Lorain County History Center & The Hickories
The Hickories' Dining Room
The Hickories' Front (Formal) Entrance
The Hickories' Master Bedroom. The wheelchairs were built by Worthington Manufacturing, a company owned by Arthur Garford that is now known as Invacare.
Arthur L. Garford
Library of Congress
In 1892, an Elyria, Ohio, bank clerk named Arthur L. Garford tired of his butt hurting while riding his bicycle, so he covered his seat with padded leather. All his friends and fellow bicycle enthusiasts liked it so well, he patented it. It made him a fortune. The most amazing part is just how long it took for someone to think of this. The pedal-powered bicycle from which the modern version is derived debuted in France in 1867, yet it wasn’t until 1892 that someone decided to replace the hard wooden seat with a padded one.
After becoming rich, Garford built himself a spectacular house on Elyria’s Washington Avenue known as The Hickories because when constructed, there were thirty shag bark hickory trees on the property. Thirteen remain. The house isn’t large enough to qualify as a mansion, but it is still pretty big and its architecture and interior are something to behold. The Lorain County Historical Society (LCHS) runs the property and offers tours.
As anyone who’s read some of my other travel logs may recall, I’m not all that interested in architecture and interior design, but this house was in a league of its own and I found myself fascinated by its features. It’s filled with hand-carved paneling and, more intriguingly, a good number of carved heads, the purpose of which have been lost to history. Throughout the house, too, are a variety of carved sayings, none of which I had the presence of mind to record for this log.
The Hickories was the first house in Elyria to have indoor plumbing, central heating and electric, although the last was only good until 4 p.m. at which point it was turned off for the day. As a result, all the house’s lighting fixtures are equipped for both light bulbs and gas. The parts of the house’s interior walls not covered by wood paneling were once painted gold, but Mrs. Garford felt that was too gaudy, so she had them painted over with a dark gray. She also disliked regular glass windows, so her husband sprung for expensive crystal windows and a good many beautiful stained glass ones.
Throughout the house are buttons to call the servants, with the call box being in the kitchen. There are also speaking tubes. The house had a living room, which was novel in the last decade of the nineteenth century. Here the family gathered and probably did things such as play games. In the dining room one chair was extra high to accommodate Mrs. Garford’s diminutive statue. The Garfords were very religious and had a chapel installed with a well-worn bench that shows its extensive use.
Hanging on the other side of the wall that partitions the chapel from the rest of the house is an exceptionally large stuffed bull moose head. In 1912, Garford joined former President Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party and ran as its candidate for Ohio governor and senator. Although Garford lost both races, for his effort Roosevelt gifted Garford with the taxidermized bull moose head proudly on display today. One presumes Roosevelt is the man who killed the beast.
I came to The Hickories to get a sense of Garford because of a new book I’m writing highlighting the padded bike seat, and the staff very kindly removed an original seat from a glass case to allow me to take a photo (which I plan to include in my new book, so you won’t see it here). With this mission accomplished, I walked a couple blocks down the street to visit the LCHS’s museum, the Lorain County History Center.
The first thing a person sees upon entering is a soap box derby car. The one in the museum once participated in the 1967 All American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio. Driven (if that’s really the proper term) by David W. Gard of Elyria, it won the Lorain County Qualifier Event and was sponsored by the Amherst Jaycees.