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Tycoon’s tragic life: a boon for CWRU

From the Mafia

Did you know that much of the CWRU campus was built thanks to the gifts of the Stone family? While the story of Amasa Stone is rather gloomy, the Stone family has given us some of our most beautiful and cherished buildings. Some recognition is due.

Amasa Stone Chapel is a landmark for the campus and, arguably, is an icon for the university. However, the chapel’s beauty are in stark contrast with its namesake’s history.

Amasa Stone was born in 1818 in Massachusetts. He became an apprentice in construction and later worked with his brother in-law, William Howe, to refine the Howe truss bridge design. Stone bought the truss patent in 1842 and built several hundred bridges using the Howe and other modified designs.

In 1851, Stone relocated to Cleveland to become the superintendent of the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad. Between the many railroads and other complimentary enterprises, such as steel mills, Stone became part of the emerging industrialist elite. However, his luck started turning in 1876 with the Ashtabula Railroad Disaster.

On December 29th, Stone’s bridge spanning the Ashtabula River collapsed while a passenger train was crossing, killing 92. At the time, it was the worst railroad accident in the United States. The investigation that followed implicated Stone by citing the reason for failure was an unstable span length.

However, the real guilt likely belongs with the steel mill that provided material that did not meet the specifications in Stone’s design.

While the success of Stone’s railroads began to wane, he was also burdened with the loss of his son, Adelbert, in a swimming accident while studying at Yale. Stone, looking to both honor his son and compete with Leonard Case’s new school on the east side of Cleveland, donated $500,000 to Western Reserve College on the condition that it relocate to Cleveland from Hudson and use the money for the construction of Adelbert College – now Adelbert Hall.

When considering how to name the new college, Stone’s name was rejected because of it’s connection to the Ashtabula disaster.

Finally, in 1883, Amassa completed suicide. He left behind a wife and two daughters: Clara Stone Hay and Flora Stone Mather. His daughters, looking to honor their father, commissioned the construction of Amasa Stone Chapel which includes a stone bust of his head above it’s west-facing door.

So There you have it – a tragic story, but a visionary commitment to higher education in North East Ohio that helped shape the schools that form Case Western Reserve.

A new weekly contributor to The Observer, CWRU House Mafia is a blog beyond The Daily that strives to engage and develop a deeper sense of community at Case Western Reserve University. They’re only a click away at

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