Update, Nov. 25, 6:58 p.m.
The benefit for the Heublein Tower at the home of Mr. and Mr. John M. and Garrett J. Reynolds on the Avon/Simsbury town line raised $6,655.
The Heublein tower was completed in 1914 – near the end of the Victorian era – as a summer home for Gilbert Heublein of Germany when he wasn’t living at his Prospect Street house in West Hartford.
The story goes that he told his fiancée that “someday he would build a castle for her on this mountain (Talcott Mountain) and he did just that when he was 65,” Canton resident Kathryn Hoidge, co-president of the Friends of the Heublein Tower, said.
Little did Heublein know that he was building what would become a historic place that many people – including presidents – would visit and marvel at as an icon of the Farmington Valley.
As the 100th anniversary of the tower nears, tower supporters gathered for a cocktail party benefit for the Heublein Thursday at the Ridgebury Road home of Mr. and Mr. John M. and Garrett J. Reynolds on the Avon-Simsbury town line.
John Reynolds, a member of the Friends of the Heublein Tower, estimated prior to the event that it would bring in more than $5,000 in ticket sales, donations and silent auction proceeds. About 85 percent of the people that couldn’t attend still contributed to the cause.
Reynolds said that upkeep of the tower is ongoing and a seasonal challenge. Cold winters that dump snow on the roof can damage the tiles and annual maintenance work is a challenging undertaking.
“It’s our back yard…. It’s really a bedrock of our community,” Reynolds said. “For us to be able to assist in anyway in the upkeep of the restoration of the building, that means a lot to us.”
Hoidge said that the Friends of the Heublein Tower are doing fundraising for “several large projects” and said that plan is to use the funds raised at the cocktail benefit as seed money to install a heater. The project planning is in its preliminary stages, so Hoidge said there isn't a cost estimate at this time.
“The tall tower part of the building at this point is unheated. That’s very damaging to structures and tends to have them rust from the inside out,” Hoidge said. “With John’s help, I think we’ll get there.”
History of the Heublein
Both Reynolds and Hoidge appreciate the Heublein for not only its beauty, but also its history.
Francis Murphy owned the tower during the mid 1940s to ‘50s and used the space as an entertainment venue, according to Hoidge. He was the former general manager of a daily afternoon newspaper called the Hartford Times. In the 1950s, he invited then Columbia University President Dwight Eisenhower to Connecticut to help dedicate a terminal named after him at what is now Bradley International Airport. It is said that Murphy, who was active in the Republican party, asked Eisenhower at a social event at the Heublein Tower if he would run for president of the United States on the Republican ticket. There is a chair in a living room within the building that “commemorates that event,” Hoidge said.
“There’s so much to be learned from the history of that mountain,” Hoidge said, noting that Mark Twain also spent time at Bartlett's Tower – about 300 yards south of the Heublein in Simsbury.
Avon, Simsbury and Bloomfield converge at the top of the mountain and the tower is technically in Simsbury, she said. In addition to the educational role the tower plays and the outdoor features of the hiking and cross country skiing trails around it, the tower also increases the property value of nearby houses, she said. The breathtaking views from the top of the mountain draw many to the tower.
A Longtime Philanthropist
Reynolds said he got to know many of the Friends of the Heublein Tower members at Avon Congregational Church and growing up. They came to him for advice about raising money for the tower. As owner of John M. Reynolds Event Planning, LLC, he is refocusing his business on event planning for the “non-profit fundraising and consultation sector” and the tower benefit was the kick-off to his new initiative.
Russell’s Creative Global Cuisine of West Hartford catered the event and Simsbury pianist Rebecca Fishman provided musical entertainment.
Simsbury First Selectwoman Mary Glassman attended the event and Reynolds said that it was also an opportunity to raise awareness while getting to know the donors face-to-face.
“Through the events we can increase their donor base,” he said. “It can do a great deal for them.”
This is not the first time that John and Garrett Reynolds have hosted a benefit at their home. Two years ago, they organized a cocktail party to raise money for and awareness about the importance of eye care through what is now called Healthy Eyes Alliance. John Reynolds is a board member for the organization and has also served on the board for Chariotts of Hope and been involved with FAVARH in Canton.
Just named to the Wadsworth Atheneum Board of Electors this week, Reynolds was a member of the planning committee for the museum’s annual black tie dinner and gala called Splendor. The event raised $350,000 for the museum in October and included “the most extensive and high-end art auction” Reynolds said he has ever seen.
Both John and Garrett Reynolds are involved with Gifts of Love – an Avon non-profit that helps financially struggling families. They donate to many local organizations of importance to them like the Connecticut Historical Society and the Mark Twain House. John, who attended Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, said that supporting the arts has long been a passion for him and his family has a longstanding history of philanthropy.
John Reynolds, 35, discovered his niche in event planning when he helped his dad throw a surprise birthday party for his mom one year. That work expanded to weddings and engagement parties.
The Friends of the Heublein Tower hope to have other fundraising events for the historic building in the future.
“It’s a wonderful new start for us in terms of fundraising,” Hoidge said. “This is certainly not John’s first rodeo. He knows the ins and out of this sort of stuff. He stepped up and we’re grateful.”
More information about the tower is available online at www.friendsofheubleintower.org.
Correction: John Reynolds is a member of the Friends of the Heublein Tower, not the Friends of the Heublein Tower board. This error has been corrected.