A visit to the Hower House

by Stephanie Musarra

Every time I walk past an old building, I wonder who used to live there and I try to imagine what secrets are hidden within its walls.

On May 29, I visited the Hower House for the first time in 20 years. It was like taking a trip back in time. As I stepped into the parlor, I felt like I had walked into a scene from Victorian-Era England. I could almost hear the laughter of women gathering for tea, and the rustling of their long, flowing dresses. 

According to museum director Linda Bussey, the Hower House played a significant role in Akron’s history.

The Hower House was built by John Henry Hower in 1871. John Henry Hower was an Akron industrialist who specialized in milling and reaping.  

The House was built in the style of Second Empire Italianate. It was designed by Jacob Snyder and Louis Miller, two of the architects responsible for developing the Akron Floor Plan. This floor plan was used for U.S. churches between 1870-1917. This architectural layout featured wedge-shaped classrooms separated by sliding doors. During that time there were few public schools, and children were taught during Sunday school. 

Three generations of Howers lived in this mansion. Each generation made a substantial contribution to their community.

According to Bussey, Blanche Breo was the daughter-in-law of John Henry Hower. Breo was an immigrant from France who fought for women’s rights. She helped immigrants get settled, learn English, find jobs, and become citizens. She founded the Milton Otis Hower Trade School, and ensured that it included a full curriculum of classes.

Blanche Breo’s daughter founded the Weathervane Playhouse.

You might wonder what the Hower House has to offer. This 28-room mansion features artifacts that were collected by the Hower family during their world travels. The 4,500 piece collection is always being rotated, so there’s always something to see. You can find an example of every popular type of Victorian-era furniture. Bussey is especially fond of the Turkish armoire that was purchased by the Howers in Paris, and the Louis XV sideboard.

Tours are open from February until the end of December.

Past events have included “Bridal Fashions Through the Decades”, as well as a “Needlework and Lacework” exhibit.

“How did people stay cool during the Victorian Ages while wearing all those layers of clothing?” Bussey inquired as she discussed the summer exhibit. It’s called “Great Expectations: Fashion, Formality, and Function.” It features what people wore during the Victorian-era for various occasions, and why. This exhibit teaches us what was socially acceptable during that time period.

The Hower House Museum also hosts tea events that include three courses, snacks and sweets.

Currently, the carriage house is under repair for structural issues. Hopefully it will be re-opened by the end of summer. The museum is getting ready to reconstruct the blacksmith shop.

Future plans for the Hower House include renovating the garden to create a likeness of what the Howers grew when Blanch Breo was the lady of the house, and building a memorial to commemorate the contributions of the deceased volunteers and their families.

The Hower House will have their 150th anniversary in 2021. The museum guild is in the planning stages of creating a garden party gala for July of 2021. 

“I wonder if these homes can remember who lived within their walls,” Bussey said as she gave me a brief tour of the mansion.

I mentioned the stories I’ve heard around campus: The mansion was supposedly haunted by the ghost of Susan Hower, who dislikes men, because her husband cheated on her. Strange lights have also been seen around the house.

Linda laughed. “I’ve heard these stories, but I can’t substantiate them. I’m sure the Howers are happy that we’re keeping their traditions alive. Our mission is to preserve the mansion, and educate the public.”

Stephanie Musarra is a college student majoring in web design. She likes to write poetry and short stories in her spare time. 

The Hower House museum is located at 60 Fir Hill, Akron, Ohio, 44304. Tours are offered Wednesday through Saturday from 12-3 pm.