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.

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!

I can see clearly now…

the tree is gone! 

See the giant tree on the right hand side of the picture?  The one behind the van? It is a mulberry tree planted at the edge of the driveway.  I failed to take a before picture but this is from around 2010 I believe.  The mulberry was providing some nice shade but it produced so much fruit.  The birds sat in the tree and ate the berries.  Then we had berries falling on the cars and driveway as well as all the birds pooping on the cars.  It was a huge mess.  As the berries fell to the ground, they began to rot.  Now we had an awful stinky mess!  Not sure who thought mulberry trees were a good idea.  There are three here now and the previous owner removed one that was in front of the porch.  Since they are all about the same size and evenly placed, I am guessing they were put there intentionally.  The tree guy estimates they are about 50 years old.

Larry the tree guy came and took the mulberry down Saturday.  We are missing the shade but not the mess. He will be back in the next few weeks to take out the mulberry near the center of the yard as well as a couple of dead/near dead trees and three junk trees that stick out into the center of the yard.  Once the trees are gone and we clean out all the “volunteers” and other scrub brush from the yard, we plan to put up a privacy fence.  It will be great to have this part of the yard connect to the small part of the yard that is fenced now.  We hope it will feel like the property is all connected.

Next spring we will (hopefully!) add a pool.  It looks a lot different with the tree gone.  We will have to get used to it for sure.

They don’t have anything to do with the tree being removed but here are two more pictures from the yard that I thought my in-laws would like to see!


New urns we got last weekend.  There are six!


Youngest daughter’s passion flower

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!

The Ninth Day of Christmas-The Study

It is unclear what the original use was for this room.  Some research says it was a library but that doesn’t seem likely to me.  If this room was originally a library, Mr. Tillinghast would certainly have had built in bookcases here.  The room is the same quarter sawn oak as the entryway with wainscoting that matches the staircase. There are repeats in miniature of the pillars from the entry and a beautiful beamed ceiling that is similar to that in the dining room.  There is a large closet that was clearly original and a hole in the floor that once had a maid call button. (The living room, dining room and music room also have these.)  The door hardware has the trefoil design found throughout the first floor.  Perhaps this was originally an office or study or just a more intimate sitting room.  The closet is the feature that confuses the issue.  Maybe it was a first floor bedroom?  Many of the home listings prior to when we purchased the house list eleven bedrooms.  This room with its closet would have to be included as bedroom to get to that count of 11.

In any case, this was the last room on the first floor that we put together.  It was an easy place on the first floor to leave the odd boxes that were still unpacked and were filled with items I just wasn’t sure where to put.  We could close the door and not see them.  This room also has horrible wallpaper (who picked the paper in this house and what were they thinking!!?) that needs to go.  The ceiling has been redone at some point and is painted red between the beams.  I like the way it looks and have decided to repaper this room instead of painting.  I haven’t found anything yet that I am willing to commit to.  I have been thinking about maybe finding a paper with a trefoil incorporated into the design or maybe a toil with a red that picks up the ceiling color.

We put up new lights and washed the woodwork and windows.  That is the extent of the transformation so far.  It looked cute with the Santa theme and was a great place to put my little Santa collection.



Was that really a typical day?

Clearly I am going to have to get adjusted to what typical will mean in this house.

There were all kinds of projects underway.  The gutters are coming along but not finished.  Here are the promised after pictures:

DSC_0333 - Copy - Copy DSC_0337








Late in the afternoon I noticed a couple walking past the house and taking pictures.  I was sure they were just admiring the new gutters.  They definitely catch your eye.

I went out to try to move the truck that the girls had parked in a weird angle in the driveway.  The admirers  came up and asked if I was the owner.  This question always catches me off guard.  Matt is the people person in our marriage and he is happy to talk to anyone about the house.  As anyone who knows me is aware, I am very uncomfortable talking to people I do not know. Uncharacteristically, I engaged in a conversation.  It turns out that Ashley is working on a book about Jeep. She and her sister Brittany are The Jeep Girls.  When she told me this I had to laugh because I knew they had visited the house before and I had seen her blog post about coming here when I was googling everything I could find about the house online before we bought it!  She was interested in the house because she is working on a book about Jeep (is that correct Ashley?)

We inherited more Jeep history papers, articles and pictures than house papers and history documents.  The fact that John North Willys lived here is probably the reason the house attracts so much attention.

When I realized Ashley and Fred were passing through on their way back to the west coast I invited them in for a peek at the first floor.  This was so out of character for me but honestly they didn’t feel like strangers.  I enjoyed their brief visit and hope they will stop back anytime.  Maybe next time the house will be ready for a more extensive tour, including Mr. Willys’ office in the basement.


No, Not the Girl Scout Cookie!

When we were looking for colleges for oldest we stayed in a beautiful historic home in St. Louis.  The owner had a fleur de lis somewhere in each room of his house.  I thought it would be fun to incorporate something similar here to tie all the rooms together.  I started looking more closely at the details of our house and noticed a pattern that seemed to repeat in a lot of places, a trefoil.  I did some research and it was very commonly incorporated into gothic architecture, particularly in building cathedrals. The trefoil of course is a representation of the trinity.  I love that we have so many already here and hope to find a way to incorporate a trefoil of some sort in all 33 rooms!  Some examples:


DSC_0279 DSC_0280 DSC_0281 DSC_0282 DSC_0284 DSC_0285 DSC_0286 DSC_0287 DSC_0290 DSC_0291 DSC_0278 DSC_0277 DSC_0276 DSC_0275 DSC_0273 DSC_0272 DSC_0271 DSC_0270 DSC_0269 DSC_0294

Fact and Fiction

The history of the house is part of the charm.  There are a lot of stories about the home and we have been trying hard to determine what is fact and what is fiction.  We feel it is part of our job as good care takers of a historic home.

Construction began in 1901 for Alvin B. Tillinghast.  He was a bicycle manufacturer, licorice tycoon and patron of the arts. The house is an eclectic mix of Tudor half framing and French gothic architecture.  The attention to details is over the top. Mr. Tillighast frequently visited the construction site to inspect the quality of the work and rumor has it he went bankrupt while building the house.  The original plan for the home was 30% larger than it is now.  Whether it wasn’t built due to bankruptcy or just down sized during the construction is unknown.  We were told Mr. Tillinghast  never lived in the home but city records show the family was living here in 1909, the year the construction is presumed to have been completed.

The construction company did retake possession of the house and sold it to John North Willys, founder of Willys Overland which eventually became the Jeep Company.  Another unsubstantiated fact is the home was traded to Mr. Willys in 1909 for twelve Pope automobiles.  Mr. Willys lived in the home until the death of his wife in 1921 when the home was purchased by Mr. Arthur Bell.

The Bell family lived here until 1938.  The house next passed to an order of Catholic priests.  We are confident the priests lived here and we are in possession of the original blue prints converting the third floor ballroom into a chapel but which order of priests this was is still a mystery.  We have been told The Oblates (but which Oblates?)  The Society Of Oblate Fathers is one guess but I can find no order that goes by that name.  The Oblates of Mary Immaculate?  Maybe but again I can find no link to Toledo for them. This is a mystery that requires further investigation.  In any event they resided here until 1978.

Here are some facts we believe are accurate:

  • The home was intended to be 1/3 larger than it presently is
  • The front porch was originally a covered carriage driveway and was enclosed many years later
  • The stone foundation is 28 inches thick
  • the original roof was stone
  • the porch and sunroom floors are hand laid tile
  • the living room fireplace surround is made of pottery tiles from Rookwood Pottery in Cincinnati
  • The stained glass and carved wood living room light fixture is original and designed for the house
  • The four brass sconces in the master bedroom are original as well as the hand carved Della robia chandelier in the dining room.  These fixtures all feature the same design of pomegranates, acorns and other fruit
  • An open window was installed in the sunroom by the priests to hear confessions
  • Two of the bathrooms have original toilets with the tanks located inside the walls
  • All four tubs appear to be original ceramic
  • The half bath, the master and the girls bathrooms have what are probably original sinks.  The beautiful pedestal sink in our sons bathroom is not original and was produced in 1954
  • The “stained glass” transom windows in the living room are peel and stick decorations available at a big box store.  To say I was disappointed to discover that fact is an understatement!
  • Many of the push button light switches are inlaid mother of pearl
  • The fairy lamp on the newel post is not original.  I am curious as to what was originally there.
  • The church pews on the front porch are not original and were probably never actually inside the house

Those are your fun facts and stories for today!

The Mysteries of a Historic Home

My summer is now spent juggling the kids summer activities and a small army of contractors rather than sitting by the pool reading.  A good friend of ours has a heating business and he came by to measure for some venting in the roof.  Apparently what we have is inadequate.  He has been by before but there is a lot to see here.  This time he noticed the crest on the side of the house and asked  if I knew what it said.  It is hard to read way up there.


Be Just and Fear Not

I knew that the crest would have been chosen by Mr. Tillinghast since he was the one who had the house built but I had no idea what the significance was of the crest.  Steve was curious and later texted me that he had found the quote he thinks it references.  It is from Shakespeare’s Henry VIII:

Love thyself last: cherish those hearts that hate thee;
Corruption wins not more than honesty.
Still in thy right hand carry gentle peace,
To silence envious tongues. Be just, and fear not:
Let all the ends thou aim’st at be thy country’s,
Thy God’s, and truth’s; then if thou fall’st, O Cromwell,
Thou fall’st a blessed martyr!

Steve is sure that Mr. Tillinghast chose that because he built this giant, ostentatious house on a prominent corner lot in the neighborhood. (In fact, he went bankrupt building the house and a third of the home was never completed!) Perhaps the words were a reminder to not worry about the envious tongues?

Whatever the reason I am grateful to Steve for figuring out the reference and I like the stanza as a whole.  There is a lot of history in this house, much of it we will never figure out.  We still don’t know why this line was important enough to Mr. Tillinghast (or maybe to his family?) that it was placed on the crest but it is fun to try to solve the little mysteries in our historic home.