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.

It’s Not Easy Being Green

Kermit was right about that.  We have a lot of green paint left in the house.  The hall closet outside oldest daughter’s new room is actually three different colors of green.  I suspect at least one of these colors was done when the priests lived here.  It certainly has an institutional feel.  I don’t know that they are to blame for all of the greens though.  I think they would have only used one color.  Whoever painted the cabinets green (why they painted the cabinets green is a whole different topic!) used a flat paint over the cream colored oil based paint.  The good thing about that is the green came off easily.  There are still two coats of cream under the green.  I think we will brighten it up by painting everything off white.  Once the cabinets are sanded, I might be able to live with the cream color especially when the green walls go away.  I can’t believe that the green is actually still here.  I believe we are the 6th owners since the priests have left.  I guess since it was a closet it was easy to look past it.  The linen closet has the same thing going on.  The linoleum floor tiles are pulling up and I am hoping to find original hardwoods under there.


The cabinet is one shade of green and the top and bottom of the wall is two different greens.  The flash makes the top of the wall appear creamy but it is green. 

Here are the cabinets after I started scraping off the paint.



The paint under the cabinets is very creamy and the linoleum tiled  floor is not orange.  Again, the camera flash changes the coloring in here a lot.


The drawers are giant.  They have nice brass rollers under then that make them slide really easily.  Most old drawers I have seen are just sliding in a wooden slot.


We have a giant walk in linen closet at the top of the back stairwell.  It is really more a long room than a closet.  I am not sure what this additional walk in closet would have been used for originally.  We have been told that when the priests lived here it housed the only phone in the house.  There is a little Formica table that pops up that could be used as a little desk when you were on the phone. There is a mailbox.  I would guess the priests left their outgoing mail here and it would be someone’s job to get it to the postman.  I doubt the mail got delivered to the second floor closet!  The phone jack has a glow in the dark nightlight included.  Very convenient if you answer the phone at night without turning on the light?  There is also a bulletin board with a very old phone list with all the local Catholic churches, schools, hospitals, institutions and religious orders numbers listed.  Many of these are no longer here.  We plan to keep that.  It is a nice reminder of the history of the house.  I may frame it though just to help preserve it.

The walls in here are in rough shape.  Matt is going to need to do some repair before we paint.  Inside the cabinets, the same shelving system used in the butler and maid pantries is found.  Looking at the lower cabinet I suspect it may have once had a glass front also.  The center seems to be different than the framing and doesn’t quite match up.


Since we are going to paint this room a neutral color but oldest daughter is using it as an extension of her room, she picked a nice beach themed fabric to line the walls behind the glass doors.  We will look for some ribbon to put on the shelf fronts.


It certainly brightens things up in here and ties into the theme she has in her room.  I just couldn’t imagine painting this  closet the same bright colors as her room. This was a nice compromise.  I scrubbed everything in here before we moved in.  What magic eraser  couldn’t get rid of, I covered with contact paper.  It knew it was clean but it didn’t look clean.  The contact paper helps.



Our holiday weekend is filled with painting and home projects.

It will be nice to be rid of the green!

Youngest Makes a Discovery

There is a lot of history that comes with living in an historic home.  We have been given a lot of information and some we have found to be true and some turned out to be less than accurate.  For example, we were told the pews on the front porch were originally in the third floor chapel.  Not true.  We believe someone probably purchased them at a local church and realized when they got them here, that there was no way to get them in the house.  We have the original blue prints from the chapel and the pews are pictured in the plans.  The  ones on the porch are very different than the ones in the blueprints.

We were told the third floor originally was a ballroom converted to a chapel but the plans seem to detail the chapel installation in a space that was previously servants quarters or unfinished space.  Which explains why access to the third floor is only through the back staircase.  You would never have had guests attending a ball or great party without a fancy staircase or at the very least, stairs that would be wide enough to get a ball gown up!

Youngest daughter was looking up pictures of the house and found these:



The photos were taken prior to the porch and sunroom being enclosed.  The really interesting part is the laundry room and two of the second story bathrooms are not here.  That means none of those spaces is original to the house.  We had been told the room we use as our laundry room off the kitchen was originally the servants dining room.  This makes a lot of things make more sense.  The upstairs bathrooms overhang the kitchen windows making it a very dark room.  Without that bump out upstairs, the kitchen would be so much brighter.  Oldest daughters room and the master bath are at a wonky angle that allows you to see into the spaces from the other room.  That never made sense to me and now we know why.  It happened when they bumped out that space.

We enjoy our enclosed front porch and use that room like a three season room.  Most of our meals in the summer are eaten out there and it is a great space for a cup of coffee in the morning or a cocktail in the afternoon.  Honestly though, I really like how the house looks without the porch enclosed.  The vision of Mr. Tillinghast with his eye for details  and symmetry are more clearly seen in these pictures.

I like the bicycles resting on the side of the house.  I would guess this was before Mr. Willys arrived with his Pope automobiles!

Wall Improvements

My sister in law came to visit last week.  We had a lot of fun visiting a nearby antique mall in hopes of finding some “stuff” for my house.  The antique place was HUGE!  Overwhelming in fact.  With really no idea what I was looking for I found it nearly impossible to actually find anything.  I did pick up a few things to hang on the walls.  Here are my “treasures:”


Yes.  Everything I found goes on the wall.  I had been looking for some botanical prints to hang in the entry.  I thought a grouping would look nice and almost look like wallpaper.  I bought a book with frameable botanical prints but didn’t like them that well and was having trouble finding frames I liked that weren’t ridiculously expensive.  I stumbled on this set of nine.  They were marked $10 each but I paid $4.  I am  not sure if they will be my forever solution but they are up in the entry I am happy with how they look for now.  They sort of mimic having wallpaper up without having scary bird wallpaper!

I also found these pictures but haven’t figured out where they belong yet.


This one I decided goes in the music room:


And these I have no idea where to put but these but knew they belong somewhere in a home once owned by John Willys!


I was feeling inspired getting the entry way prints put up and decided to get my sunflower tiles unpacked and hung in the kitchen.

This is my third kitchen that the sunflowers have been hanging in.  I purchased one at the Ann Arbor Art Fair many years ago from an artist who came each year with her tiles from California.  I added a few each year and Matt contacted the artist and surprised me with new tiles for Christmas a few times.  I often pick up pieces at antique shops or art fairs that I like and after I get home never really like them as well or am able to find a place for them.  Not the case with these.  I still love them and they make the kitchen feel like home.  When we were still in our first house in Toledo (off Willys Parkway which I find funny now.  First we lived off the road named for him and now we live in the house he lived in!) I remodeled the kitchen around the sunflower tiles.  I painted the cabinets the blue in the tiles and had counter tops that were the cinnamon color in the center of the sunflowers.  I am seriously considering painting the current cabinets that blue color again, or maybe yellow. In our last house I picked yellow cabinets for the island to go with the sunflowers.

Youngest daughter has been feeling blue since the Christmas decorations came down and said the house still doesn’t always feel like home to her.  Hopefully getting some things up on the walls will help her feel more at home.  I think having those personal touches are what will make this house feel like it belongs to us.



On the eleventh day of Christmas…

We have the entryway.

We are also now caught up since tomorrow is Epiphany and the twelfth day of Christmas!

The entry is large and impressive.  With the quarter-sawn tiger oak wainscoting, beams and pillars it feels almost church-like.  One story says the wood for the entry (and study) were brought here from England. That doesn’t seem likely to me.  I would think the huge oak trees required would have more likely been found in the United States.  The ceiling still has the original gold leaf mostly intact.  There are a few places where there was damage and the gold leaf was repaired.  One spot near the front door is actually spray painted to match the original.  I found that a little horrifying and hope to be able to replace the spray paint with gold leaf some day.

We did buy a new tree for the entryway as all of ours felt a little small.  Oldest daughter made the tulle tree skirt after seeing something similar on line.  She had a hard time leaving it on the tree at first and often picked it up and put it on.  We decided the mercury glass ornaments we have which are mostly red and silver would be great on this tree and compliment the colors in the garland on the stairs.  We started with light strings that are red and white.  Oldest son and oldest daughter did the decorating and it might be my favorite tree this year.

The piano belonged to Matt’s grandmother.  None of us play but we like having something from her in the house.  Apparently (unbeknown to us when we placed it here) both Mr. Bell and the Oblates had a piano located in this same spot.  We were told a story about the Oblates being woken up in the middle of the night once by a loud racket in the entry.  Apparently a very tipsy Mr. Bell used his key and came in to play the piano before he went to bed!  The lesson here-change the locks when moving to a new house.


The card tree now displays a collection of vintage Christmas cards that belonged to my grandmother.  I don’t know why she had kept these so long but I am glad to have them.


 Our grandmother clock has been moved a lot since we got here.  It was a wedding gift (25 years ago last week!) from my parents and my dad made it for us.  It feels a little small for the space in this house but I love it and finally think we found a spot where it looks nice.  We had trouble getting it to keep time since we moved and this space is the first place I put it that it has accurately kept time.  I guess the clock likes this spot too.


On the tenth day of Christmas…

The Living Room

The woodwork in the living room is mahogany, the same as we have in the music room.  It might be my favorite wood in the house.  I love the way it shines and reflects the light.  The living room fireplace is the largest of the four we have in the house.  It was originally wood burning but was converted to gas at some point.  (I would prefer to switch this back to wood.  I love a wood fire.)  The tiles on the hearth are original and are from Rookwood Pottery in Cincinnati.  The fireplace screen, andirons and sconces are also original.

The wallpaper in this room is staying.  It is the only paper in the house that I can say I like.  There is another crazy bird pattern under this paper and I am glad that isn’t the one we were left with.  I love the built in window seat in the bay window.  Our dog (George Bailey) loves it too.  He can see everything going on in the front and side yards from this vantage point.

I put some of my many small trees on the mantle.  I especially like the mercury glass ones.  I decided to decorate the tree with my collection of old ornaments.  Many are Shiny Brite ornaments from the 50’s and 60’s and some other similar vintage brands.  I pick them up whenever I come across them, many from Goodwill!  They remind me of the ornaments we had on our tree growing up and seemed the perfect addition to the living room tree here.

The story shared at the Christmas tour and that we had heard from the owner who bought the house from the Oblates of Mary Immaculate:  The nine or eleven priests (we have heard both numbers mentioned as the number of priests in residence here) each had a lazy boy chair and a stand ashtray that were arranged in a circle around the room.  They had enclosed the living room from the entry and the woodwork had to be stripped of the accumulated pipe and cigarette smoke that had accumulated during the 40 years the Oblates lived here.



Days of Christmas Continues

I realize with the holiday madness I fell behind a bit on my twelve days of Christmas.  Since the 12 days of Christmas is the time between Christmas and Epiphany, I am only a little behind at this point.


Day Six: The grand staircase

This was one of the first places I decorated.  I was able to borrow the garland from a neighbor which was a big help.  I was surprised that the garland for her grand staircase exactly fit the sections of my staircase!  I added the silver trim and bows to go with the décor in the entry and really like the way this looks.

The woodwork on the stairs is one of my favorite things in our house.  The quarter sawn oak is beautiful.  Rumor has it that a group of craftsmen from Germany came over and lived on site during the construction of the house just to complete the magnificent woodwork.  This is a prime example of their craftsmanship.

With the pepto bismal pink walls gone, the  garland and white lights with bits of silver really highlight the space. I love he way the lights sparkle and reflect off the wood.   The stained glass windows feel grand and elegant.

Friday Fun Fact

When we bought this house we also got a crate full of papers and blueprints that are the archives for our historic home.  I was surprised to find that most of the papers are old newspaper clippings about John North Willys. Although he wasn’t the longest owner of the house, he was the best known and the house is still referred to as the Willys mansion.  I though it might be fun to share some of these old clippings and tidbits.


Mr Willys was the first U. S. ambassador  to Poland.  The newspaper clipping does not say what paper it is from but I would guess it is the Toledo Blade.  It is dated March 1, 1930.

Fun Facts

Our house has many beautiful features which were the reason we fell in love with it.  There are also some odd, interesting, fun things we have discovered.  I thought you might enjoy some of these quirky or fun facts and will try to do some short posts with these occasionally.

Here is the first one.  One of our favorite things about the house is the three paneled stained glass window in the main staircase.  Now that the Pepto-Bismol pink paint is gone the whole stairway fills with beautiful rose tinted golden light when the sun is shining.


Great shot to see all the colors


Notice the light reflected on the walls

Oddly enough though, from the outside this window isn’t visible at all!


DSC_0642 (2)

The fire escape partially blocks it but at some point Plexiglas was put over the outside of the windows.  I am not sure if it was to protect them or to help with insulating them in the winter.  We are seriously considering taking out the fire escape and I would like to either remove the Plexiglas or replace it with something that will allow more light through the window and make it visible from outside.  It just seems odd that this lovely feature is hidden from the outside.