Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Grand Glendower open for the summer

Historic Greek mansion sits in Warren Co.

By Randy McNutt, rmcnutt@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — Even in his native Warren County, few people remember his name — John Milton Williams.

        But every year, thousands of people come to town to enjoy his legacy. People are visiting again, now that Glendower State Memorial has re-opened for the summer season.

    Location: Glendower is at 105 Cincinnati Ave., Lebanon.

    Hours: Through August, Glendower is open noon to 4 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday and 1-4 p.m. Sunday. After Labor Day, the house is open on weekends through October. It will reopen for a week in December for its annual Christmas celebration.

    Admission: $3 for adults and $1 for children, kindergarten through 12th grade.

    Information: 932-1817.

        The wealthy Lebanon lawyer built the Greek Revival mansion from 1836 to 1840, and to this day it remains a showplace of the Warren County seat. The home takes on added significance this year, during Lebanon's bicentennial.

        Nationally, Glendower is one of thousands of such historic places that are being preserved, as people recognize the importance of heritage tourism, based on local culture and history.

        Timeless Lebanon has plenty of both.

        At Mr. Williams' peak, Glendower was no less splendid than it is today. It was the most impressive home in town — a major architectural and financial achievement in the post-statehood era.

        Mr. Williams needed a place befitting his reputation. He became so influential that he was asked to be the main orator at Lebanon's Fourth of July celebrations in 1832 and 1834.

        Yet for all his wealth and fame, Mr. Williams was an unlikely creator of any kind of a mansion. He started his career as a poor, struggling lawyer in the backwoods of Southwestern Ohio.

        “When I went out into the wide, wide world in business, on my own hook, I had two dilapidated shirts and a poor suit of clothes to match them,” he wrote. “I opened my office in a cellar, with three musty old Ohio statutes, given me by my old father, which he had held as a public officer. This was my entire stock in trade.”

        He was born Dec. 17, 1807. As a boy, he became interested in the law through his father, Enos, a Warren County recorder and teacher. John Milton helped his father in the recorder's office and worked for the clerk of courts. Later, he studied law under Judge George J. Smith, and was admitted to the bar in June 1831.

        Slowly, his reputation grew across the hills and valleys of Warren County. “His popularity and personal influence with the masses were very great,” wrote the editor of The History of Warren County, in 1882.

        He was known for his fairness, low fees and straight talk. He had more cases on the dockets than any other lawyer in the county, and was involved in nearly every important case.

        Needing a home, Mr. Williams hired local contractor Amos Bennett to build the brick mansion with white columns. Next door, the contractor built another big house.

        “The bricks were made right here on the grounds, or so I've heard,” said Laurine Cochran, a volunteer guide at Glendower. “Later, the house was purchased by Durbin Ward, a powerful Democrat.”

        In 1850, Mr. Williams helped write the second Ohio constitution, and in 1857 was elected to the state legislature. He was at various times an independent, a Whig and later a Republican, and also a major in the Ohio militia.

        Being rich and powerful, he built his mansion on a hill on the south side of the city. The building was acquired by the state of Ohio in 1945 and today is furnished with Empire and Victorian furniture from Warren County.

        “But about 1,000 people a week visit during the Christmas season,” she said. “It draws a lot of people from the region in a short time.”

        Although he built one of Warren County's finest mansions, Mr. Williams couldn't keep it.

        Drinking ruined his family life and sent him back into poverty.

        He lost his house and career. He lost his reputation and practice. During court proceedings against him, he read these words: “God help me! I am a miserable and ruined man! Let the curtains of oblivion rest over the whole affair until that great day when all things shall be brought into judgment.”

        That day came on July 21, 1871, when John Milton Williams died at age 64. He was buried in the Lebanon Cemetery.


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