognized in her the qualities of a star from the first time she happened into the grounds at Kingwood. He unstintingly pulled out all the stops, cashed in all the favors, opened all the doors, and did everything it took to get her in front of the right people in Cleveland and New York so her career could launch.
Dana Jenney wound up with yachts and jewels and houses around the world. But whenever she came back to Richland County to visit her family in Shenandoah, King made sure his personal car and driver were at her service.
A View from History
The house and grounds were built in 1926 for King and his second wife, Luise, with grounds designed by Cleveland landscape architecture firm Pitkin and Mott.
As he had no children, one year after King’s death in 1952, the 47-acre estate opened as a public garden to a private foundation that continues to operate Kingwood Center today.
On Nov. 7, 1976, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
All of the illustrations accompanying this article can be seen in a gallery by clicking on any image.
Kingwood in the 20s: Part 1 of this article includes A View from Ohio Brass, A View from the Neighbors, A View from the Help, and more.
Some of the photos from this article come from the Cleveland Public Library Digital Gallery, the Tom Root collection in the Sherman Room of the Mansfield Richland County Public Library, and Jeff Sprang from Mansfield Then and Now, Arcadia Publishing.