By Cynthia Schuster Eakin
The Western Reserve Historical Society recently opened the doors to the landmark Holsey Gates House in Bedford and more than 500 visitors showed up to connect with Ohio’s historic past.
The tour of the two-and-a-half story Queen Anne-style house was part of Ohio Open Doors, a program created in 2016 by the Ohio History Connection. “Ohio Open Doors shares stories of important landmarks and interesting sites right in our backyards, highlighting the history and unique nature of some of Ohio’s most treasured places,” said Amanda Schraner Terrell, director of the Ohio History Connection’s State Historic Preservation Office.
Built in 1893 to 1894 for Holsey Gates, the grandson of Holsey Gates who founded Gates Mills, the house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was gifted to the Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS) by the Gates-Handyside family and has been operated by WRHS since the death of Ambassador Holsey Gates Handyside, the last heir, in 2016.
“Arrangements were made between Western Reserve Historical Society and Gates family descendants for the historic Holsey Gates House in Bedford, OH to come to WRHS upon the death of the last heir. Ambassador Holsey Gates Handyside, the last surviving family member to reside in the house until his death in 2016, established a preservation fund for the preservation and maintenance of the family home, a Queen Anne Revival home at 762 Broadway Ave. The home was built in 1894 by his grandfather, Washington Gates, a member of the family that originally settled Gates Mills and later operated a mill near Bedford at the Great Falls of Tinker’s Creek,” said Kelly Falcone-Hall, president of the Western Reserve Historical Society.
“He also established the Hal Reichle Memorial Fund, named for his nephew who was killed in the Gulf War. The Reichle Fund preserves and maintains the Hal Reichle Memorial Garden on site,” she added. “WRHS assumed full responsibility for the preservation, maintenance and operations of this beloved house and grounds upon the death of Ambassador Holsey Gates Handyside. Today, the property is stewarded by a full-time, residential caretaker, an employee of WRHS, as well as WRHS’s properties manager. WRHS’s professional museum staff of administrators, curators and archivists steward the house, grounds and collections. A board Buildings and Grounds Committee provides governance oversight of this and all 39 of WRHS’s historic structures.”
The Gates family members were early settlers of what was once the Western Reserve. Holsey Gates, the grandfather of the first owner of the house, arrived in the area in 1825. A master miller, he purchased 130 acres for his mill along the Chagrin River. He erected a grist and sawmill on the site, which eventually evolved into Gates Mills. Gates had nine children, but the most well-known was Washington Gates, who had mills in Toledo and Chagrin Falls, where he constructed a house. He built the grand Victorian for his son Holsey in Bedford. The Gates mill closed in 1908, the last of the Bedford mills standing. The house passed to Holsey Gates’ daughter, Edna Gates Handyside, then to her son Holsey Gates Handyside. According to Ambassador Holsey Gates Handyside, the Holsey Gates House was inspired by the first display of Victorian homes in the United States at the Centennial Exposition in 1876. The family decided it should be constructed of lumber.
Family legend asserts that the exterior of the house is markedly more elaborate than the original design. Washington’s carpenters decided they were much better craftsmen and could do better work than the crew of local carpenters who were building a large Victorian frame house across Main Street. As a result, the carving on the capitals of the columns on the porch of the Gates house is more elaborate than what was specified in the plans and the façade is more ornate than the original design.
“Since 2016, with support from the Cleveland Foundation, WRHS has invested more than $350,000 to restore, renovate and preserve the Holsey Gates House and grounds. So far, among other improvements, WRHS has replaced and upgraded heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, including the installation of new central air conditioning, installed a new security system, replaced the roof, managed a sewer replacement project and upgraded electrical systems. Exterior restoration work, including recent work to paint and repair millwork, is ongoing,” Falcone-Hall noted. “Presently, WRHS has no plans for further renovations or restoration to the house and grounds. The structure and property are in excellent condition and WRHS follows a stringent cyclical maintenance plan for upkeep.”
“The Western Reserve Historical Society is eager to advance plans to activate the Holsey Gates House for the public. The property is a local landmark that exemplifies WRHS’s focus on family and community history, entrepreneurship and stewardship,” she said. “We opened the home to the public for the Ohio History Connection’s Open Doors Program and 500 people had the opportunity to tour the first floor of the majestic house and grounds. The level of interest in the house from the community is delightful.”
Founded in 1867 as an historic branch of the Cleveland Library Association, the Western Reserve Historical Society shares the dynamic stories of Northeast Ohio, including stories of the people, the artifacts and the archives that are the provenance for the region.