History of the House

Harry Carr Leonard, the first owner of this beautiful English style home, was at one time in charge of manufacturing for the Leonard Refrigerator Company. He appeared to have an executive role in the manufacturing industry for some time, and at one point became the president of H. Leonard & Sons. That company was dissolved in 1952, and at that time was the oldest business in Grand Rapids at 108 years old. His grandfather, Charles Herman Leonard founded H. Leonard & Sons in 1844.  The Leonard's were an active family in Grand Rapids. Before her death in 1938, the first Mrs. Harry C. Leonard (formerly Willie Thomas Stansbury), founded the Grand Rapids Campfire Girls, was an active member of the League of Women Voters, and volunteered for the Red Cross. The Second, Mrs. Sue Leonard, was an active member of several clubs, and served on the board of Blodgett Memorial Hospital. Harry Leonard was himself a philanthropist and City Commissioner.  At the time of this home's construction in 1914, only wealthier families were able to afford modern central heating. This is probably the reason that the only fireplace in the entire home is in the parlor. It is thought that the lack of fireplaces may have also inspired conversation and bragging rights. Guests will notice that there are no radiators on the main floors. Instead, there was a special steam heat system that was hidden under the floors. Yet another amenity in this home that was progressive for its time is the central vacuum system. Although it no longer works today, central vacuum vents can be seen throughout the house.  H.C.'s father, Charles H. Leonard patented and started selling the Leonard Cleanable Refrigerator in 1881. Although his grand daughter regards him as the inventor of the first electric refrigerator, other research thus far does not necessarily support this. In a 1926 article in the Grand Rapids Herald, C.H. Leonard himself did not take credit for the invention of even the first household refrigerator. However, he did confess to improvements on what he found to be a short-coming to the design of the refrigerator interior. After a maid in Charles and Emma's home tried to cool a pail of lard on the ice in the ice box, the lard melted and spilled. Charles offered to clean it himself and found that the refrigerator lining was indeed, very difficult to clean. Because of a spilled tub of lard, the Leonard Cleanable Refrigerator was born. At the time of the Herald article, one in six refrigerators sold was a Leonard Cleanable, making it the largest refrigerator company in the world at that time. The cleanable lining was adapted as refrigeration evolved and was electrified. The Leonard Refrigerator Plant was touted in the 1937 Grand Rapids Herald, as the leader in city employment, with a payroll of $4,000,000 and 2,800 employees. The factory also used local products in the plant, contributing further to the development of Grand Rapids in the process.