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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Positively Copshaholm

by Mauverneen

Mansion? South Bend? Who’d have thought!

Copshaholm - the Oliver Mansion
I had the pleasure recently of touring the Oliver Mansion in South Bend, Indiana. It sits adjacent to the Studebaker Museum as part of the Center for History. I was meeting the Greater Illlinois Region of the Classic Car Club for a tour, but was running a little late. As it turned out I was not the only one. Our ticket options were cars, mansion, or both. We bought tickets for both but as it turned out we had no time to see the cars.  Unfortunate, as they have an outstanding collection of vehicles, but we were not at all sorry that we chose to see the mansion.

The family dining room
James Oliver was born in Scotland, but eventually ended up in South Bend. He was an inventor  (holding 45 patents) and industrialist best known for his creation of the South Bend Iron Works, reincorporated as the Oliver Farm Equipment Company after his death. After buying a foundry with partner Harvey Little in 1855 he began experimenting with improved farm plow designs. The one that made him wealthy was the Oliver Chilled Plow, the chilled referring to a method of molding cast iron that revolutionized the entire plow industry. Once the largest manufacturing company in the United States it was one of the world's largest producers of farm plows during the late 19th Century.

His son, J.D. Oliver, became president of the Oliver Chilled Plow Works, and had the house built for himself, his wife Anna, and their four children. It was christened Copshaholm, in honor of the Scottish birthplace of his father, James. Surrounding Copshaholm are 2.5 acres of landscaped Italianate gardens, including a teahouse, rose garden, pergola, tennis lawn, and fountain. The garden is a lovely venue for weddings, and quite recently one of the granddaughters of the Oliver family had her wedding there, even though the home is now a museum and was closed for that day.

I could imagine spending hours in this lovely alcove
A 12,000 sq foot, 38-room Romanesque Queen Anne house designed by a New York architect , it was home for 72 years to the Oliver Family. It was donated, fully furnished, to the Center for History by the family.

It is as lovely as it is historical. It is filled with oak, cherry and mahogany woodwork, leaded glass windows and 14 fireplaces. One of the first homes in South Bend to have electricity, it has closet lights that turn on when the door is opened and an elevator, which was installed later. Throughout the home are artworks, portraits, and family photos, making you feel as if you're a guest and the family has just stepped out. 
some of the various portraits of the Olivers
Our guide was full of stories about the family – giving us vivid images of a lively group of children who sometimes shot paper airplanes into their fathers den from an upstairs alcove. A den full of photos, including some autographed by former presidents.

Catherine, the youngest, never married and became mistress of the mansion when her parents died in the 1930’s . At some point she bleached and refinished most of the dark woodwork in the home and redid the upstairs rooms, matching the paint colors it is said, to those in one of her favorite paintings.

As with many families however, tragedy visited them on occasion too. One of the sons, Joe, was an avid horseman, and in an ironic twist, his young wife Eleanore had a horse riding accident that ended with her untimely death. He never remarried.

This slightly eccentric Oliver had a different shaving brush for each day of the week
Copshaholm and its gardens are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is registered as an American Treasure. It sits on 808 W. Washington Street, at the corner of Chapin Street.  

Love this quirky little door!
  If you have occasion to be in South Bend, be sure to visit the Center for History and allow yourself plenty of time to take in both the Oliver Mansion and the Studebaker Museum.
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