Lafayette Avenue, Clifton, Cincinnati, Ohio
This house is best associated with...
Robert Bonner Bowler
Robert B. Bowler Jr., of Cincinnati; Comptroller of the U.S. Treasury
In 1851, Bowler attended The Great Exposition held that year at London's Crystal Palace. A young Prussian landscape architect, Adolph Strauch (1822-1883), was among those exhibiting and Bowler was so suitably impressed by his work that he left him his card. A popular story goes that when Strauch came out to the States the following year, on passing through Cincinnati he accidentally missed his train which forced him to call upon the hospitality of Mr Bowler. As a good a story as it makes, it would seem slightly at odds with common sense that this ambitious young man might have come all the way to this young but rapidly growing city not to have arranged a meeting in advance with one of its wealthiest citizens who also happened to be a big fan of his work! Either way, Strauch stayed, and is buried at Spring Grove Cemetery & Arboretum, which he himself designed.
An Air of Royalty
Bowler purchased his 66.7-acre estate in 1845. On an eminence enjoying a spectacular view from the Kentucky hills up to the Mill Creek, he built a frame house that he initially intended to use as a weekend home. However, by 1850, he had decided to transform the house into his permanent home. It grew into a handsome and spacious two-story stuccoed mansion with wide corridors within and two wide terraces without. Inside, it was decorated with marble floors and fireplaces; a spiral wrought-iron staircase; stained glass windows, French cut-glass doors; hand-carved wood inlaid with gold; and, among the family portraits was one by John Singleton Copley of Bowler's grandmother. The tower was added later and may have been built in preparation for the reception the Bowlers held here in 1860 for the young Prince of Wales. Certainly from the garden facade, the new addition lent itself to Osborne House, the favorite vacation home of the Prince's parents.
A rumor exists that Victorian England's greatest author, Charles Dickens, was entertained here, but it is not true. Dickens twice passed through Cincinnati in 1842, three years before Bowler had bought the land let alone built on it. However, it is entirely feasible that he was entertained by the Bowlers at their townhouse during his first visit, after which he wrote: "Cincinnati is a beautiful city; cheerful, thriving, and animated. I have not often seen a place that commends itself so favourably and pleasantly to a stranger at the first glance as this does". On his return, however, he was not so effusive, complaining in private that a judge introduced him to, “at least one hundred and fifty first-rate bores”!
Parkland, Temples, Swans, Statuary & Fountains
In 1852 Bowler commissioned Strauch to landscape his gardens. Aside from laying out velvety lawns and winding paths interspersed with statuary and opening onto spectacular vistas, he also built what was on first glance a folly, a classical rotunda supported by eight Corinthian columns named the "Temple of Vesta" - Vesta being the Roman goddess of hearth, home and family. Visible from the house on the east lawn, it in fact masked a very practical purpose, serving as an elaborate manhole cover to the underground reservoir that fed water to the Bowler's 17-greenhouses, gardens, orchards, lake and waterfall! Now known as the "Temple of Love," it's the only structural remnant of the Bowler estate.
The greenhouses were filled with an extraordinary number of hothouse flowers: one alone grew 90-varieties of Camellia, and another held 60-varieties of Begonia. Other greenhouses were dedicated to palm trees, and yet another to growing bananas. To further beautify the lake at Mount Storm, Strauch (who first became professionally recognized while working on the gardens at the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna) had seven black swans sent over from Austria. These swans were the first of their species in the United States and in the summer their descendants can sometimes still been at Spring Grove today.
Bowler named his home "Mount Storm" in reference both to its eminence and an amazing display of lightning he had witnessed here soon after purchasing the land. In a generous manner later shared by their neighbor to the north (George Shoenberger at Scarlet Oaks), the Bowlers kept an open-door policy for the public to enjoy their beautiful grounds. The gate lodge was merely for show and was always kept open to those who wished to stroll through their gardens, take in the vistas, and admire their greenhouses. The lucky few might also have been invited to see the conservatory within the house that featured an indoor fountain and was home to song birds that flew among the exotic plants.
James Coxton and 53-Years of Service
During some early works, Mr Bowler was struck by the hard work and cheerful nature of one young Irish laborer, James Coxton. He offered the young man a servant's position with the household which he was only too pleased to accept. James Coxton would go on to serve the Bowler family for 53-years: "He became a most trusted employee. He taught the Bowler children to walk, to play, to ride. Coxton passed the remainder of his days at Mt. Storm. It was he who told the younger generations of the history of his charge."
Robert B. Bowler's life came to an abrupt and violent end when he was struck by a carriage on July 4th, 1864. His widow stayed on at the house which was run by a small army of 11-servants. After her death in 1877, Robert B. Bowler Jr. (1856-1902) bought out his two surviving siblings to make Mount Storm his winter home for his new wife - they summered at Chatwold which afterwards became better associated with Joseph Pulitzer.
Except for their four years (1893-1897) in Washington D.C. while Bowler Jr. served as Grover Cleveland's Comptroller of the U.S. Treasury, he and his family lived primarily at Mount Storm. In 1880, the Cincinnati Enquirer published a description of the house as the Bowlers hosted a Christmas party: "The brilliant gas jets of parlor and hallways were reflected in the rich stained glass with which many of the windows were filled, and the prism’d gleams of light lent their aid in rendering a kaleidoscope of wondrous beauty… the entire residence was most lavishly decorated with rare plants, bright flowers and buds, exotics, evergreens and smilax, the perfume of which filled the air".
R.B. Bowler Jr. died prematurely from heart problems in 1902, aged just 46. His wife, Alice Williamson, stayed on with their youngest child (who was some ten years younger than her elder siblings), but soon Mount Storm's wide and spacious corridors began to feel a little too wide and spacious for just a mother and her child. In 1911, Alice sold the house and estate for $115,270 to the City of Cincinnati for the purpose of maintaining it as a public park. Aside from furniture etc., Alice also removed the back-and-white chequered stone flagged floor from the hall and had it reinstated in the chancel at the front of Clifton's Calvary Church, where she and her family had worshipped for over 50-years.
Mount Storm Park Today
From 1912 to 1916, the house was used by the city for various social functions, and after the death of "Old Pat" the caretaker, it became a popular haunt for young lovers. In 1917, in a decision that the Cincinnati Enquirer called out as being "blind to sentiment," the city demolished the house and in 1935 built a nondescript shelter in its place. The rotunda now named the Temple of Love is all that remains to give us a hint at the grandeur that once was, but the Bowlers would be happy that their park is still enjoyed by so many.
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