Home Tour: Ruth Lyons' former Mount Airy home has the feel of the groundbreaking TV personality
Four Chimneys comes with billiard room and caboose
Brent Coleman, WCPO contributor
5:00 AM, Jan 15, 2016
6:32 PM, Jan 15, 2016
CINCINNATI -- The Ruth Lyons House is for sale – imbued with the spirit she brought to it in the 1950s and 1960s when her television variety and talk show, “The 50-50 Club,” paved the way for the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres.
The warm, welcoming personality that helped Lyons create her groundbreaking, 30-year career in broadcasting is stamped all over a 1,200-square foot addition she and her husband, Herman Newman, built off the back of the house.
Located a few hundred feet west of Colerain Avenue on 4.6 acres bordering Mount Airy Forest, the 4-bedroom, 2½ bathroom home is much the same as it was when Ron Schweitzer purchased it from Lyons and Newman in 1971 for his family that would grow to include eight children.
The nearly 500-square-foot den – with its knotty pine walls and vaulted ceiling, wood-burning fireplace in the corner and seven large windows that face south and west – is as cozy as it was when Lyons entertained her guests by playing the piano and organ.
The 380-square-foot recreation room’s championship-quality pool table made by the National Billiard Co. and its three-leafed, cherry Formica cover are there as well, ready to be used by another family for fun and large, buffet-style meals.
Although Schweitzer replaced Lyons’ scallop-skirted wood cabinetry in the 1970s, the layout of the 320-square-foot kitchen is as it was, offering the next owner the chance to make it over in 21st-century style.
Now in his mid-80s, Schweitzer is ready to leave the house. What he will miss most is something Schweitzer no longer needs – the large property he used to call “God’s outdoor cathedral,” said Susan Reinhardt, the youngest of his seven living children.
“I had a big family and it had a great yard. We needed it for all the children,” said Schweitzer. “It’s pretty big for just me.”
Pool, Forest and a Caboose
Lyons lost her 21-year-old daughter to cancer and then suffered a stroke in 1966, forcing her into retirement and seclusion until she died at age 83 in 1988. That a celebrity had owned the 4,300-square-foot house Lyons and Newman called Four Chimneys, didn’t factor into Schweitzer’s decision to purchase it, but it had some effect on his daughter.
“I think it’s kind of cool that there was a lady who lived here who was a TV personality and so ahead of her time,” Susan said. “It was so enjoyable having all this space, even though three of us had to share a bedroom.”
The Schweitzer children recall the house and land being the center of their universe. There was the in-ground, aluminum pool that Lyons and Newman installed, an Ortner Freight Car Co. caboose their dad bought at a Cincinnati Zoo auction in 1970 that became their pool house, plenty of trails for mini-biking, a great sledding hill when it snows and a 1,459-acre forest in their backyard.
Lyons and Newman built a house for pet Japanese spaniels near where the caboose sits, but Susan’s older brother, Rick Schweitzer, said his dad tore it down and “turned it into the biggest sandbox this side of the Mississippi.” The sand, the pool and the forest created a one-of-a-kind play haven for the Schweitzer kids and their friends.
“Having Mount Airy Forest back there was awesome,” said another brother, Ray Schweitzer. “We used to go out there to play and be gone all day until it was time to come home for dinner.” An outside bell – still there – rang to summon the Schweitzer kids home.
Rick said his memories of the house also center on outdoor activities – “just hanging out in the caboose, all the summer swim parties and riding the mini-bike.”
The old Norfolk & Western Railroad caboose, Susan said, needs restoration but still features electric lights, a refrigerator, pot-bellied stove and bunk beds. The pool, her father said, has been renovated and “is in pretty good shape.”
House Dates From 19th Century
Changes the Schweitzers made to the house’s interior include renovating the kitchen, closing off a hallway, turning a large closet into a full bathroom on the first floor and adding a shower upstairs. Ron Schweitzer – whose construction company’s projects included more than 100 gas stations and the clock tower in Covington’s Goebel Park – also upgraded the electrical system throughout the house.
Lyons sometimes conducted broadcasts from the den, which Ray said required “massive wire service … It was like 20 pairs.”
It is unclear what year the original farmhouse was built, but a seven-page cover story in the April 1958 issue of American Home magazine about Lyons and Four Chimneys described it as being 140 years old. If that’s true, the oldest part of the house will turn 200 in 2018. The Schweitzers said they thought the house dates to 1865 and that it used to be a dairy farm and had a pond in the front.
Clues exist to support the theory that the Lyons’ addition to the house was its second. Somebody closed in the house’s front porch and moved the door to the side, creating an entry hall, storage space and small bonus room in the porch’s footprint.
That remodel changed the appearance of the front of the house as did the Schweitzers’ removal of an iron gate and crumbling stone wall attached to the south side of the house. The driveway passed through the gate and curved around to the garage in back of the house as it does today.
Possibilities For The Future
Listing agent Nick Motz of Motz Real Estate said the asking price for the Ruth Lyons House and property is $475,000. The sale includes a plan to split the 4.6 acres into eight lots.
“You could subdivide the property, and this could become a nice little development here with an HOA and the house as the clubhouse.” Motz said. “Or you could keep it as a manor house,”
Susan said she really hopes that whoever buys her childhood home doesn’t tear it down.
“It should be, in our dreams, the home of the American Broadcasting Museum. There’s a lot of (funding) for it if you could pull together some non-profits. Like they did with King Records.”