Oak Hill Cottage and Museum
Oak Hill Cottage is an 1847 home described as, “the one perfect Gothic house in the United States.” Built by prominent Mansfield businessman John R. Robinson, it was purchased by Dr. Johannes A. Jones in 1864. Dr. Jones’s family lived in Oak Hill for just over a century, until 1965, when they sold it to the Richland County Historical Society, which restored the property. Today, the Society operates a museum in the home with many historic local artifacts, including the only surviving 1905 National Automobile, manufactured in Mansfield.
Backstory and Context
John Riley Robinson was a prominent Mansfield businessman, owning a flour mill and serving as Superintendent of the new Sandusky City and Mansfield Railroad in 1847, when he purchased a lot above the city. Here he constructed Oak Hill Cottage and the surrounding grounds in the Gothic Revival style popular at the time. Robinson became connected with the Wells Fargo Company around 1855 and was instrumental in the creation of its Great Southern Overland Mail. In 1861, he and his family left Mansfield to take over a very profitable silver mine in Mexico.
Dr. Johannes Aten Jones was a traveling ear, eye, and nose specialist. He arrived in Mansfield sometime in the late 1850s, when he treated Amanda Barr; Dr. Jones ultimately fell in love with her sister, Frances Ida Barr, and married her in 1861. Three years later, Frances convinced him to buy Oak Hill Cottage. The Jones family’s renovations turned the house into even more of a showplace. They replaced five of the seven fireplaces with Italian marble, they installed French-made mirrors, and they shipped furniture from New York. They also kept the house updated as technology improved, installing a gas line and gas fireplaces when natural gas came to town, adding indoor plumbing in 1877, and installing furnaces to heat the first floor sometime prior to 1896.
Oak Hill Cottage was the focal point of Mansfield high society, regularly entertaining prominent guests and dignitaries. During World War I, it hosted Margaret Wilson, daughter of President Woodrow Wilson, who sang with violinist Frances McMillen as part of the Fourth Liberty Loan Drive. The home was also the setting for Louis Bromfield’s first novel, The Green Bay Tree (where it is called “Shane’s Castle”), and supposedly two of the main characters are based on Dr. Jones’s daughters.
The lot on which the house sat was split up after the death of Ida, the eldest Jones daughter, in 1923, destroying the original design for the grounds. Jones family members remained in the home until 1965, when it was finally sold to the Richland County Historical Society. The Society restored the property and converted it into a museum, which still offers regular tours. One of the highlights of their collection is the only surviving 1905 National Automobile, manufactured in Mansfield.
The home has gained national recognition as an architectural masterpiece. Ralph Adams Cram, known as, “the foremost Gothic Revival architect in the United States,” called Oak Hill Cottage, “the one perfect Gothic house in the United States.” It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.
1) Carr, Dillon. "Shane's Castle", Richland Source. November 22nd 2014. Accessed July 15th 2020. https://www.richlandsource.com/life_and_culture/shanes-castle/image_7965234e-6ea1-11e4-ba2c-132ff3245f98.html.
2) The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Ralph Adams Cram: American architect and writer, Encyclopaedia Britannica. December 12th 2019. Accessed July 15th 2020. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ralph-Adams-Cram.
3) Home, History, Gothic Revival, and National Automobile, Oak Hill Cottage. Accessed July 15th 2020. https://oakhillcottage.org/.
4) McElfresh, G. M. Oak Hill Cottage, National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination Form, Ohio Historical Society. June 11th 1969. National Archives Catalog. Accessed July 15th 2020. https://s3.amazonaws.com/NARAprodstorage/lz/electronic-records/rg-079/NPS_OH/69000149.pdf.
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