By Jan Worth-Nelson
In 1916, the Charles Stewart Mott family of Flint clearly were “one percenters” as we’d call them today, and the life they shaped for themselves when they built their estate that year at the foot of Kearsley Street reflects a passion for healthy home-grown food, architectural beauty and self-sufficiency.
As the city the Motts influenced so deeply struggles its way out of the latest crises, Applewood Estate celebrates its centennial with substantial peeks at an era before lead pipes and emergency financial managers.
Encountering such artifacts of 20th century wealth at a lush green edge of downtown Flint comes with ambivalence about the inequalities that have always existed in Flint: there have always been rich people running the show in the city, the Motts arguably among the most charitable. But there’s also timely relief that the city can encompass this reserve of exquisitely preserved beauty along with its swathes of demolition and decline.
It’s significant that opening up the estate as a refuge and retreat for the eye and spirit of the community corresponds with this embattled Flint year. The centennial comes as the Ruth Mott Foundation, which owns and manages Applewood, also has announced new commitments of investment and energies to the needs of the city’s north end.
Starting May 5 with the unveiling of a historic marker, the 34-acre estate and its 21-room residence opened for free tours and access to areas not previously available to the general public.
The grounds and home will be open Thursday to Sunday through Oct. 30. Guided house tours are available 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with reservations suggested, especially for groups of six or more or for special needs, by calling 810-396-3110.
An official 100th birthday party celebration is set for June 23.
In addition to the Mott family home, visitors will be welcomed into the gardens, barn and chicken coop. Mott’s garage, home to the auto pioneer’s beloved cars, is now lined with interactive exhibits.
According to Kristin Longley, director of communications for the Ruth Mott Foundation, “C.S. Mott had many cars, but he really loved his Corvairs.”
She said the Mott bought a new Corvair every year they were produced.
“In fact, she said, “he loved it so much that he bought one for Sloan Museum because he wanted it to be preserved. The Corvair and the Motts are expected to be featured in an upcoming exhibit at Sloan currently scheduled to open in May.
Another “fun Applewood fact,” Longley offered, is that in 1933, a photo shoot to introduce the new, sleek 1934 Buicks was staged at Applewood, and there were other photo shoots for new-model cars at Applewood over the years.
The estate clearly was designed to combine practicality and beauty, incorporating flower and vegetable gardens and a farming operation that once had dairy cows, horses, pigs and poultry.
The landscape design, Applewood staff explain, incorporated an old apple orchard already on the site. The orchard continues in healthy condition and still yields apples every fall.
Visitors may find spooky and entertaining aspects of the reopened premises in interactive portraits that “come to life.” In Mott’s study, for example, visitors on the press day were startled when an eerily digital portrait of C.S. himself started speaking. The actor looks remarkably like the auto pioneer, including his hallmark mustache, as he cheerily performs a series of quotes in Mott’s own words.
Ruth Rawlings Mott was the last of C.S. Mott’s three wives. She lived in the estate until her death in 1999.
EVM editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.