Young family moves into childhood home of Frederick Rentschler, learns about family legacy
Day after day, month after month, year after year, the sun would throw light into a large historic home, and there would be no one inside to appreciate it. It sat quietly for more than a decade. Perhaps the tired, achy noise of its bones settling would resonate off plaster walls, but that was it. No sounds of laughter, no sounds of life – no … anything … for 12 years.
Nothing, until the solid wood doors would open for a young family and then, for another brief moment, there was silence.
"I couldn't talk, because I was going to cry if I opened my mouth," said Heather Hodges, a new homeowner in Hamilton, Ohio. "I had this overwhelming feeling that I was home."
Not just a home, but a mansion. Not just a mansion, but a home officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places. At one time, this was the Rentschler home of Hamilton, Ohio. This is now the Hodges home of Hamilton, Ohio.
"I had heard of the Rentschler name before growing up. I knew they owned factories and industry in town. Once we started looking at the house to buy, I looked into it more. Frederick Rentschler starting Pratt & Whitney, and his brother Gordon, doing banking in New York, and his father, who built the house," said Josh Hodges, Heather's husband.
The story of the Hodges home actually begins with George Adam Rentschler, an industrial magnate in Hamilton best known for his position as president of the Hooven, Owens, Rentschler Company. One of biggest factories manufactured steam and diesel engines. He built his house at the corner of Dayton and North Seven Streets in 1901. Pratt & Whitney founder Frederick Rentschler and his four siblings no doubt had many an adventure playing inside this cavernous abode.
"It's pretty crazy to think about what has happened, or what could have happened, in this house. Who could have been here, who could have visited," said Heather, sitting upstairs near her wooden staircase. Behind her is a beautiful stained glass window.
As the Rentschler manufacturing legacy faded here, the house would eventually be owned by a former Miami University professor, Dr. Sherry Corbett, a nationally known housing rehabilitation expert who represented the state on the National Historic Trust for Preservation. Her celebration of Hamilton's history, however, would end far too quickly.
"She completely revitalized the neighborhood. She was actually killed in 2002 by one of her tenants and it was very devastating to the neighborhood. So this house sat vacant for 12 years," Heather said.
In many respects, it is amazing Frederick Rentschler's boyhood home sat untouched for so long. The house is magnificent.
Visitors enter into a large foyer. To the left, is a seating area, where guests can gaze up the wooden staircase highlighted by a stained glass window. To the right is a grand parlor, partially lit with an old chandelier, containing period furniture once owned by Dr. Corbett. There are two fireplaces here with ornate carvings. The details are stunningly intricate. The room then connects to another seating area, highlighted by another stained glass window. An old bookcase is anchored to a wall, maybe once filled with narratives about manufacturing and American innovation.
"We'll walk through and say, 'What are you thinking about?' Like I can't believe this is our house!" Josh said.
The dining room is large, bathed in natural light which makes the exposed beams on the ceiling stand out. The kitchen is small, housing an antique stove that burns wood to generate heat. With all due respect to how the Rentschlers cooked, this will be the first update for the new owners.
"My wife doesn't want to cut wood and I really don't want to either," Josh said.
But echoes of the Rentschler's time here remain. Upstairs, a piece of worn paper attached to a wooden door still lists which fuses are designated to the many rooms. Fuse five belonged to the room of Mrs. Phoebe Rentschler, Frederick's mother. Small reminders of the family who once thrived here can also serve as inspiration for perhaps the next aviation pioneer, the Hodges' seven-year-old son.
"It gives me a good excuse that I tell my son that the kids grew up here did some really great things so it's a good excuse to make him do his homework," Josh said.
The Rentschler house is quiet no longer, well taken care of by a proud family who celebrate Hamilton's history – and one of Hamilton's most famous families. Owning a home such as this carries a special kind of responsibility, one the Hodges welcome.
"When we moved in, one of my neighbors told me we're not the owners, this is not our house, and they said we're the caretakers. They'll be families long after us that will live in these homes; we're just the current caretaker. So I kind of took that to heart," Heather said.