When James Ward Packard built the 1912 mansion, he was already the second generation of his family to spend summers in Lakewood. However, this ambitious family of tradesmen and entrepreneurs came not for a vacation by the shore, but as businessmen and developers. In 1873, J. Ward's father, Warren, and his uncle John first came to Lakewood and bought 25 acres along the lakeshore from early settler, John Cowing. The purchase included a hotel, the Lakeview House, built in 1870, the first of the village's resort hotels.
Warren Packard's two sons, William Doud and James Ward, spent their youthful summers working in the hotel. J. Ward operated the steam-driven electric light plant, and William ran the telegraph office. In those same years, Warren and John built homes for themselves along the lakeshore, as well as dwellings for summer rentals on the surrounding property.
J. Ward entered Lehigh University in 1880 and graduated in 1884 with a degree in electrical engineering. There he was described as a handsome little fellow (5'5") with a soft-spoken voice. His affection for his alma mater was generously remembered a few years before his death when he gave the university $1 million for the construction of an engineering building.
The plaque which will be dedicated to Elizabeth Gilmer Packard and James Ward Packard on Saturday, Aug. 11.
The first Packard car, built in 1899, contained many original features devised by J.Ward. He continued to incorporate improvements in succeeding models while the production continued in Warren, Ohio. When the company moved to Detroit in 1903, is He ad a wide knowledge of electricity and engineering. Packard's role in the company lessened although he remained as president and a member of the board of directors.The complexities of a major manufacturing company had replaced the intimate relationships of the earlier days. Basically a shy man, Ward came to dislike the Detroit meetings and resigned all of his positions in 1911.
J. Ward Packard married Elizabeth Gilmer on Aug. 31, 1904, in Warren, Ohio, and drove to Chautauqua Lake for their honeymoon. The Lakewood Historic Museum collection contains a fine photograph of a bow-tied Ward and elaborately hatted Bess at Panama Rocks on their wedding trip. They are seated in the latest model Packard (1904 Model L) in which they made the trip from Warren, Ohio.
By 1905 the couple was already making plans for their mansion in Lakewood. Ward negotiated with the village to close Owana Way from Terrace Avenue to the lake in exchange for the property on which Village Hall now stands, and a donation of $1,500 toward its construction. During the next seven years, the property was cleared of earlier Packard houses and relocated about the village. The Packards traveled to Europe, gaining ideas for the construction and decor of their 32-room mansion. Its completion was marked by a dinner party on July 4, 1912. The three-car garage was built in 1914. In its second floor machine shop, Ward Packard continued his mechanical and electrical inventions.
J. Ward Packard died in 1928, and Elizabeth Packard died in 1960. This celebration of their their lovingly built mansion, well-preserved and a vital part of the community, serves as a living memorial to the presence of the Packard family in Lakewood.