Peek into Flint's past (and C.S. Mott's closet)

FLINT, Michigan—It is a peek into our city’s past and into its most fabled family. 

Applewood is the family home of Charles Stewart Mott—one of the founders of General Motors and a name everyone around here knows. He is, of course, the namesake for the Flint-based foundation that has surpassed $3 billion in grantmaking since its founding in 1926.

There are some who remember C.S. Mott—who died in 1973 after six decades as a board member for General Motors, being named “Mr. Flint,” and helping to found both Mott Community College and the University of Michigan-Flint.

Some tell stories about his eccentricities or about his visit to their elementary school. For most of us, though, Mott is a face with bushy eyebrows and a somewhat mysterious, mischievous air. Most of us know the name, with little insight into the man.

Perhaps it’s human nature, but the fact is: “Everyone wants to look in the closets,” said Megan McAdow, director of collections and education for the Ruth Mott Foundation.

(And, she means that quite literally.) 
Applewood is open for the 2017 season 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays from May 4 through October 29. Parking, admission, and activities are always free.

Behind the Scenes

Applewood was and is Mott’s home. It was built for him, and he and his family—all four wives and all six children—are the only ones to have ever lived at the residence on Kearsley Street near Robert T. Longway Boulevard. 

Operated by the Ruth Mott Foundation, the grounds are lush and feature an apple orchard, barn, and gardens galore. The Ruth Mott Foundation staff based at Applewood include six horticulturists as well as seasonal groundskeepers, collections staff, education and events staff, and security. 

Over the years, the property has been opened somewhat regularly. 

Last year to celebrate the home’s 100th year, it was opened to the public for the first time.

Crowds walked through the common areas on the first floor, Mott’s office packed with books all the way to the ceiling, the living room with its curved plaster ceiling, and the dining room where the family heirloom silver tea set gifted by President George Washington is on display.

This year, the home will open again for public tours (reservations are required) and offer an even more intimate insight into Mott and his life.

Visitors can choose between two tour options, the original first floor tour or a new “behind the scenes” tour which includes the basement, second floor and third floor.

Keep in mind these tours are about more than simply looking around. These tours are like stepping back in time, laced with stories, sometimes hearing C.S. Mott’s own words captured in his extensive daily diaries that spanned the entirety of his adult life. 

It wasn’t just his diaries that he kept. He kept just about everything—making Applewood a unique collection of family and community history. 

All receipts for animal feed, the scrub boards used before washing machines came along, riding boots, duffle bags from his military service, 22,000 photographs and all of the home’s original furnishings. 

Yes, it is a life of luxury. It is also one of frugality. 

As you get a peek into their lives and their legacies—and their clothes, toiletries, and, yes, even their closets—think for a moment about the fact that this is C.S. Mott. 

The C.S. Mott. 

And, he never re-decorated the living room after the home was built in 1916.

“He kept the original furnishings. Most people redo rooms at some point—especially people of his means,” McAdow said. 

As you climb the stairs to the second story of the home, look out and realize that Mott would use his cane (one of which featured a horn and a rearview mirror) to reach over the second floor railing to the chandelier in the foyer and remove some of the light bulbs to save electricity. And, to this day, no one—and I mean no one—leaves a light on in an empty room.

The living room features a unique curved plaster ceiling—and remains true to its original 1916 decor.

Storied past

Expect to laugh. Expect to see unimagined details and intricacies. Expect to feel closer to our collective history.

Walking through the 15,000-square-foot home with 35 rooms, in many ways it all feels surprisingly modest. While there are three stories and a basement, none of the rooms are particularly large.

The second floor features six bedrooms and four bathrooms and the behind the scenes tour includes one of the children’s rooms and the master bedroom. 

The room on display in the children’s wing is called Maryanne’s room. Maryanne Mott, the youngest of C.S. Mott’s six children and the only one still living, was the last of the children to stay there. Maryanne Mott now serves as chair of the Ruth Mott Foundation Board of Trustees and as a trustee for the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation board.

Both Maryanne’s room and the master bedroom feature a curved wall and a windowed sleeping porch for summer nights. The masterbath is filled with Ruth Rawling Mott’s monogramed towels and vanity dresser set, and first lady Barbara Bush’s autobiography on the nightstand.

C.S. Mott’s dressing room shows a streak of amusing flamboyance. 

You’ll see his robes. (He was known occasionally to wear his robes all day, even entertaining guests in them.) 

You’ll see his wild jackets. (Some patterns simply cannot be described in modern terms.) 

And, you will see his city pride. (Who else owns a CANUSA games sweater with gold buttons?) 

Then it will be up the back staircase to the staff quarters on the third floor. Each room has its own sink and a shared bath. The Christmas closet also was there, and it is now also home to decades and decades of Mott’s writings and records.

Interestingly it is the basement that holds the biggest insights—because it ends up the Motts always liked to take their guests into the basement. The competitive family has a two-lane bowling alley there and a pool table, too. 

Honors and awards line the walls. Cases are filled with shovels used in groundbreakings. In their later years, awards even lined the top of the pool table.

Only a fraction are still there. Others are in storage, but there is something so charming about an old man with bushy eyebrows who helped build General Motors showing off his Rotary, Kiwanis, and stacks of other community awards.

There’s so much more to Applewood. There is also the painting that lost its hair, the breakfast room where Ruth Mott would talk with staff to chose linens and decor, the sun room—plus all 34 acres outside. 

There is so much. Perhaps too much for one trip. That’s OK. Return visits are welcome. 

“They loved having guests,” McAdow said.

Applewood is open for the 2017 season 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays from May 4 through October 29. Parking, admission, and activities are always free.

For more information or to book a tour reservation, go to

Applewood opens for the 2017 season on May 4 and the gardens feature tons of beautiful blossoms already.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Marjory Raymer.