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Country Place Era

Maybe the interest in living far from the city in a quiet and serene setting all started over a century ago marked by the rise of country estate living in America.

Garden area of an historic country estate

There was a time in American history known as the Country Place Era. It actually was the result of the socioeconomic changes brought about by the newly created wealth from the industrial revolution. The industrial revolution was a period in our nation’s history when technological advancements and abundant innovation flourished. During this time many new and successful businesses emerged as a result of numerous inventions (the steam engine, sewing machines, new textiles, the automobile, the concept of the assembly line, and so on) thus creating a new found wealth in this country for many businessmen and industrialists throughout the 1800’s. Warehouses, factories, and manufacturing facilities began to appear in America’s largest cities. This was good for the country’s economy and growth, but it eventually lead to crowded and unclean conditions in the cities.

The wealth that the industrialized nation brought to these business owners allowed them the opportunity to look outside of the city for recreation and relaxed living. Many of the emerging upper class, bought acreage in rural areas and eagerly planned their sprawling country estates.

These wealthy families retained the services of well known architects and landscape architects to design and oversee the construction of their estates. The houses were adorned with fine woodworking, an abundance of detailing, and the most modern conveniences of that time. The estate grounds utilized both formal and informal designs that created and captured the tone of grand living. At this time, landscape architects modeled their designs after the great European country estates. Tea on the terrace, sailing, horseback riding, and poolside solitude were no doubt the order of the day. (Pardon me, but do you have any Grey Poupon!)

The grounds of the estates were thoughtfully designed. Many of these stately homes, some set comfortably behind iron gates and stone columns, some concealed by distance from the main road, employed grand entry drives that turned and curved their way to the arrival court that welcomed guests. Sweeping lawns, trails, pools and pool houses, terraces, fountains and lakes, overlooks, acres of enchanting gardens, and panoramic views and vistas meant to be enjoyed from both inside and outside of the house. Majestic outdoor spaces equaled the scale of the house’s grandeur.

The tradition of ‘naming’ a home or a piece of property probably began centuries ago. Most of these estates were given a ‘name’ maybe for sentimental reasons, or perhaps, if the family owned two or three homes, it was just easier to refer to them by using a name, so as not to create confusion!

Eventually, businessmen who worked for the wealthy business owners, became successful in their own right and they, too, could afford to move away from the crowded cities. Many people could now own a house for the first time in their life. And this gave rise to suburban life that is so familiar to many families today.

Some of these magnificent country estates were Henry Ford’s (founder of Ford Motor Company) ‘Fair Lane,’ in Dearborn, Michigan, built around 1915, grounds designed by Jens Jenson, landscape architect; F.A. Seiberling’s (founder of Goodyear Rubber Company) ‘Stan Hywet’ in Akron, Ohio, built in 1912, grounds designed by Warren Manning, landscape architect; and J.K. Lilly, Jr.’s (grandson of the founder of Eli Lilly Pharmaceutical Company) ‘Oldfields,’ in Indianapolis, Indiana, that was purchased in 1932, the previous owner had the grounds designed by landscape architect Percival Gallagher.

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