Julius Feiss & Ednawood
Updated: Feb 29
Few physical remains of the Gilded Age mansions that once defined the Edgewater neighborhood remain. However, for the observant, there are remains to be seen and which, when researched, reveal a story. On the northern side of Lake Avenue, between West 104th and 110th Streets, may be found the remains of a stone entrance way standing silent sentinel to what was once known as Ednawood, the mansion and estate of Julius Feiss (1848-1931).
Feiss was a partner in The Joseph & Feiss Company, an organizing member of the Cleveland Parks Commission, and, at his death, president of the Cleveland Federation of Jewish Charities. Ednawood’s original address was 10520 Lake Avenue, and extended from Lake Avenue to the shores of Lake Erie. The address was later changed to 10530 Edgewater Drive.
Ednawood once was erroneously associated with the Underground Railroad because it had a tunnel connecting the basement of the home to the shores of Lake Erie. Mazie Adams, in an article entitled, “Lakewood in the Civil War: More Underground Railroad Tunnels in Lakewood?”explains the error thusly: "[S]ome of this confusion stems from the work of Wilbur Weibert, noted 1890s historian of the underground railroad in Ohio, [who] suggested that Lakewood was part of a route for the underground railroad. Unfortunately, it appears he based his theory partially on the existence of a tunnel emptying into Lake Erie just east of Lakewood.
Interestingly, this tunnel was also featured in a Plain Dealer article, dating to 1950 and focused on Dr. Siebert’s work on the underground railroad in Ohio. Included in the article was an image of a ‘slave-escape tunnel, somewhere in Cleveland…photo from Dr. Siebert’s collection, but the exact location is not known.’ Sharp-eyed readers quickly inundated the paper with calls and letters correctly identifying the tunnel as belonging to ‘Ednawood.’
As Ednawood was built in 1893, it and its tunnel obviously post-dated the Underground Railroad. Ms. Adams continues the article to note that one of Julius Feiss’ sons described the tunnel as “leading from a basement recreation room with a big fireplace and small rooms where bathers could change before and after swims in the lake. The tunnel is said to have cost about $11,000 when built.” She notes that the Plain Dealer reported that the tunnel, “attracted dozens of boys who swam or rowed along this section, for many have written or phoned about the fun they used to have around it. But they couldn’t get beyond the great iron entrance door in the cliff.”
We know that the home was built in 1893 because notice of its construction was published in The Inland Architect and News, Vol. XXI, No. 3, p. 42 (April 1893), which noted that that the architects Lehman and Schmitt were designing and constructing "a country residence for Julius Feiss on Lake Avenue; frame, 60 by 125 feet in size; cost $40,000; all modern improvements including steam heat and electricity. For same party a gardener's cottage and stable, costing $5,500; both frame buildings, respectively 26 by 40 and 30 by 45 feet in size."
The Cleveland Landmark Commission records the following information about Lehman and Schmitt in its architect database:
Lehman and Schmitt were in business from 1885 to 1935. Both Israel Lehman and Theodore Schmitt had worked in the office of George H. Smith. The firm did a substantial amount of work for local government. They designed the Cuyahoga County Courthouse, and courthouses in Lexington, Kentucky; Peru, Indiana; and Franklin and Towanda, Pennsylvania. They also designed the Central Police Station on Champlain Street; an 1894 addition to the second Cuyahoga County Courthouse; the Central Armory for the Ohio National Guard; the National Guard Armory in Geneva; the Erie County Children's Home in Sandusky; and the Lorain County Children's Home. The firm also designed several significant synagogues, including the Anshe Chesed Synagogue built in 1886 on Scovill Avenue, Temple Tifereth Israel at Central and East 55th Street, built in 1894, and the later Anshe Chesed Synagogue at 8302 Euclid Avenue, built in 1912. The name of Lehman and Schmitt was retained after Israel Lehman's death in 1914. The firm's offices moved to the Electric Building in 1914. Buildings designed by the firm after 1914 included the Cook (now the Prospect Park) Building, the Pierce Arrow Dealership, and the Bing Building. The early history of the firm shows that they designed numerous residences. Frederick Baird worked as a draftsman and designer with the firm for several years. See http://planning.city.cleveland.oh.us/landmark/arch/archDetail.php?afil=&archID=160&pageNum_rsArchitects=1&totalRows_rsArchitects=335&sk=fName&sd=ASC
U.S. Census records reveal that the massive house with its intriguing tunnel was home to Julius, his wife Carrie (nee Dryfoos), and their children Paul, Henry Otto, Richard, Jessy, George, and Edna, his niece Emma Seligmann, as well as three servants, Catherine Lazzro, Emma Boyer, and Johanna Miller, in 1900. It was apparently named after Julius’ daughter Edna, who was born in 1886.
Julius Feiss himself was born in Mussbach, Bavaria and emigrated to the United States in 1866. His story, like that of several other residents already profiled, is an immigrant’s rags to riches story. An October 1920 article in the American Magazine by Frank Copley relates Feiss’ Horatio Alger story:
When Julius Feiss came to this country as a boy, his assets were just about limited to his character, which included a full capacity for hard, grinding toil. If he had a decided bent for mechanics, this at the beginning was more of a liability than an asset. As Richard Feiss puts it, “Father began life starving to death as an inventor.” To save himself from literally starving, Julius Feiss went to work in the clothing shop of the firm that was destined to bear his name. This was in 1866. The twelve-hour day was then the standard, but Feiss, as the newest arrival, was required to devote practically the whole twenty four hours to the firm's service. He had to clean up the shop after the regular day's work, sleep there in a packing box among the rats, and be ready to open the door for the other employees at six-thirty in the morning. After four years, through sheer force of character, he rose to be a member of the firm. The business prospered.
A few words about “the business” are in order as the company had an impact and longevity that are worthy of especial appreciation. The Joseph & Feiss Company was founded in 1841 as the Koch, Kauffman & Loeb general store in Meadville, Pennsylvania. In 1845, proprietors Kaufman Koch and Samuel Loeb relocated to Cleveland where they opened a store at 82 Superior Street, specializing in tailored men’s clothing and piece goods to local tailors. The company changed hands as it grew larger: Koch & Levi in 1853, Koch, Levi & Mayer in 1855, Koch, Mayer & Goldsmith in 1867, Koch, Goldsmith & Company in 1871 and Goldsmith, Joseph, Feiss & Company in 1892. Moritz Joseph and Julius Feiss both joined the clothing company in the 1870s. When Jacob Goldsmith retired in 1907, the firm adopted the name The Joseph & Feiss Company.
In Jim Debelko’s article, “The Joseph and Feiss Company: A Pioneer in Progressive Capitalism,” we learn what an extraordinary company it was. He reports the following: “Prior to 1909, the company was a typical garment manufacturer of that era, paying its employees as little as possible and working them for as many hours as hard it reasonably could. But in that year, Richard Feiss became factory manager. While living in Boston from 1897-1904 and obtaining his undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard University, Feiss had become a disciple of Frederick Taylor, the well-known industrial efficiency engineer of the late nineteenth century. When Feiss returned to Cleveland, he set out to manage the company's work force in a manner that would maximize productivity but at the same time create a humane work environment that would keep workers healthy and happy.
Feiss, with the assistance of Progressive era reformer Mary Barnett Gilson whom Feiss made head of the company's employment and services department, redesigned the chairs employees sat on and the tables they worked upon to reduce injury and fatigue; provided employees with well-lit and well-ventilated work areas; sponsored employee dances, picnics, choral societies, clubs, orchestras, and athletic programs; provided medical and counseling services; established employee savings programs; awarded promotions based on performance; and increased wages. In addition, in 1917, Feiss introduced the five-day work week for employees at the company's plant, several years before Henry Ford, often cited as the first industrial employer in the United States to do so.
“Perhaps it was progressive policies like the above that kept Joseph & Feiss a non-union shop in the decades of the 1910s and 1920s--a time when garment manufacturers in New York, Chicago, and elsewhere were fast becoming union shops. It wasn't until 1934, during the Great Depression and almost a decade after Richard Feiss was forced out of the company in 1925 by his father and older brother, that the American Clothing Workers of America, finally won the right to bargain for and represent the garment workers of Joseph & Feiss.
In 1989, Joseph & Feiss was acquired by Hugo Boss AG, a West German clothing firm, for $150 million and was made a division of its subsidiary, International Fashions Apparel Corporation. Men’s Warehouse acquired the Joseph & Feiss trademark in December 1996.
So, when you spy the remnants of Ednawood when you walk along Lake Avenue, you should reflect on its stories: the rags to riches story of an immigrant, the myth of an Underground Railroad station, the powerhouse clothing manufacturer that lasted nearly 150 years, and the progressive and scientific methods that manufacturer introduced to industry before they were commonplace.