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Bettie Fleischmann-Holmes

Fleischmann Gardens: a Family Dynasty in Avondale

Heiress to the Fleischmann Yeast Company fortune, Bettie Fleischmann-Holmes left Cincinnati in 1927. Yet her legacy has left a physical & cultural impact on the Queen City nearly one-hundred years later. Her family’s various estates have had lasting impacts on the neighborhood of Avondale, while the various institutions she headed and supported continue to thrive throughout Cincinnati.

Bettie Fleischmann was born March 1871 to Charles and Henriette Fleischmann, both European-Jewish immigrants. Her father founded the Fleischmann Yeast Company, whose commercially produced self-stable yeast revolutionized baking in the United States. After spending much of their childhood in the Riverside neighborhood near the Fleischmann Distillery, Bettie and her two brothers Max and Julius moved to Avondale with their parents in 1890. Their yeast fortune allowed the family to build Fleischmann Gardens, an estate with pristine landscaping on the northwest corner of Washington and Forest Avenues.

On October 27th, 1892 Fleischmann married Dr Christian R. Holmes (her father’s physician) at the Scottish Rite Cathedral, which stood on the west side of Broadway Street between 4th & 5th Streets. Their wedding featured elaborate party favors, and illumination by incandescent lights (an impressive feat in 1892). The couple purchased a home at 3598 Washington Avenue, less than a block from Fleischmann Gardens, where they raised their three children. The home’s spacious interiors allowed Holmes to house and display her growing art collection of Chinese jades, porcelains, and bronzes.

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO) was founded on January 17, 1895 with most of its funding from the Ladies Musical Club (LMC), to which Holmes belonged. The LMC went on to become the founding governing board of directors for the CSO. Holmes succeeded Helen Herron Taft (wife of William H. Taft) as CSO president, serving from 1900 to 1920, and oversaw their move from Music Hall to the new Mary Emery Theater on Walnut Street in 1912.

It was Dr. Christian Holmes’ presidency on the city’s Board of Hospital Commissioners that led to the combined uptown campus of Cincinnati General Hospital and the UC College of Medicine (now UC Medical Center), yet it was the couple's philanthropy with Mrs. Homes’ family wealth that helped save this project from bankruptcy. Even after her husband's death in 1920, Holmes continued to make donations to the College of Medicine and General Hospital. This included funds for the construction of Christian R. Holmes Hospital at the northeast corner of Eden and Bethesda Avenues (now Albert Sabin Way), which opened in May of 1929.

Holmes sold her home on Washington Avenue in June of 1921, a year and a half after her husband's passing. She remained unlisted in Cincinnati directories after this and split her time between her residence in Manhattan and her mother’s home at Fleischmann Gardens. Shortly after Henriette’s death in 1924, Fleischmann Gardens was demolished. The Fleischmann siblings donated the property to the Cincinnati Park Board for a neighborhood park in 1925.

By 1927 Holmes was living in New York full-time, closer to surviving family members. She continued her philanthropic efforts there with the New York Philharmonic Symphony and the Metropolitan Opera, also establishing the Holmes Foundation (dedicated to the betterment of hospitals). In 1929 Holmes moved into her newly completed tudor-style estate “The Chimneys” on Sands Point, Long Island, where she continued to collect art. During this period Holmes also led Prohibition repeal activism with the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Repeal, feeling the financial sting from losing the distilling division of the Fleischmann Co.

Holmes died on the 29th of September, 1941 at The Chimneys, and was interred next to her husband in the Fleischmann family mausoleum at Spring Grove Cemetery. Many pieces once in the Fleischmann-Holmes collection can be found in museums and archives around the world. At the time of her death, she was not only one of the wealthiest women in America, but she had also reportedly donated over 20 million dollars to medical and arts organizations throughout her lifetime.

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Jack Hall and Jasmine Gibson-Mckenzie, “Bettie Fleischmann-Holmes,” Cincinnati Sites and Stories, accessed July 18, 2024, https://stories.cincinnatipreservation.org/items/show/205.