Charles Schweinfurth: Architect to Cleveland’s ‘carriage trade’

Welcome to the first installment of Cleveland Masterworks—a series in which Cleveland history enthusiast Tom Matowitz explores the history of Greater Cleveland’s most noted architectural designs and the architects who created them. Some structures remain, others did not weather the test of time. But these men and the buildings that symbolized Cleveland as a city of wealth, industry, and banking laid the foundation for the city in the 21st Century.

In the days when Euclid Avenue was known as the most beautiful street in the world, a young architect named Charles Schweinfurth from Auburn, New York came to Cleveland in the 1880s to leave his mark.

A century after his death in November 1919, Schweinfurth’s mark in Cleveland remains indelible. His work covered a wide range, with grand houses for Cleveland’s well-to-do predominating his portfolio—he seems to have had knack for cultivating wealthy residential clients and is said to have been responsible for the design of dozens of mansions on Euclid Avenue. All but one is gone now.

<span class="content-image-text">Mather Mansion, 2605 Euclid Avenue, was completed in 1910.</span>Mather Mansion, 2605 Euclid Avenue, was completed in 1910.Schweinfurth’s specialty seems to have been grand houses for the “carriage trade”— a euphemism for the very wealthy that originated from well-to-do ladies shopping while their carriages waited for them at the curb.

Cleveland provided a great venue for this during his heyday. He came here in 1883 to design a mansion on Euclid Avenue and East 40th Street for financier Sylvester Everett and quickly developed a strong following leading to several new commissions. As the saying goes, the rest is history.

Onlookers were impressed with the Everett property to the extent that Schweinfurth eventually designed something like 18 additional homes on Euclid Avenue—with the 1910 Mather Mansion being the final one on built Euclid Avenue almost 30 years later for industrialist and philanthropist Samuel L. Mather. It was a last-ditch effort to stem the migration of Cleveland’s wealthiest residents to newly-developed residential areas in the Heights.

The Mather Mansion is the last house on Millionaires’ Row that stands today in its original form and it today owned by Cleveland State University.

Schweinfurth developed such a great relationship with Samuel and Flora Stone Mather, that he went on to design several houses on the grounds that would become Case Western Reserve University. Three of those buildings—Florence Harkness Chapel (1902) and Haydn Hall (1902) on Bellflower Road and the former Backus Law School (1896) on Adelbert Road—still stand on the campus today.

Schweinfurth’s own residence survives on East 75th Street between Chester and Euclid Avenues—having undergone a sympathetic restoration to its condition when the architect lived there—as does the 1915 Gordon Morrilll residence on Magnolia Drive in University Circle.

On the other hand, Schweinfurth collaborated with noted Chicago architect Jarvis Hunt on the design of the Jay Morse home on Lakeshore Boulevard in Bratenahl, which survives today in its original state. Another survivor in Bratenahl is the 1890 Shoreby Club—also a Mather residence.

<span class="content-image-text">Schweinfurth designed Trinity Episcopal Cathedral—one of the city’s most remarkable churches.</span>Schweinfurth designed Trinity Episcopal Cathedral—one of the city’s most remarkable churches.Schweinfurth had a temper. A well-known story describes an argument with a plasterer. Dissatisfied with the quality of the man’s work on a ceiling Schweinfurth took it upon himself to destroy it, losing the sight in one eye when a damaged fragment struck him.

Schweinfurth designed Trinity Episcopal Cathedral—one of the city’s most remarkable churches—and he designed the extraordinary group of bridges crossing Martin Luther King Boulevard.

Schweinfurth’s work on Trinity Cathedral coincided with the Financial Panic of 1907.

Informed that a budget shortfall required the deletion of the tower that he regarded as essential to the completed design, he came to a vestry meeting to plead his case. This was no small matter. The cost of the tower was $1 million. William G. Mather heard Schweinfurth’s eloquent plea and quietly said, “I’ll give the million dollars.”

Schweinfurth wept. The building was completed according to his vision and remains one of the beautiful churches in a city notable for many of them.

About the Author: Tom Matowitz

Recently retired after a 37-year career teaching public speaking, Tom Matowitz has had a lifelong interest in local and regional history. Working as a freelance author for the past 20 years he has written a number of books and articles about Cleveland’s past. He has a particular interest in the area’s rich architectural history.