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Willistead Manor
The Crown Jewel of Walkerville

by Elaine Weekswillistead-window.jpg

Many locals have a soft spot in their hearts for the beautiful Edwardian Manor named Willistead. Often referred to as the residence of Walkerville and Canadian Club founder Hiram Walker, Willistead would certainly have been a fitting home - but Walker had in fact been dead for five years when construction of the Manor began in 1904.

Willistead was built by Hiram Walker's second son, Edward Chandler Walker and named for his deceased older brother Willis.

Completed in 1906, Willistead was designed by renowned American architect Albert Kahn in the 16th Century Tudor-Jacobean style of an English Manor house. No expense was spared in the construction of the manor; the exterior of gray limestone was quarried in Amherstburg and hand cut at the Willistead worksite by Scottish stonemasons specifically imported for the project.

Inside, marble fireplaces, rich wood panelling and exquisitely detailed hand carving throughout the many rooms, were fitting backdrops for the Walker's elegant furnishings and extensive art collection. Even an elevator was included in the design.

In 1914, architects Stahl Kinsey and Chapman designed the stone and iron fence, which surrounds the property.

Chandler's love for his father Hiram is evident by the positioning of the stone portico which graced the front door of Hiram's Detroit home directly in line with a small window in Chandler's dressing room on the second floor. As he prepared for his day, Chandler would gaze out this window and be reminded of his father.   

Chandler and his wife Mary had married later in life and did not produce any heirs. After Chandler's death in 1915, Mary lived in the huge home alone except for her servants. After failing to convince her sister and her husband, Col. and Mrs. Brewster, to move to Walkerville from their home in the United States, (Edgewood, at 1857 Richmond was built for them), Mary donated the 15 and 1/2 acre estate to the Town of Walkerville in 1921 and returned to the U.S.

Willistead served as Walkerville Town Council chambers, then as the Walkerville Public Library (changed to Windsor Public Library after amalgamation in 1935) and the original Art Gallery of Windsor. Having fallen into a state of disrepair by the mid-seventies, the manor was threatened with demolition. Fortunately, the manor was spared with major restoration work beginning in 1978. Owned by the people of Windsor and operated and maintained by the Windsor Department of Parks and Recreation, the manor reopened in 1981 in its present capacity as a meeting and special event facility as well as a historical site available for tours.

Donations are always welcome to help in the continued efforts to preserve and furnish the manor. During the year 2000, donations helped pay for landscaping around the refurbished Gardener's Shed, installation of vintage lamp standards throughout the park saved from the Old Town of Riverside, and the acquisition of additional period furnishings for various Manor rooms. Donations are tax-deductible and make an excellent holiday gift on behalf of that friend or relative," who has everything"!

Edward Chandler Walker's Magnificent Mansion in Walkerville



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