Rick Olmsted and The Earharts
"Not too many in Ann Arbor lived such a life," says Molly Hunter Dobson of her great-aunt and great-uncle, Carrie and Harry Boyd Earhart. The Earharts' 400-acre estate along the Huron River included a small golf course for "H. B." to practice his swing, forty acres of woods where he went horseback riding, and formal gardens and a greenhouse where Carrie indulged her love of flowers. Today, most of the estate has disappeared, swallowed up by Concordia College and the Waldenwood subdivision. But the stone-walled mansion the Earharts built in 1936 still stands on Geddes Road near US-23. Newly renovated to serve as Concordia's administrative center, the mansion and adjoining gardens will reopen with public dedications on June 16 and 22.
Born in 1870, H. B. Earhart made his fortune in the gasoline business. He was the Detroit agent for the White Star Refining Company, a faltering oil company based in Buffalo, New York. Earhart bought the company in 1911 and moved its headquarters to Michigan--just as the automobile industry was taking off. Under his direction, White Star grew into a major enterprise, with a chain of gas stations and its own refinery in Oklahoma. Earhart eventually sold out to Socony Vacuum, later Mobil.
Four years into his retirement, at age sixty-six, Earhart decided to replace the farmhouse where his family had lived since 1920. Earhart's correspondence with his landscape consultants, the famous Olmsted firm of New York, reveals that Carrie Earhart had doubts about the project. Though she eventually went along with her husband's desire for a big house, she insisted that it be functional rather than gaudy or ostentatious. Their extended family would use every inch of it, from the basement pool room to the attic theater.
The mansion was designed by Detroit architects Smith, Hinchman, and Grylls, with input from the Olmsted firm. Its classic, simple proportions were enhanced with elegant details that included a slate roof, copper eaves and detailing, and a Pewabic ceramic fountain. Outwardly traditional, the house incorporated the latest in modern technology. Beneath the limestone exterior (hand-chiseled to simulate age), its structure was steel and concrete. It boasted what is believed to be the first residential air-conditioning unit outside of New York City, showers with ten heads, and vented closets with lights that went on when the door opened. There were bells everywhere--Carrie Earhart never had to go more than ten feet to summon a servant.
The Earhart MansionPublished In:
Ann Arbor Observer, June 1997,
Author: Grace Shackman