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Preserving a Medina Treasure

Medina County Historical Society Raises Money to Purchase the Famous McDowell-Phillips House

Article by Warren Watkins

Photography by Warren Watkins and Medina County Historical Society

Originally published in Medina County Lifestyle

Since it was built in 1890 by Robert M. McDowell, the Queen Anne style home at 205 South Prospect Street in Medina has been considered by many to be one of, if not the most, distinguished homes in the city (and county). The 5,000-square-foot home has stayed in the family for 130 years and was recently turned over to the Medina County Historical Society after a very ambitious and well-organized fundraiser campaign headed by MCHS President Brian Feron. 

“There has been such overwhelming support for this campaign,” Brian says. “Such broad-based support from all aspects of the community; from individuals, to foundations, to local businesses…they have all supported this project!” 

And thank goodness for that, because this was no ordinary undertaking. Brian continues, “Of the last 23 years that I have been on the board, this is, by far, the most significant project that the Medina County Historical Society has taken on.”

The Campaign

Because of such incredible backing from the community, MCHS was able to purchase the home in mid-December 2019 and begin renovations on the home much sooner than expected. Feron adds, “When we started the campaign in April 2019, we planned a two-year campaign to raise $500,000.  We were very pleasantly surprised when some of the local foundations stepped up big for us right away. And to raise that amount of money in just eight months was really a phenomenal success.” 

Brian is also quick to mention that a major reason for such impressive and swift results was the placement of a highly-effective steering committee that was formed the year before the campaign was officially launched. The committee was able to form a strategy and focus on possible donors for the campaign which really gave the effort a lot of momentum once fundraising began.  

The Restoration

Now that the home belongs to the MCHS, the first order of business is to update the electrical in the home as well as reconditioning a lot of the exterior aspects of the house such as paint, siding, gutters, trim and molding repairs. As those improvements are taking place, a team of volunteers and members of the MCHS have a huge task ahead of them–to go through all the artifacts, keepsakes and antiques, and decide how they should be put on display in the house once it is open to the public as a museum.

Medina County historian and former MCHS curator Joann King says, “The Historical Society has given their commitment to the community to turn the house into a quality museum experience and community events center.”

Because the house sits on nearly two acres of land, there are many opportunities for the property to be used for more than just the museum. Eventually, weddings and official city functions will be able to take place at the home. Joann is one of the MCHS members who has been given the honor of sifting through the 130 years of the aforementioned artifacts within the house. 

“One of the great things that we are discovering about the house now the Historical Society has access to it is that the family never threw anything away. The house is full of boxes of letters, pictures, furniture…everything really,” she says. 

Joann and Brian both expressed the importance of having access to the treasure trove of keepsakes that were left behind by the family so that the house could someday be preserved as it once was and displayed for the community to cherish and enjoy.

The Family History 

The McDowell Family has a deep-rooted presence in the history of Medina and Medina County.  Both Robert M. McDowell and his son, Blake McDowell, established themselves as leaders in the banking community in the late 1800s and early 1900s. 

Robert M. McDowell married Elizabeth Blake, who was the daughter of local historical icon H.G. Blake, U.S. Congressman and founder of Old Phoenix Bank that still stands on the square in downtown Medina. It was here that Robert M. McDowell got his start in the banking business and eventually took over after his father-in-law, H.G. Blake died. 

After great success at Old Phoenix, Robert built his dream home with the help of a well-known architect from the Detroit area that grew up in Medina. The original blueprints to the house are still intact and have been preserved in the home for all these years. It is speculated that Robert really wanted to make a statement with the size and beauty of his newly-constructed 14-room mansion that, back in those days, would overlook the square from several blocks away. 

With tentative plans to have the museum open to the public in June, the restoration portion of the project is now well underway. Brian can hardly contain his excitement for the opportunity the community will have to experience the history and the home for themselves: “The project is going to be so good for Medina. It’s really going to be a presence that, I think, everyone is going to be proud of when we are done."