Employees Susan Roberts-McGlade, left, and Angela Metcalf, right, talk about the house during a tour. Originally known as Stranleigh Manor, the mansion was once the estate of Page and Robert Stranahan.
Nestled within 460 acres of tree-covered knobs, walking trails, and prairie wildflowers of Wildwood Preserve Metropark sits the elegant and stately silhouette of the Manor House.
The 32,000-square-foot mansion, with its Georgian Colonial portico and concrete walls, stands guard over what was once the estate of business magnate Robert Stranahan and his wife, Page. Built between 1936 and 1938 in the middle of the Great Depression, the Manor House — originally known as Stranleigh Manor — served as a residential resort for the Stranahan family, who helped revolutionize the U.S. automotive industry with the replaceable spark plug.
Now approaching its 75th birthday, the mansion has become the centerpiece of Wildwood Preserve Metropark in Sylvania Township. Every year, thousands of visitors walk on the polished parquet floors of the mansion now turned into a museum.
In 2012 alone, the Manor House attracted 32,000 people, said Scott Carpenter, a spokesman for Metroparks of the Toledo Area, which acquired the old Stranahan estate in 1974.
Visitors may peruse a book from the open library’s shelves, marvel at the antique French wallpaper in the dining room, or relax in the solarium overlooking the back yard.
When Robert Stranahan and his brother Frank moved to Toledo from Boston in 1910, little did they know about their family’s future legacy. Two years later, the founders of Champion Spark Plug Co. secured an exclusive contract with Ford Motor Co. that would make them the owners of the largest spark plug manufacturer in the world.
The Manor House, which was erected on the western edges of Toledo, speaks to the development of the city as a major industrial powerhouse in the automotive industry, said Ted Ligibel, director of the historic preservation program at Eastern Michigan University.
“The mansion was an important statement to the community,” Mr. Ligibel said.
Designed after the grandiose Georgian Colonial residences of the East Coast, the mansion incorporates much of the original owners’ personality and entrepreneurial values, according to volunteers.
Visitor John Borton looks at a historical photograph during a recent tour of the Manor House at Wildwood Preserve Metropark.
“Page was originally from Virginia,” said Susan Roberts-McGlade, of the Metroparks’ programming department. “She and her husband put so much of their personality into this building.”
In addition to the Manor House, the Stranahans made a series of significant contributions to the community, including the purchase of the western Lucas County site that in 1955 became Toledo Express Airport.
The mansion’s destiny reached a crossroads when, in 1973, long after Mr. and Mrs. Stranahan had died, local developer Robert Cavalear offered to purchase the property to build 1,000 luxury apartments. A grass-roots campaign sprang to life to protect what Timothy Messer-Kruse, a Bowling Green State University professor specializing in labor history, called “the vestiges of an era of greater civic responsibility on the part of the great tycoons of the area.”
Spearheaded by Bill Mewborn and John Lusk, the preservation campaign led to the adoption of a parks levy that passed by fewer than 6,000 votes.
The tax generated $10 million over 10 years, and the Metroparks district bought the estate for $4.1 million, opening the way for creation of the museum and Wildwood Preserve.
“The Stranahan family invested in the community, and now the community is reinvesting in their story,” said Amanda Wetzel, a Manor House volunteer.
The Manor House will kick off its 75th anniversary celebrations with an ice cream social at 6 p.m. June 10, followed June 11 by a lecture on the conservation of the mansion by Professor Ligibel.
The celebrations will culminate at 10 a.m. June 12 with a parade of bicycles, tricycles, and wagons beginning at the Metz Visitor Center and leading to the Manor House. After the parade, visitors can expect to enjoy a variety of games, crafts, and refreshments.