Experiencing History at The Wolcott House Museum Complex

, , ,

When Annie Jansen and I played tourist at the beautiful Wolcott House that is just one of several buildings in the Museum Complex, I must say it was love at first sight.  The huge porch and white paint welcomed us right in along with the director, Amanda Vaughan.  It was late in the day and she had a wedding rehearsal party coming in, but she still took time to provide us with a tour of this history filled home that is a blend of federal and classic architecture.

We learned that the home was named for James Wolcott who was a prosperous businessman during the late 1820’s to the mid 1840’s.  The house has been expanded on over the years and was originally built James Wolcott and his wife, Mary Wells. Over time the house that began as a log house evolved into a beautiful 14-room Federal-style mansion between the years 1827 and 1836. Our tour began in the oldest section of the home where we learned about Mary Wells Wolcott’s Indian heritage.

The website explains, “Maumee, the Foot of the Rapids of the Maumee River was an important transshipment point serving Indian, French, English and American traders throughout the 19th century. The Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1795 secured the Northwest Territory for the settlement and a lively river trade developed in the years following the War of 1812.  A proposed canal to connect Lake Erie with Fort Wayne stimulated speculative interest and attracted Eastern entrepreneurs. Among the earliest emigrants was James Wolcott of Connecticut.”

While traveling mn Missouri, James Wolcott met and married Mary Wells, who was the daughter of William Wells and his wife Sweet Breeze.  Sweet Breeze had a very unique history, she was the granddaughter of the great Miami Chief Little Turtle.”

In the oldest section of the Wolcott mansion is a picture of William Wells.  Director of the Wolcott House Museum Complex, Amanda Vaughn shared that William was kidnapped at age 12 by the Miami Indians near his Kentucky home.  He was adopted by Chief Little Turtle and fought alongside the Indians during the Indian Wars, 1790-1794. He later went over to the Americans to serve with General Anthony Wayne. He was present at Wayne’s victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794 and served as the interpreter for the Miami at the Treaty of Greenville in 1795. Wells was killed during the Fort Dearborn massacre in 1812.”

Amanda said that William knew that a raid by Indians was eminent and that he tried to warn the white military authorities to see if the Fort could move to safety.  Without any word, the attack came and Mary said that William went out in war paint and was killed, but revered by the Indians as a warrior.

When commercial opportunities opened up in the area, James and Mary to travel to Maumee in 1826 and  purchased 300 acres for $1.25 an acre then in 1827 the couple began construction of their home.

James Wolcott made his money by building wharves and warehouses on the Maumee River just below his home.  He constructed two steamships – the General Harrison and the James Wolcott.  Using the steamships, he transported merchandise and both his retail and wholesale businesses grew.

When Amanda passed on the tour to our volunteer tour guide, she  took us through the basement and shared that because of her Native American heritage, Mary Wells Wolcott  was known to be kind towards the Indians that were sadly being driven from their lands.  She always kept food and blankets and often Indians would stay in the bottom dwelling of the home knowing there was a safe place.

The Wolcotts had five sons and a daughter and the home was used by three generations ending with Wolcott’s great-granddaughter, Rilla Hull,. The website states, “She was the last of the Wolcott line to reside in the “Mansion on the Maumee.” She cherished the heritage of her ancestors and the broader history of the lower Maumee Valley and took an active role in preserving local sites such as Fort Miamis. Upon her death in 1957, Ms. Hull bequeathed her home for public use and benefit; St. Paul’s Episcopal Church transferred the landmark to the City of Maumee for use as a historical museum.

Our tour provided insight into an early family thriving in Maumee, Ohio but with the additional history of Native Americans and pioneer interaction. 

While we ran out of time to tour the other buildings like the church, farmhouse, depot and school our volunteer guide did take a few extra minutes to show us the Log Cabin.  She shared that this type of simple log construction was brought from the Scotch-Irish emigrants.

We learned though that there is a difference a log “cabin” and a log “house.” Our guide said, “The cabin was a temporary structure of round logs often without windows lived in only until a better structure could be built. The log house was built of “hewn” logs, squared so that the logs fit more tightly together. The log house had windows, and was often plastered inside. After the basic construction of the house, “chinking” was put between the logs to fill in any open space. This usually consisted of small stones or blocks of wood packed into the space and then covered with a mixture of clay and lime. Our structure at the Wolcott House Museum Complex is properly a log house, not a cabin.”

While they don’t know who built the cabin they date it at sometime after 1853 and our guide added that this was long after the passing of the pioneer period in Ohio history. The building originally sat along the north bank of the Miami and Erie Canal in Maumee,  It was owned for one year (1888-1889) by Noah Navare, a member of the prominent French-Canadian Navarre family. In 1893, James Love purchased the property. The website shares, “Mr. Love, a railroad employee, built a wood floor over the original dirt floor, added a front porch, and increased the roof height by adding two logs all around. The home was inherited by Calvin Love, who became mayor of Maumee in 1913 and then postmaster in 1933. In 1948, Mr. Love gave the log home to Wayne Pfleghaar, a recently discharged Navy veteran who was caught in the post-World War II housing shortage. Mr. Pfleghaar moved the house to his property on West Wayne Street. Unable to add onto the log house and live in it because of building codes, Mr. Pfleghaar used it as a storage building.”

Eventually, the log house was moved and is part of the museum complex.  The cabin has been lovingly restored by volunteers and now includes period furniture and household tools of the time.

I’d love to go back and see the entire complex.  Annie and I with our directional capacity spent a lot of time up and down the lovely River street so while we saw a nice portion of beautiful Maumee, we ran out of time to see the entire Wolcott Museum setting.  For more information log onto https://sites.google.com/view/maumeevalleyhistoricalsociety/home.  The home is open from April – December and tours are available Saturdays and Sundays or by appointment.  Call 419-893-9602 for details.

A big thanks to Amanda for allowing us to come and stay and see!