The Brush Mansion and Family Life

by Jeffrey La Favre

After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1869, Brush returned to Cleveland to establish a professional life. The city was developing into a major industrial center and it seemed reasonable that there would be a demand for someone practicing in the field of chemistry. Brush struggled as an analytical and consulting chemist for the first few years of his career. In 1873 he decided that there was not enough demand in Cleveland for his services as a chemist so he tried his hand at marketing Lake Superior pig iron and iron ore.

The iron ore business turned out to be more profitable for Brush. Now that he was earning a comfortable living his thoughts turned toward marriage. He courted Mary Ellen Morris and they were married on October 6, 1875. They made their home in one of Cleveland's first apartment buildings, located on Prospect Avenue between Cheshire and Huntington (now East 18th and East 19th).

Brush had a private laboratory in the apartment building, where he experimented with electricity. One day there was a loud noise and the inhabitants of the building rushed from their apartments to investigate. Mary explained that there was an accident in the laboratory and her husband had suffered a burn. Brush relocated the laboratory to another building upon the request of the owner but the couple continued to live in the apartment (article in Cleveland Plain Dealer, Jan. 18, 1931, When Charlie Brush was told to move out, by Ella Grant Wilson).

Near the end of the decade Brush started to receive royalties and dividends from the sale of his arc lighting equipment. As their income increased, the young couple left the apartment and moved to the upper part of Prospect Avenue, a more affluent area where the John Huntingtons, Ralph Harmons and many other social celebrities lived.

 

Brush Mansion, Euclid Ave. at E. 37th St.

Case Western Reserve University
Photograph and digital image owned by CWRU Library. Permission to reproduce this image must be obtained from CWRU.

 

  Brush's new arc light was a huge commercial success and as the sales of his electrical equipment skyrocketed, he quickly became a wealthy man. The Brushs purchased a 7 acre plot of land off Euclid Avenue for a new home. Construction of their famous mansion commenced in 1880 and they moved there in 1884. This was the house where Brush would spend the rest of his life.

Living Room, Brush Mansion
Note electric lamps hanging from ceiling

Case Western Reserve University
Photograph and digital image owned by CWRU Library. Permission to reproduce this image must be obtained from CWRU.

 

  The three story graystone mansion contained 17 rooms and the interior was finished with oak from England and rosewood from Japan. The full basement housed Brush's private laboratory, a place where he worked continually until his death. The mansion was the first home in Cleveland to have electricity. A large windmill behind the house, completed in 1888, was used to generate electricity. The sail was 56 feet in diameter and it was connected to a dynamo.

Current from the dynamo was used to charge 12 batteries, each with 34 cells. The batteries were the power source for 350 incandescent lamps, 2 arc lamps and 3 motors. Thus, the home was a showcase for the technology that Brush had developed.

Mary and Charles raised their three children in the stately mansion on Euclid Avenue. Their first child, Edna, was born March 25, 1880. Their second daughter, Helene, was born April 27, 1884. Nine years later, September 30, 1893, Charles Francis Brush, Jr. was born.

 

Pipe Organ, Brush Mansion

Case Western Reserve University
Photograph and digital image owned by CWRU Library. Permission to reproduce this image must be obtained from CWRU.

 

 

  Brush was a devoted family man. Although very busy with business affairs and his scientific studies, he always found time to spend with his loved ones. When his daughters were young he enjoyed bicycling along the street with them. Later he would teach his son about chemistry and electricity in the basement laboratory. Family gatherings on Sunday evenings became a tradition and these were times when relatives would visit and have dinner with the family. In addition to conversation, playing bridge was a favorite activity and Brush would enjoy telling his latest jokes. The home was equipped with a magnificent pipe organ and Brush would frequently operate the instrument, which played music programmed on large paper rolls.

The happy family life at the Brush mansion was rocked in the summer of 1902 with the death of Charles' wife. Brush was deeply devoted to his wife of twenty-seven years and lived the remaining twenty-seven years of his life as a widower. With his wife gone and his daughters approaching an age of independence, Brush's family life would never be the same.

Edna Brush had become a very independent young woman with interests in writing, painting and woman's suffrage. Brush supported her in all but the latter interest. He was a Victorian at heart and believed that a woman's place was in the home. Nevertheless, Edna continued to be active in the suffragette movement. She also wrote two novels that were based on her travels around the world, The White Heart of the Mohave and A Red Carpet on the Sahara. Edna married Dr. Roger Perkins on November 14, 1905 and they had four sons.

Helene Brush never married. She spent the latter years of her life in a sanitarium in Warrensville, Ohio.

Charles Brush, Jr. was only eight when his mother passed away and Brush started to devote more of his family time to the task of raising his only son. In his professional life Brush worked essentially alone in the laboratory, not wanting to leave any details of his work to an assistant. But he did share his time in the basement laboratory with his son and it was there that Charles Jr. started to learn about chemistry and electricity. Later Charles Brush, Jr. attended Harvard University where he majored in chemistry and physics. He also attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology for graduate study. Charles Brush, Jr. married Dorothy Adams Hamilton.

Charles Brush, Jr. served as a first Lieutenant in the Ordinance Officers' Reserve Corp of the Army from 1917 to 1919. He then returned to Cleveland where his father helped him establish the Brush Research Laboratory on the family property. This business was run by Charles Jr. and a college friend, Charles Baldwin Sawyer. One area of specialization for the research company was investigations into the commercialization of the metal beryllium. The company eventually developed into the only mine-to-finished-product beryllium producer in the free world, known as Brush Wellman, with facilities in England.

While Brush was a busy man, he did find time for relaxation, especially after his children were grown. He enjoyed golf, playing 3 or 4 days a week at one point in his life. Duck hunting was another sport he enjoyed at the Winous Point Shooting Club. After his son went to college, Brush spent most of his weekday afternoons at Cleveland's exclusive Union Club. Here he would play his favorite card game, bridge, and catch up on personal correspondence. He also enjoyed good music and had a season's box ticket to the Orchestra.

Brush was a devout Christian and walked to the Episcopal Trinity Cathedral every Sunday for morning services. He was very generous with financial support to the church and served as a Junior Warden.

Near the end of his life Brush suffered another family tragedy. In 1927 he lost his son and granddaughter, Jane. Charles Jr. gave a blood transfusion in an attempt to save his daughter, who was very ill. She did not survive and he died from complications brought on by the transfusion.

Brush was active to the end of his life. His daily routine included walking to his office at the Arcade, 30 blocks from his home. He would spend about half of his working day at the office and half in his basement laboratory. He was known to favor late evening and early morning hours for the exacting work done in the laboratory. At other times the heavy street car traffic on Euclid Avenue would shake the ground and distrurb some of his more sensitive experiments. It was not uncommon for him to return from a concert at 11:00 PM and then work into the early hours of the morning. During these hours he could expect fewer interruptions when he needed to concentrate on sensitive experiments.

Work was an essential part of Brush's life. He derived great pleasure from working in his basement laboratory and believed that retiring to a life of leisure was a sure formula for loss of vitality. Brush's final illness was the only thing that prevented him from working in his laboratory.

During the winter of 1929 Brush contracted bronchitis. For a while it appeared that he would recover but later in the spring his condition worsened. He died from pneumonia on June 15, 1929 at the age of 80 years. In his will he stipulated that the mansion must be demolished when it was no longer occupied by a family member. He did not want his home degenerating into a boarding house, like others on "Millionaires Row", a section of Euclid Avenue that was considered by many to be "the most beautiful residential street in the world" at the turn of the century. The house was demolished within a year of his death.

Brush cherished his family and in turn they had great respect for him. The name of Charles Francis Brush lives on today, a name given to his grandson, Charles Francis Brush III and his great grandson, Charles Francis Brush IV.

The text above is based on information gained primarily from the following sources:

1. Eisenman, Harry J III. 1967. Charles F. Brush: Pioneer Innovator in Electrical Technology. Ph.D. dissertation. Case Institute of Technology, Cleveland, Ohio.

2. Perkins, Charles Brush. 1976. Ancestors of Charles Brush Perkins and Maurice Perkins. Gateway Press, Baltimore.

 

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These pages on Charles F. Brush were authored by Jeffrey La Favre
jlafavre@jcu.edu

© 1998, Jeffrey La Favre, Ph.D.