Way too often, I keep my iPad close at hand to answer random questions, like what “ICYMI” means and what Mr. Jack’s Crispy Chicken Platter at J. Alexander’s looks like. But when I came across an article titled “Growing Inspiration” in the May 2014 issue of Ohio Magazine, I reached for it on a mission to learn more about Wildwood Preserve Metropark’s Manor House in Toledo.
The subject of the article was landscape architect Ellen Biddle Shipman, whose work is still visible in two places in Ohio: the English Garden at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens in Akron; and a property formerly known as Stranleigh, now part of Toledo’s Wildwood Preserve Metropark.
So, after focusing on “In Fine Feather” and glassblowing at the Toledo Museum of Art, I drove 12 minutes further to see Wildwood’s Manor House and landscaped gardens for myself. As soon as I got there, I was sold.
In 1910, brothers Robert and Frank Stranahan moved their struggling Champion Spark Plug Company from Boston to Toledo. Within five years, Champion had become the world’s largest spark plug manufacturer, helping to make Toledo a leader in the automotive industry for over 70 years.
The company’s prosperity allowed Robert Stranahan and his second wife, Page, to create an American Country Place estate they named Stranleigh. Between 1936 and 1938, they spent about $350,000 to build a 30,000-square-foot Georgian Colonial home surrounded by 750 acres of forest, orchards and farmland.
Robert passed away in 1962, followed by Page in 1968. In 1974, a real estate developer wanted to buy the property so he could build about 1,000 new homes and condominiums on the former estate. However, the citizens of Toledo preserved the property, passing a levy that would allow most of the original estate to be purchased and administered by the city’s park district. The family’s horse stable became a visitor center and the manor house and grounds were opened to the public. Between 2008 and 2012, Shipman’s garden was restored to its original 1936 condition.
The Stranahans’ estate included a swimming pool, a nine-hole putting green, horse riding trails and a clay tennis court. But the most beautiful feature of the estate is the garden that Shipman designed.
Shipman employed one of her favorite garden plans at Stranleigh. The centerpiece of the garden is a tiered hexagonal pool featuring four water-shooting frog sculptures. Radiating paths from a central path lead to terraces and two wrought-iron gazebos topped with decorative pineapples that reflect Page’s Southern roots. Plantings of boxwood, lilies, azalea, rhododendron, dogwoods, columbine, day lilies, daisies, viburnum, wisteria, roses, lilacs and other perennials make for some stunning sights.
Shipman’s garden perfectly complements the Manor House. Let me take you on a tour of this lovely, comfortable and inviting home I’d love to call my own.
The elegant entrance hall sets the tone of what awaits in the other rooms of the house.
The solarium overlooks the scenic Ottawa River that runs through the property. The Stranahans had the waterway diverted a half-mile from its original course so it flowed through the back yard. In an early form of air conditioning, fans installed in an underground tunnel that ran from the banks of the creek into the basement brought cool breezes into the home.
Wood paneling from an English manor house lines the walls of the library.
In the morning room, Mrs. Stranahan took care of her daily business of running an estate and entertained female guests after dinner.
…which features an English chandelier and the original antique wallpaper that hails from a French chateau, cut to fit the walls of this room.
Climb the stairs to the landing, where the Stranahans could open the triple-sash windows and step out onto the porch. Keep climbing the stairs and arrive at an inviting sitting area.
Upstairs, you can see some of the home’s 16 bedrooms, many equipped with their own fireplaces and bathrooms. Daughter Marcia’s room includes a sampler worked in Lebanon, Ohio in 1823, which you can read more about on page 29 of Sue Studebaker’s Ohio Is My Dwelling Place: Schoolgirl Embroideries, 1800-1850. The main feature of daughter Barbara’s room is a dollhouse replica of the George Wythe house at Colonial Williamsburg.
After passing a cedar closet equipped with seven shelves to hold the linen for the second floor’s seven bedrooms, walk through an elegant archway that signifies the Stranahans’ private suite. Enter the couple’s sitting room with a rose marble fireplace, then wander through their bedroom, dressing rooms and bathrooms.
Descend the stairs all the way to the lower level, which was designed to be a recreational space for the Stranahans. In the grill room, the family cooked on the hearth and grilled meats in the winter.
In the tap room, they mixed drinks and made ice cream sundaes at the bar. Observant Germanophiles like my mother will recognize the scene depicted in the hand-painted mural as the Bremen Roland, the 13th-century statue that stands in the Rathausplatz of Bremen, Germany. The statue depicts Roland, the protector of Bremen, holding his legendary chivalric sword and shield with the two-headed Imperial eagle on the coat of arms of the Holy Roman Empire.
I was totally taken by the hand-painted Alpine sporting murals in the game room, where the family could open a secret door that led to an indoor shooting range.
End your tour in a room devoted to displays not only of Champion Spark Plug Company memorabilia, but also of the accomplishments of the Stranahans’ son, Frank.
Good-looking Frank was a Renaissance man of the sports world. Accomplished in body-building, long-distance running, diving and horse-riding, Frank was also the world’s top amateur golfer in the decade following World War II. His trophy from finishing second in the 1947 Masters Tournament and his British Open medals are a testament to his competing in over 200 tournaments.
Free guided tours of the Manor House are offered on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday from 12 to 5 p.m. You can also visit the Manor House for several special events throughout the year. For example, you can enjoy a special tea in the solarium on the first Friday of every month between April and November, except for July. Call ahead to claim your spot for a limited number of reservations.