Ohio man to author book on history of Hartwood Acres

Deborah Deasy
| Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, 12:12 p.m.

Jeffrey Lawrence of Austintown, Ohio, knows more about Hartwood Acres than most people.

His late grandparents — John and Mary Flinn Lawrence — built the estate and employed the colorful characters who once lived and worked at Hartwood Acres, now a 600-acre Allegheny County park in Indiana and Hampton townships.

Lawrence, 46, an insurance adjuster, now hopes to write a book about the people whose lives inspired the estate's legacy and imbued its history.

“My goal is to get that completed in the next year or so,” he said. I don't have any writing background, but I've been doing a lot of research.

“I just have boatloads of information.”

Patti Benaglio, office manager at Hartwood Acres, welcomed news of the project.

“We're anxious to work with him and share the knowledge he has, as well as the vast amount of resources we have at the mansion,” she said.

Those resources include, for example, letters once written to Santa Claus by Jeffrey Lawrence's father.

Jeffrey Lawrence, a Grove City, Mercer County, native, is son of the late farmer John W. Lawrence Jr., one of John and Mary Flinn Lawrence's two adopted sons, who died Dec. 21, 2011. Billy Lawrence, the Lawrences' other adopted son, died Feb. 25, 2003.

“My parents divorced when I was 7. My mother remarried, and we moved to Ohio,” said Jeffrey Lawrence, also the son of Suzanne Franklin and brother of Lee Lawrence, 45, both of Boardman, Ohio.

But Jeffrey Lawrence remembers visiting Hartwood Acres as a boy. He remembers seeing his invalid grandmother, Mary Flinn Lawrence, in the room where people now enter Hartwood Mansion for tours.

“She had round-the-clock nurses that took care of her,” he said. “I remember her lying in there when I was a little kid.”

To link people fond of his grandparents' stone mansion and sprawling acreage, Jeffrey Lawrence has started a Fans of Hartwood page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/groups/70498984974.

It's “a gathering place for fans of Hartwood Acres,” according to online site. “A place to post thoughts and pictures of your visit to Hartwood Acres, the jewel of the Allegheny County Parks system located in Pittsburgh, Pa.”

An improved online site for the nonprofit Friends of Hartwood also is in the works, according to Jeffrey Lawrence. That site is www.friendsofhartwood.org.

“I've joined forces with the Friends of Hartwood group,” he said. “We're working to make their website interactive with videos and photos of Hartwood.

The Friends' improved website also will include interviews with people such as the daughter of Earl Brown, the late stable master at Hartwood Acres.

“People are going to give interviews on the way Hartwood was, back in the day,” he said. “That's what Hartwood is all about. The buildings are kind of cool but it's really about the people that lived there, and worked there.

”I get tons of emails from people who worked for my grandmother,” he said. “They'll say, ‘Hey I worked at Hartwood in 1956, in the summer, and your grandma was really nice, and she did this and that.' The county is going to own Hartwood for a long time, and eventually, everyone is going to die off who even remembers that place the way it was,” Lawrence said. “That's why I'm working to compile a written history of Hartwood — the buildings, the people — for future generations to read.”

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or ddeasy@tribweb.com.

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