Manor: Hiram Walker Didn't Live Here!
What has been
called a monument to the turn-of-the-century affluence of North
America stands today as a reminder of the family that gave birth
to the area of Windsor known as Walkerville. Designed by the famous
American architect Albert Kahn, Willistead Manor was completed in
1906 and was home to E. Chandler Walker and his wife Mary (not his
father Hiram Walker, as many area residents believe).
for Chandler's older brother Willis, who had died as a young man,
the manor was designed in the English Tudor style and features many
different types of architecture as is common among these kinds of
Many Tudor homes
in England were built centuries ago and renovated over time. During
each renovation, the style of that particular period would be added,
the end result being homes made of stone, then stucco and finally
Chandler and Mary
had married later in life and did not have any children. When he
died in 1915, Mary attempted to persuade her sister to move to Walkerville
from the United States; she even had a home constructed adjacent
to the Walker properties, but was unsuccessful. She joined her sister
in the States and in 1921, the Walker family deeded the home to
the town of Walkerville.
The town used
the Manor as administrative offices until 1935 when Walkerville
amalgamated with Windsor. It continued as an administrative office
and then a public library, as stipulated in the Walker deed.
Between 1943 and
1975, Willistead became the original home of the Art Gallery of
Windsor. By 1976, much of the exterior and interior portions of
the Manor had fallen into disrepair. Windsor City Council decided
that Willistead be designated for its historical and architectural
value, that it be restored and renovated as a manor home for public
tours, and serve as a meeting facility for private and public functions.
A special act of the Ontario Legislature rescinded the original
stipulation that a portion of the Manor be used as a public library.
Funds for the
restoration and renovation came from The City of Windsor, The Heritage
Foundation, private donations, and a Canada Works grant. A citizen's
committee was formed to garner private donations; the Ontario Government
matched each dollar donated with funds through Wintario.
Kahn's use of
reinforced concrete and steel trusses, both radically innovative
techniques for the time, meant that the full restoration of Willistead
was a distinct possibility. Loaring Construction, the general contractor
for Phase One of the restoration, was responsible for the extensive
repairs to keep the weather out.
The weeping tiles
had been choked off by huge tree roots, some as large as branches,
and portions of the foundation had to be broken up to access the
tiles. In order to repair the chimneys, Loaring disassembled them
stone by stone, put in new mortar and then rebuilt them one stone
at a time in the same order. Much of the original metal in the copper
drainpipes was restored rather than replaced.
The roof is constructed
of special tiles designed and built in the United States. Replacing
the entire roof would have been exorbitant so the subcontractor,
Margven Roofing, used tiles from the roof of the Gate House to replace
missing or broken tiles. The Gate House's new roof is a more modern-day,
less expensive version of the tiles.
was contracted for the interior work, Phase Two of the restoration.
They sanded and refinished floors, repaired the fireplace in the
Great Hall, refitted windows and rebuilt supports under the stairs
so that they would no longer creak.
Entering the Great
Hall today, one is struck by its sheer size and grandeur. Measuring
23 feet by 39 feet by 13 feet high, the Hall is almost the size
of a small house! The eye is drawn to the enormous fireplace, and
then upwards to the impressive brass chandelier that had been stored
in the basement of the manor for fifty years. The incredible ornamental
woodwork throughout the house is testament to the patience and skill
of craftsmen at the turn of the century. The Globe Furniture Factory
of Walkerville was responsible for much of this work, as was Joachim
Jungwirth of Detroit who did the fine handcarving including the
newel posts of the main staircase.
Subcommittee of the Willistead Committee has been responsible for
the revitalization of the interior décor and furnishings.
Louise Brown and the late Peter K. Ryan worked tirelessly with the
assistance of a group known as Questers whose interest is to locate,
restore and place antiques. The Walker family donated a number of
pieces that had originally been in the house including a female
statue, and portraits of the Walker family.
the handicapped were built, including a ramp at the front of the
building, without marring the appearance of the exterior or interior
of the Manor.
In 1981, after
three years of work and the investment of about $1.25 million, Willistead
reopened in its new capacity. According to Alice Nemeth, manager
of the Manor, the response to the metamorphosis was extremely positive.
Private functions such as weddings, anniversaries, and memorial
services are regularly held on the second floor and tours of the
entire Manor continue to be popular.
As we enter the
next century and the new millennium, Willistead will stand as a
testament to the foresight and perseverance of those who wished
to ensure that this magnificent link to our past is preserved and
celebrated in all its glory.
Story: More Willistead...