When Emma Patton died in 1939, she was eulogized as one of the best known women in Kent -- "charming, pleasant, gracious, talented" -- and, in the words of a longtime acquaintance, "everyone's friend."
She had lived in Kent for most of her life, and her passing saddened the wide circle of friends who knew and admired her. But her death also opened the door for a generous gift to the community, a legacy that continues to be cherished and utilized 75 years later.
The Patton House, located at 529 W. Main St. in Kent, was Miss Patton's home for many decades. It has been a meeting place for women's clubs and other organizations for more than seven decades, thanks to a bequest that she made to Kent Coterie, the women's group she joined as a charter member in 1896.
The two-story, white-frame structure with a broad veranda and distinctive dual gables was constructed by her adopted father, W.W. Patton, an attorney and merchant who served as superintendent of schools and postmaster and was mayor of Kent at the turn of the 20th Century.
Shortly after leaving office in 1900, he began building the 12-room structure, which was completed in 1902. The home, located on what was then the western outskirts of Kent, boasts spacious rooms, fine woodwork and amenities befitting the family of a well-to-do civic leader.
W.W. Patton and his wife, Harriett, lived there until their deaths -- the former mayor died in 1909 and his widow died five years later -- and ownership passed to Emma, who had never married.
Emma Betsy Patton came to Kent in 1864 shortly after her widowed mother remarried. Her father, George Dailey, had died when she was 3 years old and she took the name of her new stepfather.
Miss Patton had a talent for music, which she pursued in her later studies at Lake Erie College, the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the Boston Conservatory of Music. When she returned to Kent, she opened her home to piano students.
A longtime friend, Helen Price Harvey, remembered her as part of a "charmed circle" of young women much admired by younger girls in the neighborhood who seemed as if "they momentarily stepped from the pages of Andersen's fairy tales and became the glamorous princesses of the early 1890s."
"These fairy tale ladies were blessed in that they lived in the golden era of music in Kent," Mrs. Harvey recalled in a eulogy of her friend. They were instilled with "a love and appreciation of good music and the best in literature."
Emma Patton became the accompanist of the Choral Society, a locally popular group of Kent singers, and, in Mrs. Harvey's words, "the pride and joy of the town as its ranking pianist ... the acknowledged dean of music in Kent."
She became one of Kent's most active clubwomen. She also was an avid traveler, leaving Kent during the winter months for warmer temperatures. She had traveled to Mexico and was planning to spend time in Los Angeles when she became ill and died there on Feb. 5, 1939, at the age of 80.
She had moved from her parents' home a few years earlier and was renting it to Kent State University as a presidential residence at the time of her death. Presidents James Engleman and Karl Clayton Leebrick lived there.
Her will deeded the West Main Street landmark to Coterie, with the provision that it "be rented at the discretion of Kent Coterie to women's literary and musical clubs."
After Kent State purchased a permanent presidential residence in 1942, the Patton House began its new life as a gathering place for women's organizations including some, such as Coterie, Travelers Club, the Women's Club and the Daughters of the American Revolution, that once claimed Miss Patton as a member.
The meeting rooms on the lower floor reflect the tastes of a gracious homeowner at the turn of the 20th Century. In addition to Emma Patton's piano, other furnishings that once belonged to her -- now antiques -- also remain in use. The upper floor has been rented to caretakers of the property.
Kent has changed a great deal since W.W. Patton built his beautiful home, but Coterie has remained vibrant for more than a century after Emma Patton and other young women from Kent organized it. With the passing of generations, the women's organization has formed five successor groups, whose members have taken pride in their role in maintaining their landmark meeting place. Their faithful stewardship of the gift shared by "everyone's friend" has enabled her gracious legacy to continue.