Sunday, July 17, 2016

Eleanor Davies and Recollections of Life at the Baldwin-Reynolds House

The Baldwin-Reynolds visible from the pond in the spring months
Eleanor Davies is one of Meadville's oldest residents and was a personal friend of John and Katherine Reynolds. She was the speaker at the museum's 50th anniversary gala where she presented these remarks on the life of the last individuals to reside in the Baldwin-Reynolds House as a private home.

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In 1936 John Reynolds, then President of Merchants National Bank, had conducted a search for what was called a "cashier" of the bank. He located and hired John David Bainer of the National City Bank in Cleveland and a resident of Lakewood, Ohio. John and his lovely wife, Otelia, packed up and moved to Meadville where they were welcomed by Kathryn and John Reynolds and members of the bank board families.

In 1939 when I was living in Shaker Heights, [Ohio] and dating Joseph Bainer of Cleveland, I was invited to come to Meadville and meet his parents and his sister, Mary and niece, Nancy. I was 19 and we went to see Gone with the Wind.

Lieutenant Joseph Bainer and I were married in Cleveland Heights in July of 1942 with the Bainers and large contingent from Meadville attending. For a year Joe moved from army post to post while I was a "camp follower." From Camp St. Luis Obispo, California, we learned the 6th Division was shipping out to the Pacific. It was decided since both my parents had died, I would take our three-month old baby, David, to Meadville to spend "the duration" with the enthusiastic grandparents.

John and Katherine Reynolds
After getting me settled, my in-laws were eager for me to meet John and Katherine Reynolds [last residents of the Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum] with whom they had become very close. We were invited to dinner and my first impression was what a charming and pleasant couple they were, welcoming me to that gorgeous house.

John Reynolds appeared to be outgoing and friendly, where Katherine was inclined to be a bit quiet and properly lady-like. They were obviously very fond of each other.

We were ushered into their living room (parlor) where awaited a tray cocktails and Katherine's brother, James Ray Shryock. He was five years younger than Katherine, slight of build (like Katherine) and a delightful gentleman.

James Ray was a retired architect who had lived in New York City. Actually, family lore tells us James' and Katherine's father went bankrupt in the early 1900s after a failed business deal. However, as often in those days, the personal estate was placed in the wife's name while the business was in the husband's. After her husband died "penniless," Katherine's mother, Anna, lived with her daughter and son in a posh apartment overlooking Central Park in New York City until Katherine was married. So much for a sad tale of bankruptcy!

Here seems a good place to insert Katherine's and John's love story. John's parents (William and Julia Reynolds) wanted emphatically for him to marry a young woman from their Meadville church but Katherine (Episcopalian) was his sweetheart. They waited patiently until four months after his parents died (in their late 80s and early 90s), were wed in NYC, taking and extended honeymoon to Europe and Asia "to let tempers die down" at home since his parents' friends didn't think he waited long enough to mourn.

The dining room 
The newlyweds returned to Meadville to this magnificent house John Reynolds had inherited after his parents' deaths--it I was being invited to tour: admiring the marvelous sun porch, the floor in the library and the sweeping staircase in the hall. The dining room looks much as it does today with a silver tea set of the buffet. The meal was served by a maid while we conversed largely about the war with our gracious host and hostess. John Bainer was head of the local draft board, John Reynolds was mayor, and both Otelia Bainer and Katherine Reynolds were involved in the Red Cross, as was I.

Otelia Bainer and Katherine shared a love of flowers and gardens so belonging to the Garden Club had been one of Meadville's attractions. Katherine had been one of twelve ladies who had founded the club back in 1925. Their purpose was to "study gardening and allied subjects and to stimulate in the community an interest in better gardening and city improvement." This latter had been heartily endorsed by John Reynolds who was very active in civic pursuits, eventually serving three terms as mayor of Meadville. Katherine was the 2nd President of the club when the project was landscaping the newly built library. They had raised funds by garden parties, teas, card parties, and a flower show [in Katherine's home].

John and Katherine Reynolds at their home
The Reynolds had a gardener named Sam who took meticulous care of their gardens. When the Garden Club ladies met at the Reynolds House, Katherine had Sam put a chain across the driveway to prevent some of them from parking on the grass back there.

The Reynolds were not a socially inclined couple but they enjoyed the company of the Bainers at Sunday dinners at the Iroquois Club and never missed their two-some dinners at the Cottage Restaurant on Saturday Nights. My neighbor, Bobbi Thomas, was kind enough to write me a note describing Isabella, a "rolly-polly" woman with a heart of gold who worked for the Reynolds by day and she and Frank Roth did dishes during dinner hours [at the Cottage Restaurant].

Nina and Nicholas Filatoff
The Reynolds had always had help, most outstanding being a Russian couple before my time: Nicholas and Nina Filatoff worked there from 1926 through the mid 1930s. Even well-to-do families had to tighten their belts during the Depression. In addition to the lovely flower gardens, Nicholas had tended to extensive vegetable gardens and a few chickens and cows while Nina was the housekeeper. John and Katherine helped them gain citizenship and a farm where they left to start a life of their own in East Mead Township, remaining close friends with the Reynolds.

For someone who was petite, Katherine Reynolds had a strong "presence." I, in my 20's and 5'11" felt slightly gauche and awkward around her. At their house I could relax somewhat after a Sazarac or two- the New Orleans drink to which the Bainers had introduced the Reynolds. It was the 1940s when the cocktail hours were the norm, but these were STRONG! Nonetheless, Katherine remained the perfect lady.

One year the Bainers were invited to have Thanksgiving Dinner at the Reynolds house. Eight year old Nancy (my niece) was bribed beyond words to behave. Otelia Bainer remarked afterwards that high-class John Reynolds carved the turkey so thin you could see through it!

Christmas at the Baldwin-Reynolds House
My most memorable event with the Reynolds was Christmastime, 1942, when the whole Bainer family (including Nancy) went caroling at the Reynolds' stately mansion. We entered by the back door and stood in that space under the stairs for our renditions. Little did Joe's [Ellie's husband and the Bainer's son] parents know what the future would bring, it was the last time they would ever be with their son.

John Reynolds was Chairman of the Board of the Bank and John Bainer was President when Mr. Reynolds died in 1947. Katherine was inconsolable and became almost reclusive except for comforting visits from Otelia Bainer. When she was roughly 90, she entered the hospital where she died in 1963 at 91. A year or so later, James Ray was admitted to the hospital and passed away in 1965.

John and Otelia Bainer were appointed executors of the Reynolds estate. Theirs was a mind-boggling task which preceded the establishment of the museum. Although we can restore and admire the extraordinary house they lived in, the Reynolds are the likes of which we will never see again.

Eleanor Davies today 

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