The year was 1937, architect Charles Cellarius was busy with the construction of the Jessie Preston Draper Building at Berea College and finishing a new stone Colonial Revival home he had designed for a Wyoming hilltop.
The architect made choices so “…that the house may be of an informal and homelike nature and appear to be a natural outgrowth of the site, rather than a formal architectural composition.” These are Cellarius’ thoughts as he wrote his 1916 college thesis about the design of an earlier dwelling, but they easily apply to choices made for this Wyoming home. Its stone and wood composition are reminiscent of the creek and woods that lie beyond. The house appears as a stony outcrop, a place of refuge.
The dapper Chalmers Hadley, his wife, Edna, and her two sisters, Jennie and Marion Hendrie, were ready to take up residence in their new home, which they would soon call Birdwhistle. The natural but stately exterior held room within for a library, a growing art collection and plenty of space for socializing.
Chalmers Hadley collected first editions and bookplates, and he relished his gardening. The three sisters embraced the home’s natural setting and landscape and went to work to attract birds. Formal gardens were called for and designed by Richard E. Grant, a landscape architect from Hyde Park.
The landscape plans show a prominent backyard fountain, terrace and areas of garden that were used to start flowering plants, allowing them to mature before bringing them to the larger formal beds.
Nancy and Ed Rosenthal, current owners of Birdwhistle, relate that Chalmers Hadley couldn’t bear to see his floral display end at the property line.
“The neighbors told me Mr. Hadley came over and gave them plants, and said, ‘I really don’t see a reason to have the color stop at the border.’ I thought that was neat,” Ed recalls.
Ed and Nancy’s friend and neighbor James Mitchell, the previous head man of Birdwhistle, lived in an adjacent property until his recent death. He regaled the Rosenthals with stories of the house during its society heyday, which seemed to hint at the heady days and antics of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Gilded Age.
Entertaining, arts and travel were their passions. Edna Hendrie Hadley and her sisters came from a life of privilege. Their father made his fortune primarily in the manufacture of mining equipment. The sisters collected 20th century art, and upon Marion’s death a bequest was made to the Denver Art Museum that included works by Georges Rouault, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Andre Derain, Georges Braque, Amedeo Modigliani, Georgia O’Keefe and Juan Gris, among others.
Chalmers Hadley began his career as a journalist, then continued his studies in New York and Denver and became a life-long librarian. He was the city librarian of the Denver Public Library, one-time president of the American Library Association and an officer in several other library associations and civic organizations. He arrived in Cincinnati in 1924 to become chief librarian and library administrator of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County until his retirement in 1944.
“When they had parties, Mr. Mitchell handled all the arrangements here,” Ed says. During social gatherings, the Hendrie sisters would place their artwork on display easels outside in the garden and have canvas spread over the grass to keep visitors’ shoes clean.
“After the war [WWII], Mitchell explained, the ladies would wake in the morning and say, ‘Mitchell, we’d like to go to Philadelphia,’ or some such place,” Ed relates.
Mitchell, who would also act as chauffeur, was sure to keep on hand a stash of traveling cash, a civilized nip or two of brandy, and a cookbook. The car was always warmed up and ready-to-go with the help of a radiator in the ceiling of the garage. The cash and the brandy, well, need no explanation. However, the cookbook, Ed and Nancy say, was to allow the bons vivants to pull into a hotel and ask the staff to fix whatever favorite recipe they desired. Creature comforts.
Back in Wyoming, there were more literal types of ‘creature’ comforts. Honeysuckle berries fed the birds in the winter, and with a gardening staff of six, its invasive nature was fairly well contained in those early years. A wide concrete birdbath, lying flush with the lawn, quenched their thirst. A diverse mix of trees and other flora kept local wildlife fed and housed. What remains of the day is the legacy of a natural refuge, much the same as Cellarius may have envisioned as he created Birdwhistle for its first human inhabitants.
Photograph by Daylight Photo