Pop quiz- What do the following items have in common . . . a stick of gum, a race horse and a golf club?
Ok, time’s up, put your pencils down. If you guessed Big Met Golf Course in Rocky River Reservation you get an A+. The story goes back to the late 19th century, a time of great growth and booming industry in Cleveland. Along with the well known steel and oil industries that made millionaires of John D. Rockefeller and his peers, were hundreds of other men making money out of a plethora of enterprises. And, many of these men craved a place “in the country” away from the dirt and noise that was a byproduct of their successful industries.
One of these men was William J. White. Born in Canada, but raised in Cleveland, White began his career as a candy maker and popcorn salesman in the 1870s. He developed a way to keep flavor in chewing gum longer and used his marketing skills to promote his new gum, called Yucatan flavored with peppermint. He founded White and Sons, which became part of the American Chicle Company; eventually becoming a millionaire. Like many of his peers he lived an extravagant life style. He owned a yacht, built the New Amsterdam Hotel in Cleveland, owned lavish homes in Cleveland and New York and became interested in race horses, which is where Rocky River enters the picture.
1903 Stranahan Map of Cuyahoga County
courtesy of Cleveland Public Library, Digital Gallery
White purchased land in today’s Rocky River Reservation. Here he built “The Two-Minute Villa” to raise horses for harness racing. He hoped to raise a horse that could run a mile in under two minutes. In 1897, a horse named Star Point achieved this goal. Although Star Point was not bred and born at Two-Minute Villa (White had bought him from an Illinois breeder), White still got bragging rights. Note the practice horse racing track on the above map.
Not everything was smooth for White. He managed to go bankrupt, twice. He divorced his wife of 33 years and married a younger, “trophy” wife, who later left him. When he died in 1923 from complications due to a fall on ice outside his hotel, he was at one of the low points in his financial life. By that time he had sold his famous Two-Minute Villa to the park board. He never lived to see the golf courses created on his former land in 1926.
Other areas in Cleveland Metroparks were at one time part of “gentlemen farmer” estates, too. Among the most famous are Squire’s Castle at North Chagrin, and the Huntington estate, now part of Huntington Reservation. Our newest lakefront acquisitions, Edgewater and Gordon Parks, were once properties of Jacob Perkins and William Gordon, respectively. Leonard Schlather, wealthy owner of Schlather Breweries, is considered to have donated the first land in Cleveland Metroparks, along the Rocky River. I will delve into some of those stories in later posts.
The original intent of these men was to create country estates imitating the landed aristocracy in England and Europe; (Downton Abbey fans take note!) not parks for the “common people” to enjoy. Still, we are the beneficiaries of the fact that these lands were thus protected from late 19th century development, and therefore were available for Cleveland Metroparks to protect from 20th century sprawl. So, let’s doff our caps to the Chewing Gum King and his gentlemen farmer friends.
courtesy of University of Queensland
If you want to read more about William J. White,check out the Cleveland Historical site at http://clevelandhistorical.org/
or look on Google Books for
Chicle: The Chewing Gum of the Americas, from the Ancient Maya to William Wrigley by Jennifer P. Matthews at http://books.google.com/books?isbn=0816528217