There must have been something about traveling to the western United States in the 1920s. My grandfather’s 1927-28 journey from Ohio to California in the family Model T led to a lifelong love of Zane Grey novels. At that same time, Robert Wolfe, the publisher of The Columbus Dispatch, purchased 20 acres of land in Pickerington, Ohio to create the Wigwam, a wooded retreat that was inspired by his family’s vacations in the American West.
Over the years, the Wolfe family bought additional land, enlarging the property to 64 acres surrounded by 1.7 miles of chain-link fencing. The Wigwam complex grew to include a large dining space, a theatre, and various guest houses and staff residences. The Wolfes hosted celebrities and held special events there until the Dispatch was sold in 2015.
In 2018, Wolfe Enterprises, a business controlled by Wolfe family members, sold the Wigwam to Violet Township in Fairfield County for $2.7 million. The purchase price included 26 buildings on the property, as well as furnishings and equipment. After making minor updates to most of the buildings and filling in the swimming pool, the township held an open house recently so the public could see this historic hideaway for themselves.
Entering the property through wrought-iron gates on Blacklick-Eastern Road, I was sold on the place when I saw the welcome sign. The self-guided tour began in the banquet room, which can be rented for weddings, receptions and business meetings.I’m partial to the carpet.Built over a stream and a reflection pond in 1989, the space seats 500 and includes a dance floor and stage, a bar that opens onto an outside patio, and a large kitchen for catering events.
The tour continued to Violet Township’s administrative offices, housed in the original log cabin Robert Wolfe designed for his family retreat. The timbers Mr. Wolfe used were telephone poles from the paving project along the old National Road, now Route 40, that he purchased from a collector for $1 each. He had the bricks in the fireplaces laid unevenly to add to the lodge’s rustic charm, and furnished it with Native American decor. Tableware even carried the theme. The Wigwam’s dishes and glasses carried the 1930s picture of Two Gun White Calf — one of three Native American Indians who posed for the likeness of the Indian on the buffalo nickel — taken by Walter Nice, a photographer for the Dispatch in 1909, the April 19, 1964 issue of the Dispatch reported.
Mr. Wolfe engaged a Dispatch cartoonist to paint stagecoaches, trains, airplanes, covered wagons, teepees, cowboy cabins and other scenes from the American West in the Card Room, the former poolside lounge that is now the Violet Township Trustee Meeting Room.
To replace the Wigwam’s original 20-seat theatre where Bob Hope, Gene Autry and Jimmy Stewart performed, a new performance space accommodating over 300 people was constructed in 1989. The current theatre is now the home of the Pickerington Community Players.
Violet Township’s potential plans for the Wigwam property include remodeling a bunk house for a community meeting space, building a hotel, transforming 20 wooded acres into a community park with shelter houses and walking trails, and developing 10 acres at the northern part of the site for office and business use.