History

Harry Carr Leonard, the first owner of this beautiful English-style home, ran manufacturing for the Leonard Refrigerator Company and eventually became the president of H. Leonard & Sons. Harry’s grandfather, Charles Herman Leonard, founded H. Leonard & Sons in 1844. When the company was dissolved in 1952, it was the oldest business in Grand Rapids at 108 years old.

An antique Leonard Cleanable Refrigerator with the door open

The Leonards were an active family around Grand Rapids. Before her death in 1938, the first Mrs. Harry C. Leonard (formerly Willie Thomas Stansbury), founded the Grand Rapids Campfire Girls, was an active member of the League of Women Voters, and volunteered for the Red Cross. Harry’s second wife, Mrs. Sue Leonard, was an active member of several clubs and served on the board of Blodgett Memorial Hospital. Harry Leonard was a philanthropist and city commissioner. 

When this home was built in 1914, only wealthier families were able to afford modern central heating. This is probably why the only fireplace in the entire home is in the parlor. Perhaps the lack of fireplaces may have also inspired conversation and bragging rights. Guests will notice that there are no radiators on the main floors. Instead, there was a special steam heat system that was hidden under the floors.  

Another amenity that was progressive for its time is the central vacuum system. Although it no longer works today, central vacuum vents can be seen throughout the house.  

Harry’s father, Charles H. Leonard, patented and started selling the Leonard Cleanable Refrigerator in 1881. Although not the first electric refrigerator, Charles made improvements on what he found to be a shortcoming in refrigerator design.  

When Charles offered to clean up lard that had spilled in the ice box, he found that the refrigerator lining was very difficult to clean. Inspired by a spilled tub of lard, he invented the Leonard Cleanable Refrigerator. At the time of the Herald article, one in six refrigerators sold was a Leonard Cleanable, making it the largest refrigerator company in the world at that time.   

Two antique Leonard Cleanable Refrigerators

The cleanable lining was adapted as refrigeration evolved and was electrified. In 1937, the Grand Rapids Herald touted the Leonard Refrigerator Plant as the leader in city employment, with a payroll of $4 million and 2,800 employees. The factory also used local products, contributing further to the development of Grand Rapids.

A close-up on the Leonard Cleanable Refrigerator logo

Virtual Tour

Take a tour through the house! We’ve been updating the rooms to serve you better.