Still Surprised!

After living here almost four years, it seems like we have discovered most everything there is to know about our house. So I was very surprised today as I was dusting. No, it isn’t surprising that I WAS dusting. I do that a lot! Matt has been working hard on the back staircase to repair the walls and freshen up the stairs. (I will post the before and after as soon as he is finished.) I have spent a lot more time recently looking at the back stairs. The back staircase is not fancy but very functional except for the bottom of each run has this detail:

Decorative ends on the banisters.
Simple newel posts

Today as I was dusting the main stairs, I realized that the bottoms of those banisters have the same detail!

Same decorative finial at the bottom as the back stairs!

Although everything about the entry stairs is grand and fancy, I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that at least a little of the detail is carried over into the back stairs.  So many patterns and details in the house are repeated. 

Alvin B. Tillinghast

Since we found out so much about the Oblates time here, I decided to do some digging and see if I could clear up some more of the house’s history. We know Mr. Tillinghast was the original owner. He hired architects Brown, Burton and Davis from Cincinnati to design the house which is an unusual mix of English Tudor half timbering and French Gothic roof. We have many decorative details that don’t really fit either style of architecture. Our home is certainly unique among a whole neighborhood of unique homes.

Tillinghast was born in 1853. Using census records and other resources available on I was able to discover these facts:

  • According to the 1880 US census records, Alvin lived at 209 Michigan Street with his sister and brother-in-law, two nieces and his father. His occupation is listed as retail grocer.
  • From the 1900 census (the year construction began on our house) The Tillinghasts, Alvin, his wife Eudora and son Harold rented a home at 2152 Robinwood. There is no 2152 now. It seems this home would have been located where the OWE Commons now is. We know there was a gas station there at one time. I guess the home was removed to put the gas station in. It is interesting that he rented the house across the street while his home was under construction. I guess that made it easier to keep an eye on things. Oddly, his occupation is listed on the census report as “baegel manufacturer.”
  • The 1900 City director also shows the 2152 home as his address but lists Alvin the president and manager of Toledo Licorice Co and the second vice president of Central Savings Bank.
  • From 1903-1909 the Tillighasts are listed in the Toledo City directory with our home’s address. This makes the rumor that Tillighast never lived in the home he built likely false.
  • From 1905-1908 Tillighasts seems to have been running the licorice company that made him his fortune as well as being the treasurer of Royal Brush & Broom.
  • The 1910 census report has the Tillighasts renting a home on Glenwood and he now is self employed, selling life insurance. It is safe to assume that Toledo Licorice has probably stopped operating and the failing company forced Alvin to move from the house he built. We are trying to find the records for the deed transfer to see if the house did return to the builder or if it was sold by the Tillinghasts.
  • I was able to find that in 1922 he owned a home at 2547 Robinwood with no mortgage.
  • He served on the board at The Toledo Museum of Art for many years.
  • Mr. Tillinghast died at age 98 in 1951. I was able to find several obituaries for him. Most refer to him being a widower with no children. This seemed strange as I knew he had one son. Again using Ancestry records, I found his son Harold had passed away at age 45 in Pennsylvania. His cause of death was listed as suicide. Harold had a daughter who was 5 at that time. I was able to track her and she passed away in 1991. I’m not sure why Tillinghast didn’t list his granddaughter in his obituary. There seems to have been a lot of difficulties in Alvin’s life but he seemed to keep his chin up. Apparently he planned his own funeral 15 years prior to his death. He left very specific instructions that he would not have a casket but would lie in state on a slumber bed. The funeral home was to play music he chose and loved. He had cards printed out when he made his funeral arrangements that said “If you have any pleasant recollections of me, smile.” There seemed to be some discussion about whether refreshments would be served. He had requested none but the funeral home did decide to serve cake and coffee.
Obituary for Mr. Tillinghast from June 8, 1951 Huntingdon PA Daily News

Another Question Answered

Both Sister Ann Diehl, CSJ and I were curious about how the Oblates of Mary Immaculate came to have a home in Toledo, Ohio. In her research she found a typed page titled “Short History of The Toledo Mission House and St. Benedict’s Mission” Here is what that revealed:

“The house was founded in the spring of 1938, at which time the Very Rev. James T. McDermott was the Provincial of the 1st American Province. The home is a beautiful estate in the residential district of the city of Toledo and was the former home of John N. Willys, manufacturer of Willys-Overland cars and jeeps. He was also a former Ambassador to Poland.

The house is a three story structure with a chapel on the third floor. The chapel has a seating capacity of 24, and also has four altars, one on each wall. There are many larg rooms on the 2nd and 3rd floors, and the 1st floor is housing the parlors, dining room and kitchen. The home is on the corner of Robinwood Ave. and W. Delaware Ave., and the property includes a beautiful garden spot.

The work of the Oblates in Toledo is covered by missions, retreats, chaplaincies at St. Vincent’s hospital, the State Hospital, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and the Ursuline Convent. Besides that, our Fathers teach at the Ursuline Academy and the College there, run by the Ursuline Nuns. Likewise, the Oblates conduct a black Mission Parish by the name of St. Benedict’s. Fr. Joseph Shea, present Superior of the Toledo house is also the pastor of St. Benedict’s and has been since his arrival in Toledo in 1938.

St. Benedict’s was established in 1932 by the Jesuit Fathers and was housed in an old frame building which was very inadequate. At this time there were only 50 black Catholics in the city. Now the Oblates have a growing parish housed in an abandoned Protestant Church which was purchased for $14,000. It can accommodate 500 people, and also has class rooms and meeting rooms for social purposes. In 1944 the 1st grade of grammer school began, and each year a grade has been added, so that this past June (1951) Fr. Shea held his first graduation exercises. The Sisters of Notre Dame teach in the grammer school.”

With this information I was able to find that St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Church was created as a non-territorial parish in 1932 to serve black Catholics in Toledo. The first church building was located at 566 Avondale Ave. In 1937, a second church building was placed into service at the corner of Dorr and Washington Streets. A parish school was established there in 1944. These facts line up with the history sent to us by Sister Ann.

The church and school closed in 1965, when the State of Ohio took possession of the land to build an expressway, and the need for such a church no longer existed. Church members and school children joined the territorial parishes in which they resided.

I find it funny that John North Willys only lived here for ten years but even this early history of the house references him as having resided here.

We have the blue prints for the chapel and the reference here that there were four altars makes sense when comparing that lay out to the blue prints. The raised area on the west wall remains where the main altar would have been. There are four recessed lights in the center of each wall. We are now fairly sure these would have been above each side altar as well as over the main altar.

Its been fun to learn some new things about the house that line up with things that are still here, like the altar platform and the four brass ceiling lights on each side of the room. ( A side note: the lights were painted with several layers of paint that we removed to reveal the original brass fixtures underneath.) I have been doing a lot of research to try to substantiate some of the stories about the house and have been learning a lot about the people who lived here and whose histories we now share as owners of this historic house.

Another History Lesson

When we started talking about having the house on the summer tour, I told Matt we needed to fill in the missing pieces of the priests who lived in the house. Although they were the longest residents (40 years) nobody seemed to know for sure who they were. We were told they were Oblate priests but that doesn’t narrow down the search much. I did some research and decided the most likely answer was they were from the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. It seemed strange that an order of missionary priests would have a home in Toledo at that time.

I went to their website: and learned this:

  • The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate serve poor and needy people in the United States and more than 60 countries around the world.
  • Today nearly 4,000 Missionary Oblates are ministering in some of the world’s most difficult missions, reaching out to serve those most in need.
  • Saint Eugene De Mazenod was born into an aristocratic French family in 1782.  The French Revolution forced his family into exile.  In 1807, he had a profound religious experience, and he committed himself to Christ and the Church. As a young priest Eugene was appalled by the condition of the Church in southern France.  The poor were being neglected.  In response, Eugene gathered around him a small group of priests and began to preach directly to the poor.  Eventually this small band became the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
  • By the time of his death on May 21, 1861 the congregation he founded had grown to 415 priests and brothers in seven countries.  On December 3, 1995 Pope John Paul II formally declared Eugene De Mazenod a saint.

Matt called the headquarters in Texas and was told all records for the order were kept by their archivist in Washington DC. Matt was given the contact information for Sister Ann Diehl CSJ. She told him she had never heard of there being a mission house in Toledo but she would look into it.

The next day she sent us an email with these details. Apparently she was intrigued and excited to have learned something new.

  • The house on Robinwood was originally purchased by the Oblates to use as a “Mission House” – a home base for priests who travelled around giving parish missions and various retreats.  Besides the “missionaries” who travelled about, several priests lived there who did  pastoral work, mainly chaplaincies, in the Diocese of Toledo.  This provided a lot of variety in the community.  In addition, the house had many visitors from around the country and around the world, including more traditional “missionaries” from other countries. 
  • Giving parish missions to help revitalize the religious life of the people was the primary purpose for which the Oblates were founded in 1816, following the devastation of the French Revolution.  But they also served the other religious needs of the areas they were in.
  • Until very recently it was customary in every Oblate community to maintain a “Codex Historicus” to record significant events in the community.  She included some of those pages for us.

First page of the original codex.
  • By the mid-70’s most of the works the Oblates had been doing in Toledo had been phased out, including, apparently, the Mission Band. 
  • In April of 1977 there were only three Oblates left in the diocese, and the Robinwood house was too large and too expensive for three to maintain, so it was decided they would look for an apartment and sell the house.  (They moved to an apartment across the street in Ann Manor directly below the one where Matt’s parents now live.)
  • Apparently a realtor they had hired (Michael Murray) to help them sell the house liked it so well he bought it himself.  The next year the last three Oblates were reassigned out of the diocese.

She also included this article from what I believe is The Catholic Chronicle 3/11/1938.

We also now have this bill of sale from the 1938 purchase. Knowing the Oblates purchase included the contents of the home gives mere credence to the story that after leaving The Toledo Club very late one evening, Mr. Bell came into the house after he had sold it to the Oblates and woke the priests playing the piano and singing. The piano would have been familiar as it had been his previously and rumor has it his late night serenades were a common occurrence when he lived here.

So we now know a little more about our home. I’m not sure how the history of the Oblates had been lost when they were here such a long time and it hasn’t been that long since they left. Sister Ann sent several other things as well. I will post more soon. We have enjoyed learning more about the house’s story.