photos by Charlotte Gintert, words by Mark Schweitzer
Before tire manufacturing became Akron’s claim to fame, the city was known far and wide as a major supplier of ceramic items, from clay pipe and tile building blocks to bowls, jugs and even ceramic smoking pipes. Foremost of these was the Robinson Clay Products company, founded in the mid-1800’s by William Robinson, a native Englishman, who founded his clay works in Middlebury.
By the time his son, Byron Robinson, took over the business from his Uncle, Henry, the company had grown to include nine plants, with six in Akron and three in other Ohio cities. Byron was also a leading Akron citizen, serving as president of the Second National Bank and also as president of the local Chamber of Commerce.
Byron Robinson’s imposing brick mansion at 715 East Buchtel Ave. still dominates the intersection with East Market Street, its warm reddish-brown brick set off by bold sandstone detailing around the windows and at the roof gables. Built in 1906, the house is best described as a Jacobean-Revival style, primarily English in inspiration, but also with American influences in terms of its symmetrical shape and floor plan. The house also (predictably) sports a handsome clay tile roof. The home was designed by Cleveland architect Charles W. Hopkinson, who also created the Hugh Galt house at 1175 West Market. The interior features much fine woodwork and attractive stained-glass windows, particularly in the star hall.
The coach house behind the mansion is interesting as well, and is large enough to serve as a home in its own right. Originally, the property’s 2.5 acres was entirely surrounded by a low brick wall that matched the house, though this was removed some years ago. When the Robinson home was built, East Market St. was already in its twilight years as a home for Akron’s affluent; as the smoke from the central city’s factories tended to blow toward the east, more large homes were built on the west side. Unfortunately, Byron Robinson did not get to enjoy his new house for very long, he passed away just two years after its completion.
As many of its sizable neighbors disappeared over the years, or were transformed into funeral parlors (like the nearby Adams funeral home) the Robinson mansion also found new uses. Robinson’s house served for many years as the Florence Crittenden home for unwed mothers, then as the home for the Lone Star Fraternity, and most recently as a home for a Steinway piano dealer and the Summit Choral Society.
Today, the grand house sits in a mothballed state, with many of its windows boarded over for security. Deals to purchase and renew the home have apparently fallen through, as it is now back on the market. Those who have had fairly recent access to the building report that it is in solid condition; as is was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991, it is eligible for historic preservation tax credits.