Friday, March 01, 2019

Pierce House, Home to WRA's Head of School

Oldest known photo of Pierce House, taken in 1881
Since 1931 when the school purchased this historic house at the north end of the campus, Pierce House has been the home of the Head of School and family. The house itself was built in 1855 as a retirement place for the Rev. George E. Pierce, second President of the Western Reserve College. Pierce had served the college with distinction since 1834 but by the early 1850’s the college was heavily in debt. Pierce was replaced as college President, and in lieu of his salary, the college gave Pierce deed to 130 acres of land and he proceeded to build this fine house. He entertained Ralph Waldo Emerson and other visitors to the campus, and in 1860 at the gate of the house, the murder of Michael Stapleton by John Maloney, occurred while Pierce’s housemaid, Ellen Ryan, was a witness. Eventually Maloney was convicted and sent to the Ohio Penitentiary where he served seven years before being pardoned.
Joel B. Hayden in Pierce House study, 1935
President George E. Pierce,
photo by Hudson's John Markillie
Charlotte "Lottie" Pierce Gallup, only daughter of
President Pierce, taken in the 1860's
Meanwhile, Pierce continued to live in the house until his death in 1871 when his daughter, Charlotte, married and moved out to Colorado to join her brothers. The widow Pierce lived on until her death in 1875 when the house was sold to a succession of owners until WRA purchased it from the King family in 1931 to house the newly-appointed Headmaster Joel B. Hayden and his family. The house underwent an extensive renovation at that time, the rear wing was razed, and a more extensive living room, conservatory, kitchen, pantry, library for the Headmaster, and guest rooms were added, bringing the house to its present configuration of 18 rooms. The side patio was added in 1948.
Pierce House, aerial view taken by Jon Bingaman '01,
showing back and yard
Pierce House, Winter
In 1977 the house made history again when it became the setting for the much-loved television film, “The Gathering” which starred Edward Asner and Maureen Stapleton. The house was featured as Ms. Stapleton’s home to which her estranged husband and far-flung family returned for a poignant Christmas reunion. The television crew was in the house for eleven days and used all the rooms on the main floor. Asner and Stapleton gave a memorable assembly in the Chapel for WRA students after the filming was done. Pierce House was selected by the film company for its beautiful architecture, its woodwork, and high ceilings which provided spacious area in which to film. A cameo appearance by a number of WRA faculty and staff is in the scene with carolers (and dog) outside the house. The film won an Emmy in 1978.

When Headmaster Hunter M. Temple left for California in 1982, noted artist Lowell Ellsworth Smith painted a large view of Pierce House as a gift to the Temple family. They returned it to the school a few years ago and it now hangs in the front parlor.

The Burner Family
Pierce House has been the home of Head of School Christopher D. Burner and his family since 2008. The house was featured on the Hudson House and Garden Tour in June, 2018. The new Head of School, Suzanne Walker Buck, and her family are expected to reside here starting in the summer of 2019.