Beautiful apple orchards and rolling green hills once surrounded the Wildwood Estate, when the home was first built for John G. Oliver in the early 1900s. Mr. Oliver was a prominent Cleveland industrialist, recognized for drafting the plans to the largest telescope of it’s time while employed by Warner & Swasey of Cleveland, Ohio. Sadly, the large Warner & Swasey factory of that time now sits abandoned, as does a former Case school once funded by the company. John Oliver would also go on to co-found Bardons & Oliver in 1891 – one of the chief machine-tool firms in Cleveland, Ohio.
In these years during the development of his business, Mr. Oliver journeyed to England. While visiting overseas, John fell in love with the beauty of English Manor House architecture of the late Medieval and early Renaissance era. This love for the architectural style would lead to future plans for the Wildwood Estate.
With his business continuing in growth, Mr. Oliver and his wife, May, decided to purchase 34 acres on Little Mountain Road. Over the following years, construction of the estate would take place. The home would later become a summer home for the Oliver family. Abram Garfield – son of the late President James Garfield – was commissioned by John and his wife to build the beautiful manor home. Garfield managed his own Cleveland architectural firm, following his studies in architecture at M.I.T., and was noted as one of the most important residential architects in the city of Cleveland.
The Wildwood Estate was constructed over a timespan of three years. During its construction, the Olivers would make occasional journeys from their University Circle home in Cleveland to Mentor to spend time at Wildwood during summer months. These journeys were much longer at that time than we are now used to, but the Olivers found it to be a nice, peaceful way to escape the city. John and May would bring their children Margaret, Hortense and Lockwood, and would be accommodated in the estate’s barn. Not only was this a peaceful getaway for the family, but they were able to monitor the manor’s construction over time.
Construction of the home was finished in 1908, and thus the Wildwood Estate had become one of the earliest architectural renderings in English Tudor Revival style in all of Northeast Ohio. The manor contained 25 rooms, with 9 of them being bedrooms; 3 of which had been used by servants. The third floor ballroom remains one of the most noted features of the home, and has retained its historic, rustic charm over the many years into its life as a public space.
Unlike some grand old buildings, renting the manor to others is something that has been done since the early 1900s. When not in use by them, the Oliver family would rent the manor out to friends, so that they may enjoy the land, and beauty of the architecture. At that point in time, the home was run by a staff of six workers, taking care of the home’s interior, as well as exterior, which included the barn, and gardens.
Mr. Oliver wanted to create a comfortable space for his children as well, and had commissioned the construction of a playhouse in the woods. The playhouse was a small brick house, complete with running water, electricity, and even a mini-kitchen with a working stove, for the girls to practice cooking. The playhouse has since been dismantled, but foundations remain. Along with the playhouse, there were other activities, including monkey bars, which now barely remain in ruins.
Wildwood was one of the first homes in Lake County lucky enough – and wealthy enough – to have a freezer for storing food. This helped with the milk and vegetables acquired on the estate from their own livestock, and vegetable garden. Today, Wildwood is home to a beautiful community garden, inviting gardeners with a space to plant vegetables, flowers and more.
Upon John Oliver’s death in 1939, the manor was left to his daughter Margaret Oliver Collacott, and her husband Robert Collacott. By 1949, the Collacotts came permanent residents of the estate. At this time, transportation had increased, and Mentor village (yes, it was still just a village) had grown greatly in size. Other large and important structures would continue to be built around the village, but Wildwood remained one of Lake County’s premier homes all the way through the 1970s.
Margaret Collacott died in autumn of 1973, leaving the Wildwood estate to her daughters, May Targett & Catherine DeWitt. May and Catherine did not live in the estate, but continued to take care of the property over the next 7 years, until selling the property to the city. Mentor city officials had realized there was great value in preserving the property, and had struck an agreement with May and Catherine, negotiating a purchase price of $300,000 for the entire estate in the early 1980s. A few months later, the property had become a public park.
The estate was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior in October of 1980. Over following years, the building would undergo restoration, with improvements such as the inclusion of a heating system, adding a new furnace, as well as updating electrical wiring and plumbing. Woodwork was refinished, and carpeting was also added.
By December of 1980, restorations were complete within the home, and Wildwood was open as a public park by the City of Mentor under the Parks, Recreation and Public Lands Department.
To this day, the Wildwood Manor remains open to the public during regular business hours, and offers a beautiful park filled with unique trails and peaceful scenery year-round. Events are hosted throughout the year, and guests are able to rent the buildings for their own private events or parties. The park’s scenery holds unique beauty, vastly different with each changing season. Wildwood is surely one of Mentor’s hidden historical gems that should be on your list of places to visit if you live in, or ever find yourself in Lake County.
Rental information, as well as membership opportunities, for the center is available by calling The Wildwood Cultural Center at (440) 974-5735 Monday through Friday between the hours of 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
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Map & directions to Wildwood Park: