Brookside Mansion, a working historic home

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All it took was  picture of the lovely Brookside mansion that is located on the campus of the University of Saint Francis and we were hooked.  On a hosted tour of Fort Wayne with my mom, Lora Disque, and I made a last minute phone call around 4:00 p.m. I didn’t expect a return call even though I hoped that we would be able to fit in a tour of this beautiful home before our visit to the Auburn Cord and Dusenberg museum.  The amazing Kathy Calvin, of St. Francis called me back and said, “Come on by”.  Although no one would be available for a guided tour, we were free to walk through just keeping in mind that the Mansion houses offices so it is a working historic home!

Once we arrived, we saw the most amazing sculpture of St. Francis out in front of the home. 

We parked and Kathy Calvin greeted us and offered us the Brookside Tour Booklet.  We soon learned that the house was built in 1889 by John Henry Bass. The money for the home came from John H. Bass’s old Bass Foundry and Machine works, which produced railroad car wheels, axles, Corliss engines, boilers and power plants. Genealogy Trails has coverage of the foundry back while Bass was still living.  In their online report they state, “Mr. Bass has always made a specialty of car wheels, in the production of which his immense foundry has made an enviable reputation throughout .the whole nation. The wheels produced at his works are sought after by nearly every road within reach of them, and the demand upon his facilities for producing them is increasing quite as fast as he is increasing the capacity of the establishment. Besides car wheels, Mr. Bass is producing steam engines of an approved make and quality, boilers, mill, and heavy machinery of all kinds. The melting capacity of his works is equal to one hundred tons of pig iron per day.”

Being involved with agricultural history, I thought the steam engine aspect was fascinating.

“Brookside” was originally surrounded by 300 wooded acres and artificial lakes. According to information from the History Center, the summer home also was a working farm.  “On its grounds was a livestock menagerie including elk, buffalo, huge Clydesdale horses and imported Galloway cattle.”

In a report written by Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi, he focuses on a bit of information about Bass and his foundry.  “At its height, the company employed 2,500 workers who produced not only railroad axles and wheels, but also everything from huge steam engines, entire power plants and boilers to vaults and jailhouse doors. When John Bass died in 1922 at his country home of “Brookside,” he was hailed as Fort Wayne’s greatest industrialist.”

Brookside, or Bass Mansion, was built by Wing and Mahurin architects from Fort Wayne.  I should have recognized the Romanesque style, from the architecture at the Center for History, another building built by the same architects.

The home was a “summer cottage”  for the Bass family.  There are pictures of the family enjoying the lake that resulted from the creek that Bass dammed up.  He called it Mirror Lake.  The house we saw, was not the original because  the original home burned in 1902 when a gas explosion ignited causing a fire in the basement.    While this was daunting, Bass decided to build again using the same outward appearance, only it was rebuilt completely in stone, concrete and steel.  The inside was decorated by the Mandel Brothers, a Chicago decorating company.The hand-carved, sandstone mansion was a private residence for the Bass family from 1902-1944. The Sisters of Saint Francis of Perpetual Adoration bought the home and more than 65 acres of surrounding landscape from the Bass family in 1944 and relocated their college.

The Sisters moved from Lafayette, Indiana to Fort Wayne and the mansion served as the college library until august of 2005.  The home was restored to its original glory in 2010 to the 1902 time period.  Listed on the National Historic Register as the Bass Mansion, the building now serves as offices for the University.

We loved walking through the building.  The tour booklet offers insight into what we were seeing. We were allowed to go all over the building. The first floor housed a reception hall, and Mr. Bass’s den, which one of the nuns was kind enough to take us in to get a Birdseye view.  It serves as the sister’s office today and she made us smile when she pointed to some pink marble on the fireplace saying either his wife had a bit of fun in the design or that Mr. Bass had a bit of female taste when designing this beautiful room. The first floor has a drawing room, a library, a very unusual Moorish Room with stained glass and one of the loveliest dining rooms I’ve ever seen. This 30-foot dining room styled in Italian Renaissance has a vaulted ceiling and a mural entitled “The Hunt” which is painted on canvas by the artist Holslag. 

The best thing about this mansion is how bright and light it is. The staircase to the second floor has a beautiful three-foot stencil that was just discovered when they removed all the layers of paint.  While many are now offices, the 2nd floor had an array of bedrooms that are quite breathtaking.

The 3rd floor is equally impressive, in fact it is probably my favorite place.  here there is Grace Bass Leslie’s library, a billiard room, Japanese Room, card room and best of all, the French colonial Ballroom!  The rotunda of the ballroom offers a lovely mural that was restored through a Save America’s Treasures grant.  Up here, the University has also added some amazing religious art that was breathtaking.

I was so impressed that they tours of this working space.  For information about this beautiful mansion and to learn when tours are offered, either contact the university of Visit Fort Wayne.

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