By Ed Runyan
Visitors from across the country attending the Packard Automobile Club National Meet got to see — and imagine — parts of Warren’s history relating to the Packard family during a bus tour Friday.
For example, they got to see the Packard Mansion at 319 Oak Knoll Ave. NE, which was built by J.W. Packard, the Packard brother responsible many of the automotive innovations Packard automobile enthusiasts love so well.
The home is a short distance east of downtown — far from the most wealthy eastern neighborhoods near Trumbull Country Club. But at the time the mansion was built, Oak Knoll was the easternmost part of the city, said tour guide and National Packard Museum operations director Charles Ohlin.
J.W. and his wife, Elizabeth, lived in the home from 1924 until J.W.’s death in 1928. It remained in the Packard family for decades but is owned by others now.
The property consists of six lots that fill the entire southern part of the block between Oak Knoll and Roselawn avenues. The Packards filled the grounds with gardens, and vegetation remains throughout today.
In addition to Oak Knoll, the tour focused on the homes along Mahoning Avenue, North Park Avenue and on Courthouse Square where the Packard Family lived and the industrial and commercial areas where they worked.
But Ohlin tried to help visitors understand that Warren attracted people of power, wealth and ambition at the time the Packards started out in the late 1800s and earlier.
The Perkins family, whose Mahoning Avenue home along Millionaire’s Row is now Warren City Hall, was the wealthiest family in Ohio about the time Ohio became a state in 1803, Ohlin said. And Warren was the focal point of the Connecticut Western Reserve, which stretched 120 miles west along the north shore of Ohio.
The Packard brothers, J.W. and W.D., were the sons of Warren Packard, who was himself a wealthy man, and the family’s mansion occupied a prominent spot on Courthouse Square.
In fact, the family lived, worked and worshipped there, Ohlin said. “Courthouse Square was the hub of the Packard universe,” he said.
Warren Packard owned a hardware store on West Market Street where the Lime Tree restaurant stands now. He was just 23 years old when he bought out his boss. He became involved in various enterprises and made much of his fortune selling railroad ties.
The tour started at the National Packard Museum, which is next to W.D. Packard Music Hall, which is in Packard Park. The money for the music hall and park were donated by W.D. Packard. He had a home not far from there along the Mahoning River called River’s Court, but nearly every reminder of it is gone now.
Ohlin noted that Packard Park was proposed at one time as the location for a college, but state leaders later chose Kent, and the college became Kent State University, he said.
Ohlin said the tour is “warts and all” because all of the factories along Dana Street, where the Packard brothers produced their first light bulbs, wiring harnesses and 500 Packard automobiles, are empty now. The buildings where the cars were built were demolished by General Electric in the 1960s, he said.
Drusilla Carter of Willimintic, Conn., whose father restored Packard automobiles, said this was her first trip to Warren for the national meet, but she wasn’t bothered by the loss of industry in the Dana Street area.
Willimintic is also a old mill town with a lot of big, old vacant buildings. “I kind of like to see other towns that are kind of in the same situation we are,” she said.
“I really enjoyed some of the old houses,” she said of the tour. “You hear the names of the Packard family members, but to see the houses where they lived was neat.”
“It’s interesting to see the area, to see some of the charitable things the Packards were involved in, the history of the Packard family,” said Chuck Lesnewski of Treasure Island, Fla.
Packard automobile owners have a great interest in the car’s history and in some cases the unique qualities the cars have, Lesnewski said. “There is a strong pride in the car,” he said.