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Stephen A. Gerrard, a poverty-stricken youth who became a wealthy and prominent grocery tycoon by the turn of the 20th Century, built a Gothic Tudor Revival house at 748 Betula Avenue in North Avondale in 1915. The house sits upon the highest point in the neighborhood and is also notable for having the largest residential pipe organ in the United States. It is the personal residence of Tiffany Zerby and Adam Heider today. / Image: Phil Armstrong, Cincinnati Refined // Published: 12.11.17

The Cantaloupe King Mansion Is One Of The Coolest Historic Homes In Cincy

Once upon a time, a man named Stephen A. Gerrard was born into poverty at the dawn of the American Civil War in a suburb of Cincinnati. After spending his childhood street peddling to sustain himself, the bright young lad realized he could make a fortune using refrigerated boxcars to export cantaloupes across the United States. He did so, and eventually became one of the wealthiest men in Cincinnati.

His contemporaries called him "the Cantaloupe King." Gerrard went on to popularize iceberg lettuce, Elberta peaches, as well as honeydew melons. Once a lowly street peddler of the 1800s, he transitioned sweetly into a wealthy grocery tycoon by the early 1900s.

In 1915, he celebrated his rags-to-riches story by building a mansion upon the tallest point of North Avondale. 748 Betula Avenue was modeled after castles in Europe to underscore his long climb to the top of the socioeconomic hierarchy. The Gothic Tudor Revival home he built sported a variety of decorative touches that afforded his residence a level of opulence uncommon in other houses of the time: gargoyles, stained glass windows, marble columns, wood walls, carved plaster ceilings, elaborate fireplace mantles, Tennessee marble floors and table tops, and more were added.

It didn't stop there, either. Gerrard's mansion included several electrical outlets in the front of the house for plugging in Christmas lights, an entirely foreign and exclusive novelty at the time. So rare were these electric Christmas lights, the police were dispatched to the street just to handle the abundance of public spectators during the holidays.

THE CANTALOUPE QUEEN'S MUSIC ROOM

In 1928, a music room was added as an addition to the existing house as a gift to Gerrard's wife, Estelle. A massive pipe organ designed by W.W. Kimball of Chicago became the pièce de résistance, earning the mansion the distinct honor of having the largest residential pipe organ in the U.S. (and the first self-playing organ in the world).

No stranger to house parties, Gerrard also cleverly installed a room behind the organ to facilitate easy storage of Prohibition-era alcohol. The space was only accessible by a secret door built into the paneling of the organ.


THE KING'S REIGN ENDS

When the Great Depression hit, Gerrard's disposable wealth evaporated along with the rest of the nation's. However, he maintained enough to finish living the rest of his life in the Cantaloupe King Mansion while building his family a mausoleum in Spring Grove Cemetery. The once-broke boy who became one of the wealthiest men in Cincinnati died in 1936.

Years passed, and the 1970s and early 80s weren't kind to the mansion. Abandonment and termites took their toll on the structure, including destroying the functionality of the pipe organ in the music room. After being restored and made livable thereafter, it was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1987.

Today, a young couple lives in Gerrard's mansion. Tiffany Zerby and Adam Heider are, in Tiffany's own words, "eternally grateful to get to live in such a special home." The legacy they've inherited fuels their desire to share its story with those willing to listen.

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The Cantaloupe King Mansion is a personal residence and is not regularly for tour by the public. The gallery above should help sate your curiosity, however.


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