The Manor House and park grounds, now known as Wildwood Park, have a rich and prosperous history. Originally called the Wildwood Estate, the land was once filled by fertile apple orchards and rolling hills. The farmland was developed by Cleveland industrialist John G. Oliver during the early 1900s. Mr. Oliver, who at the time was an employee of Warner & Swazey Inc., had become a renowned figure, having drafted plans for the largest telescope of its time. Later, Oliver had become co-founder of Bardons & Oliver, a machine tool firm. During his travels for business, Mr. Oliver visited England and became enamored with the English Manor House architecture of the late Medieval and early Renaissance era.
Mr. Oliver’s business prospered, and he and his wife, May, acquired 34 acres on Little Mountain Road to build their estate. Like many affluent Cleveland families, the Olivers chose Wildwood to be their summer residence. To construct the manor house, Oliver hired Abram Garfield, the son of the late President James Garfield, who was a renowned residential architect in Cleveland. Garfield had studied architecture at M.I.T. and had gained prominence through his own architectural firm in Cleveland.
It took almost three years to complete the construction of Wildwood. In order to oversee the progress and enjoy some time away from the city, the Olivers and their children Margaret, Hortense, and Lockwood would make occasional trips from their home in Cleveland’s University Circle to Wildwood in Mentor. The family stayed overnight in the estate’s barn, which had basic accommodations.
Upon its completion in 1908, Wildwood Estate was considered one of the earliest examples of the English Tudor Revival architectural style in Northeast Ohio. The estate, which sits on 34 acres of land, boasts 25 rooms, including 9 bedrooms, 3 of which were reserved for servants, 8 fireplaces, a full basement, and a third-floor ballroom. Occasionally, when the family was not visiting the home, the Olivers would rent out Wildwood to friends of the family so that they too could enjoy its beauty. The estate was run by a staff of six, who tended to its interior, exterior, barn, gardens, and landscaping. To ensure his young children’s comfort, John Oliver had a small children’s playhouse constructed in the woods behind the home, complete with running water, electricity, and a mini-kitchen with a working stove, where the girls could practice their culinary skills.
Similar to many families in that era, the Olivers also kept livestock at Wildwood. They transported milk from the cows to Kirtland for processing. Any unused milk was brought back to the family’s home in Cleveland for consumption. The Olivers also maintained vegetable gardens on the estate, which provided for the family during the summer. Wildwood was among the first homes in Lake County to acquire a freezer for food storage.
Following the passing of John Oliver in 1939, his daughter Margaret Oliver Collacott and her husband Robert Collacott took ownership of the Wildwood estate. The Collacott family had the home winterized for year-round use, and by 1949, with the growth of Mentor village and improved transportation, they decided to make it their permanent residence. Wildwood continued to be one of the most distinguished homes in Lake County for several decades, remaining a local landmark throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s.
Margaret Oliver Collacott passed away in autumn of 1973, leaving the Wildwood estate to her daughters, May Targett and Catherine DeWitt. Although both granddaughters had their own lives, they still visited and cared for the house for a brief period of time.
At the beginning of the 1980s, the city officials of Mentor, with a keen eye for preserving the cultural heritage of their community, approached Mrs. Target and Mrs. DeWitt with a proposal that would ensure the Wildwood estate’s conservation. The officials suggested that the property could be transformed into a public park, accessible to all Mentor residents. After much negotiation, the sisters agreed to sell the entire estate, including the Manor House, for a sum of $300,000. It was a momentous decision that would go down in the city’s history as a triumph of foresight and community-driven preservation. The property was officially dedicated as a public park in a grand ceremony, attended by scores of locals and dignitaries, marking the beginning of a new chapter in the life of the Wildwood estate.
In October of 1980, the United States Department of the Interior notified the City of Mentor that the Wildwood Estate would be added to the National Register of Historic Places. This prestigious recognition made the city eligible for federal grants for the acquisition reimbursement, which amounted to $172,000, as approved by the Department of the Interior. Such a recognition was a great honor for the city, and further solidified the importance of preserving the Wildwood Estate for future generations to enjoy.
The refurbishment of the structure encompassed various aspects, such as the installation of a new furnace for the heating system, modernization of the electrical wiring and plumbing systems. Furthermore, the interior redecoration work included wallpapering, refinishing the woodwork, and the incorporation of carpeting, draperies, and new furnishings.
The Wildwood Cultural Center was officially inaugurated in December 1980, with a dedication ceremony that marked the opening of the center to the public.
More recently, the carpet which was formerly atop the wood floors throughout the house has been removed, showing the beautiful woodwork, which has been carefully restored.