Monday, April 20, 2015

Willoughby's Chandler-Tucker Estate

As one drives the roadways of Lake County it is quite easy to miss county history as present day cityscapes hide or minimize signature structures from our past.  Fitting the bill is the story of the former Chandler-Tucker Estate located on Rt. 84 in Willoughby, Ohio.  In 1911 a property located on Ridge Road overlooking the Chagrin Valley to the south and Lake Erie to the north known as Elgercon is passed down to Gertrude Chandler Tucker.  The Chandler Family fortune was made by her parents who made a printing press (part of the Mayfield Historical Society collection).  In 1900 seventy-one acres of land are bought by Harrison T- Chandler.  This is the land that by 1913 becomes a prominent estate of the day.  Gertrude and her husband Stanley Tucker build a mansion, barns, out buildings and acquire more acreage (Burroughs Nature Club) in the valley that now is known as Gully Brook.  Their stone mansion faced Ridge Road and was built from materials from Cleveland's West Side.  Local railroads as well as horse and wagon transport aided in the construction project which now included stables, carriage houses, gardens, a greenhouse and garages.  Some pre-exisitng structures were relocated in the build.  In 1923 the one room school house was acquired on the site of today's YMCA.  The Chandler-Tucker estate remained a local fixture in Willoughby until Gertrude's passing in 1953.

At the time of her death the estate was left to Western Reserve University but a title transfer in June 1954 allowed the Willoughby-Eastlake School System to acquire the stone mansion and much of the property.  Twenty rooms in the mansion now were home to 200 elementary students.  A caretaker's home was used as the Sunnty Lane School for retarded children.  Another tenant house was used by the Community Fund and Red Cross organizations.  The barns were repurposed as industrial arts classes for the school system by 1955. Music, wood and metal shop out buildings came into play. As Willoughby's schools grew and moved out of the main mansion structures a Nursing School used the site.

Fast foward to the 60's and beyond.  Chandler Road was renamed Shankland Road in 1958 and in '63 the YMCA found its home on their property.  A public swimming pool opened in 1965.  1959 saw a high school built on the Chandler-Tucker estate and a middle school followed in 1972.  The Little Red Schoolhouse was moved and situated on the property in 1977.  1981 saw a police station dedicated on their former estate.  The Gully Brook property was targeted in 2004 to become part of Lake Metroparks- an event that officially came to be just a few years ago.

The Chandlers and Tuckers are laid to rest in a mausoleum in Cleveland's Lakeview Cemetery.  Their mansion and property located on Rt. 84 and Shankland Road are there to view on your next trip thru Willoughby, Ohio - another hidden gem in our county's history.

1 comment:

  1. IIRC n 1959 two of the large barns held classrooms for first grade students and for student services. I remember going to my speech therapy lessons in a barn separate from the barn where my first grade classroom was located.

    As you entered the school driveway there was a huge buckeye tree on the left that served as my first exposure to the state tree and nut. Perhaps 50 yards beyond the tree was the tree shaded pet cemetery for the donor couple's 7 or 9 deceased dogs with separate headstones for each. Trees shaded much of the land between the house and Ridge Road and were especially beautiful in the autumn. The views toward the valley and rolling hills beyond were breathtaking.

    I believe it was in fourth grade that classes would cross Ridge Road and venture down the nature trail on the opposite side. The teachers would point out and identify various flora and fauna we'd come across.

    The school's library was on the first floor facing Ridge Road. Like all the 20 rooms in the house it had oak floors and hand carved oak architectural details throughout and a fireplace. Gas lamp sconces were on all the rooms' walls. The library was differentiated by the french doors that led out onto a slate stone patio.

    Entering the school from the side facing the estate's grounds you walked into a vestibule with staircases leading to the second floor. But as I recall the one on the left had a landing half way up and there was a door that led into the room housing the mansion's large pipe organ. Every once in a while someone would be invited to play a concert for the students.

    The upstairs classrooms were all elegant and tree shaded. The gym was located in the converted laundry room slightly beyond the first floor entrance for the main building. In front of the gym was a tall metal pole topped with a massive steam locomotive train bell with a long heavy rope. It was an honor to be selected to be the bell ringer for a week to signal the start and end of school, recesses and lunch periods. The bell could be heard all over the 70 acre estate.

    Across from the entrance was the driveway then a 10' strip of land then a stone wall and stairs leading down to what was used as the playground. Off to one side of the playground was the home's half-buried fruit cellar. It was off limits to students but everyone snuck peeks into the dark, cool cellar through the locked doors. There were also some fruit trees scattered around but we were instructed not to eat any fruit from the trees or on the ground.

    A long asphalt path ran from the school building across the width of the estate to the rear of the new housing development. As I recall every child in that development walked to school regardless of the weather.

    On the other side of that development, a portion of the woods that served as a boundary was leveled and Thomas A. Edison Elementary school opened in the early 1960's which led to the closure of Chandler Elementary school.

    It was a magical experience to have gone to Chandler Elementary school. Sixty plus years later I still fondly remember my experiences there.