In 1900, Charles Stewart Mott and a partner owned Weston-Mott, a struggling bicycle wheel business in Utica, New York. An engineer by training, Mott helped the company transition to making automobile wheels and axles. It quickly became a major supplier to Oldsmobile, Buick, and other companies.
In 1905, William Crapo “Billy” Durant asked Weston-Mott to consider opening a branch factory in Flint. Instead, Mott and his partner moved the entire company to Flint and were in operation by the end of 1906. When Billy Durant and others formed General Motors in 1908, GM bought 49% of Weston-Mott stock.
The company grew as GM grew, and soon Flint’s Weston-Mott was the largest axle manufacturer in the world. In 1913, Mott—by then the sole owner of Weston-Mott—exchanged his remaining shares for General Motors stock and started what became a record 60-year career as a high-ranking GM officer.
Of course the Mott family also moved to Flint in 1907—C.S.’s wife Ethel Harding Mott, and their three children who had been born in Utica: Aimee Mott (born 1902), Elsa Beatrice Mott (born 1904), and the baby, Charles Stewart Harding Mott (born 1906), whom they called Harding.
C.S. Mott had a deep commitment to public service and was elected mayor of Flint for three one-year terms in 1912, 1913, and 1918. However, his last term was cut short by his service as a major in the Army Quartermaster Corps during World War I. (See TIMELINE for more information about Mott’s career.)
Not long after selling Weston-Mott to General Motors, the Motts bought 65 acres of farmland at the edge of the city for a family home and gentleman’s farm. They envisioned a place to help balance the stresses of work—a place where family and friends could find beauty, have fun, and stay healthy by eating fresh food and staying active with sports and games.
C.S. Mott engaged his sister’s husband, Herbert Davis, as the architect. Davis had served with Mott aboard the U.S.S. Yankee during the Spanish-American War, and the two understood each other. Davis worked with landscape architect William Pitkin Jr. to design a beautiful and practical estate, including a gracious home, recreational opportunities, flower and vegetable gardens, and a farming operation that once had dairy cows, horses, pigs, and poultry.
Pitkin’s landscape design incorporated an old apple orchard already on the property, and oriented the house to face the beautifully gnarled trees. When the time came to name the estate, “Applewood” was a natural choice, not only because of the orchard, but because apples were an important part of the Mott family heritage. Charles Stewart Mott’s grandfather, father, and uncles had been in the apple cider and vinegar business in New York and New Jersey from 1865 to about 1900, earning a reputation for high quality products. In fact, the Mott name still brands some apple products today.
The core of the estate was built in 1916, and while additions were made for several years—especially as the landscaping developed—it soon began to operate as the Motts had envisioned. A small staff looked after the gardens, farm, and household chores, with several of them living at the estate.
C.S. had grown up with horses and was an accomplished rider. The barn at Applewood had stalls for horses that the family rode for pleasure, as well as larger draft horses to work the farm. The family and staff ate and preserved the meat, eggs, fruits, and vegetables produced at Applewood, selling or giving away excess. The children enjoyed the pool in the summertime, and visitors could play croquet or tennis with the Motts, or bowl a few frames in the basement bowling alley.
The Motts pleasant home life was marred by Ethel Mott’s death in 1924. Shortly afterward, with all three children away at school, Applewood became a quieter place. C.S. concentrated on his work, often traveling and maintaining an extensive network of friends and colleagues across the country, many of whom were frequent guests to Applewood.
It was during this time that Mott established his lasting legacy and great philanthropic contribution to Flint, the C.S. Mott Foundation. Initially focusing on education and health care in Flint, the foundation gradually became involved in other cities in the United States and around the world.
In 1927, C.S. met and married Mitties Rathburn, but their happiness was short-lived. Just a few months later, Mitties died soon after contracting a rare disease. Mott tried to heal his “battered heart” with a marriage to society editor, Dee Furey, in the spring of 1929. But things didn’t work out, and they were divorced before year’s end.
The stock market crash in October 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression occupied much of C.S. Mott’s time over the next decade. Not only was he dealing with auto industry challenges as a vice president of General Motors, but he was involved with other businesses, banks, and his foundation, all of which were under financial pressure.
Ruth Rawlings was born in 1901 in El Paso, Texas, where her father was a family practice physician serving those in need on both sides of the border. Her mother was a businesswoman, kindergarten teacher, and founder of the El Paso YWCA. Ruth was athletic and artistic. She went east to study physical education, became a teacher, and returned to El Paso to open a dance studio.
It was there that she met Charles Stewart Mott in 1932 while he was on one of his frequent western trips. They discovered that they were distantly related through the Mott family. C.S. frequently called her, C.R., for Cousin Ruth. The two shared many interests and quickly fell in love.
They married in 1934, and she moved to Applewood. She became a mother, an active partner with her husband in the community, and prominent as a local leader, foundation trustee, and philanthropist.
C.S. and Ruth had three children: Susan Elizabeth Mott (born 1936), Stewart Rawlings Mott (born 1937), and Maryanne Turnbull Mott (born 1942). Once again, Applewood was a family home, full of comings and goings, games, and laughter.
By 1949, the Motts decided it was time to shut down the farming operations at Applewood. The farm manager was ready to retire, and C.S. himself was approaching 75. But instead of slowing down, C.S. wanted to spend more time on community interests. In 1951, he donated Applewood’s former pasture land, along with additional funds, to help expand what is now Mott Community College.
Ruth Mott served as a trustee on the board of the C.S. Mott Foundation from 1944 to 1975. Much loved by the people of Flint, Ruth supported projects devoted to health promotion, the arts, and the environment. She and C.S. often hosted local groups at Applewood, a practice she continued after his death in 1973 at the age of 97.
C.S. arranged for $42 million of his $43.3 million estate to go to the C. S. Mott Foundation upon his death. When C.S. died in 1973, his son, Harding, had been president of the foundation for several years. By the time Harding died in 1989, the C.S. Mott Foundation had become the 12th largest charitable organization in the United States.
Ruth Mott established the Ruth Mott Fund in 1975 to further her civic and charitable work and began to plan for Applewood’s future. It was her desire that the estate eventually be opened to the public as a memorial to Charles Stewart Mott and his ideals. As part of that plan, she began an ambitious project to restore the estate to its former glory.
Ruth’s loyalty to her adopted community of Flint continues through her generous endowment of the Ruth Mott Foundation, established upon her death in 1999. The foundation maintains 34 acres of the original Applewood Estate, the home she shared for 38 years with her partner and husband, Charles Stewart Mott.
As the Motts once did, we welcome you to Applewood.