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A significant part of Waynesburg, Sandy Valley and Ohio history will be auctioned this Saturday. The estate, which was once owned by J.J. Whitacre, an Ohio congressman and successful business man, will be sold at 11 a.m. by Kiko Auctioneers.
Most recently called Gully Ridge Farm, the property was purchased in 1995 by Robert Hunker, an interior decorator and businessman. The late Mr. Hunker was already well known in his hometown as a lover of history and a person who had restored and decorated landmarks of the area. When Mr. Hunker purchased the former Whitacre property he, also and avid huntsman, revived the fox hunting that had been a part of the Whitacre family's activities on the 73-acre country estate, which is located at 7241 Citrus Rd., just of State Route 171.
The 11,000 square foot home was built at the turn of the century by J.J Whitacre. The home includes eight bedrooms, eight bathrooms, oak woodwork throughout home, an impressive dining room fashioned after the White House Oval Office and a kitchen with two cooking areas. Contents of the home, which include antiques and historical items such as Steinway Duo-Art Pianola player piano, English oak sideboard with hutch top, tilt top pedestal checkerboard game table, early 1900s 6 Diebold combo safe, 5 cent coin operated Billiardette table w/accessories, Gilbert banjo clock, books and much more.
The estate also includes a horse barn, dog kennel, two-acre lake and nature trails.
Hunker, who owned his own design firm since 1952, had designed the Diamond Grill in Akron, Goodrich headquarters, a building in Aruba and many other places. He had also been active in the Peninsula area historical society and had served on the Cuyahoga Valley National Park advisory board.
The estate was the John Jefferson Whitacre family house from 1910-95. J.J. is a descendent of the first John Whitacre, a Quaker, who came to America from England in 1699, aboard the Brittania. J.J. Whitacre was born Dec. 28, 1860, the son of Dr. Thomas Whitacre. His grandfather was John Whitacre, a surveyor who settled in Magnolia in the early 1930s and helped Richard Elson, founder of Magnolia, lay out and survey the village in 1834.
J.J. Whitacre attended Hiram College and the University of Michigan law school before returning to his hometown of Magnolia. He became interested in the possibility of hollow tile building blocks as a fireproof construction material.
In 1891, Mr. Whitacre organized the Whitacre Company of Magnolia to manufacture the hollow blocks and fire bricks. Later he began operating a plant in Pennsylvania but returned to the area.
Mr. Whitacre became interested in politics at the national level and was unsuccessful in hid bid for the 61st Congress in 1908. However, he was elected for the 62nd and 63rd Congress in the elections of 1910 and 1912. According to an article in The Sandy Valley Press, J.J. was a supporter of "good roads and cheaper cars." He also had an unpredictable personality, and at one point made a remark that caused "a nationwide furor." He declared that a man could not maintain his "mental honesty" and remain in congress. (Several of his law books from the time he served in office will be auctioned at the sale on Saturday. )
During J.J.'s time in Congress, he and his wife, the former Cora Brothers, "built up" the house as it is seen today. They lived their with their children: John, Donald and Kate. The children rode horses on the many acres of land and their father was know to bring many of his Washington, D.C. colleagues to his home for weekend retreats. In 1920, both candidates for United States President-- Harding and Cox, were his guests.
Following his two terms in office, he returned to the area and to the manufacturing of fireproofing materials. The Whitacre Fireproofing Company of Waynesburg had been founded in 1902 by J.J.'s brother, Richard E. Whitacre, and the Whitacre-Greer Fireproofing Company in 1905 by J.J. When he returned after his congressional terms, he took an active part in the management of the company. Due to World War I, there was a labor shortage, so J.J. saw an opportunity to put a part of his 3,000 acres of land to use. He planned to build cottages and offer the workers he brought in from Europe a place to live, farm and work. Later, he also brought in African-Americans from the southern part of the country.
J.J. Whitacre remained president of the company until his death on Dec. 2, 1938. He died unexpectedly while staying in Miami, Fla., for a few weeks. The newspaper reported that he and his family had at one time lived on Market Avenue in Canton, but they later lived in their home on the "outskirts of Waynesburg" when they were not traveling. When at home, J.J. often hosted fox hunts at his home.
After J.J.'s death his son Donald expanded the equestrian activities at the estate. He was an excellent polo player in the Akron area. In the mid-1930s, he founded the Waynesburg Fox Hunt Club. The original hunt club lasted until the early 1940s when World War II intervened on the time of the members. Hunker continued the equestrian tradition when he held fox hunting activities on the land in the last few years.