Gate Lodge’s place in history marked during
Extended hours, performance to
highlight AA’s beginnings
The Gate Lodge, located next
to Stan Hywet’s front gate, was the site of the
first meeting of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Photo courtesy of Stan Hywet
Hall & Gardens
Performing a scene from “Bill
W. And Dr. Bob” are Robert Krakovski, as Bill
W., and Patrick Husted, as Dr. Bob. A scene from the
biographical drama, which examines the first meeting
between the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, will be
performed at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens June 9-10.
courtesy of New Repertory Theatre
By Kathleen Folkerth
WEST AKRON — A conversation that has changed thousands of lives took place in a tiny room of a cottage on a grand Akron estate.
It was the historic meeting of two men, Akron surgeon Dr. Bob Smith and New York stockbroker Bill Wilson, both troubled by their addiction to alcohol.
The meeting, which took place in the Gate Lodge at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens on May 12, 1935, set the stage for what would eventually be known as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
That historic meeting will be marked at Stan Hywet the weekend of June 8-11, to coincide with activities surrounding AA’s annual Founders’ Day. The Akron Area Intergroup Council of AA will honor the 71st anniversary of AA with activities June 9-11.
The Gate Lodge, which features
an exhibit about “Dr. Bob” and “Bill
W.,” will have extended hours throughout the weekend.
In an adjacent tent on the Stan Hywet property, several
performances of a scene from a play about the two AA
founders will be performed.
The Gate Lodge opened to the public in 2004. The house was occupied until 1999 by Irene Seiberling Harrison, who died then at the age of 108. After her passing, it was decided that the cottage would be restored and its place in history would be noted.
During the past two Founders’ Day weekends, more than 7,500 people have walked through the doors of the modest cottage, according to Donna Spiegler, communications manager of Stan Hywet. The Gate Lodge is also open when the estate is open to the public and included in the price of manor tours.
Stan Hywet volunteer Jim Urban, of West Akron, is often stationed at the Gate Lodge to answer questions.
“AA members just want to see the place,” he said. “They read every single word.”
Urban said he also has served as a soundboard for some.
“Sometimes an AA member will unload on you,” Urban said. “That’s inspiring.”
The Gate Lodge is the
building to the right of the entrance gate at Stan Hywet. It was built as a residence for the estate’s superintendent, who lived there until his death in 1923. At that point, Fred Seiberling (the eldest son of Stan Hywet owner F.A. Seiberling) moved into the cottage with his wife, Henrietta, and their three children, John, Dorothy and Mary. The couple separated in 1935, and Fred moved into the Manor House while Henrietta and the children stayed at the Gate Lodge.
It was Henrietta Seiberling who
is credited with bringing together Dr. Bob and Bill
W. According to information in the Gate Lodge, Henrietta
was active in the Oxford Group, a spiritual movement
popular at the time, which stressed that “moral
strength was the foundation to social justice and personal
change would bring about
Through her activities with the
group, Henrietta met Dr. Bob and his wife, Anne, and
knew about the doctor’s struggles with alcohol.
Meanwhile, Bill W. was in Akron
working unsuccessfully on a business deal. He had been
sober for a few months, but the failure of the deal
led him to seek help on the night of May 11, 1935. He
felt if he could talk to another person struggling with
alcohol addiction, he would be able to resist the temptation
to visit the bar at the Mayflower Hotel in downtown
Akron, where he was staying. From the hotel’s
church directory, he randomly selected the Rev. William
Tunks, who gave Bill W. a list of 10 names of people
who might know an alcoholic who would talk with him.
None of the numbers led to any success until he dialed
Henrietta called the Smiths,
but Bob was sleeping off his latest binge. Anne Smith
asked if they could meet the next day, Mother’s
Day. Bill W. hung on and came to the Gate Lodge
that day for dinner. Dr. Bob reluctantly arrived with
Anne and their son, and after dinner, Dr. Bob and Bill
W. retired to the small library of the Gate Lodge for
what was intended to be a 15-minute conversation.
They stayed there for five hours.
Today, the library is appointed
with a small table and two chairs. Three recordings
— of Henrietta Seiberling, Dr. Bob and Bill W.
— can be played that talk about the events that
transpired to help set the stage for AA, which became
an international, spiritually oriented community that
helps its members stay sober and help other alcoholics
do the same.
The historic meeting has spawned
books, movies and even a play, “Bill W. and Dr.
Bob.” A 20-minute scene from the play will be
performed June 9 at 2 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. and June
10 at 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m., 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.
The play is a biographical dramatization
about the meeting written by Janet Surrey and Stephen
Bergman and directed by Rick Lombardo. It
features Patrick Husted as Dr. Bob and Robert Krakovski
as Bill W.
The New Repertory Theatre in Watertown,
Mass., hosted the play in March, where it broke box office
records. According to the theater’s Web site, the
production is slated to be performed off-Broadway this
Husted may be a familiar face,
as he has appeared on “Law and Order” and
“L.A. Law” as well as in many feature films.
A brief audience discussion will
follow each 20-minute performance of the scene.
Extended hours for Founders’
Day at the Gate Lodge are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. June 8 and
9, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 10 and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. June
11. In honor of Founders’ Day, there will be no
admission fee for the Gate Lodge June 8-11, although
regular prices will apply to other tours at the site.
Regular hours of the Gate Lodge
are noon to 4:30 p.m. daily. For more information, call
(330) 836-5533 or go to www.stanhywet.org.
Dr. Bob’s House
Another West Akron site
important to AA members is Dr.
Bob’s house, located at 855 Ardmore Ave. The house
was turned into a museum honoring the AA co-founder
The corner home features much of
the home’s original furnishings placed as they were
when Dr. Bob and his wife opened the doors to many seeking
help. A pot of coffee is on in the kitchen, and those
who come in are invited to sit down at the table in the
kitchen, just as many visitors to the home did years ago.
According to volunteer Ray, who
works at the home once a week, the house is visited
by about 6,000 people during Founders’ Day weekend.
On a regular day, he said about 15 people might come
through the doors.
“We get people from all
over the world,” Ray said.
Ardmore Avenue runs between South
Portage Path and West Exchange Street. The home will
have extended hours during Founders’ Day events
but is otherwise open every day but Christmas from noon
to 3 p.m. There is no admission fee, but donations are
welcomed. Dr. Bob’s
Mount Peace Cemetery, Akron’s
second-oldest cemetery, is the site of Dr. Bob’s
grave. The cemetery is located at 183 Aqueduct St.,
a few blocks north of West Market Street.
According to Susan Blaydes, of
Mount Peace, the cemetery attracts people throughout
the year who want to pay their respects to the Akron
On June 11 at 7:30 p.m., Founders’
Day activities will include a motorcycle procession
to the grave and a memorial service.
Signs from the main entrance
to the cemetery direct visitors to the grave. Many AA
visitors leave their Sobriety Coins, which are given
to AA members to mark the anniversary of the day they
stopped drinking, on the gravestone in tribute to Dr.
The cemetery also features a
bronze plaque with the Serenity Prayer on it not far
from the grave. Adjacent to that is a columbarium, which
holds cremains. The columbarium is dedicated to AA and
Dr. Bob and allows those wanting to have their final
resting place near Dr. Bob to have their wishes
Dr. Bob’s home on Ardmore
Avenue is visited by thousands during Founders’
Day weekend. Photo:
Mount Peace Cemetery in West Akron
is the site of Dr. Bob’s grave, which attracts
many throughout the year.
Photo: Ken Crisafi