Historic Structures

Dimon Sturges House - The Windmere - Gardner Apts, Mansfield Ohio

Date added: September 23, 2015 Categories: Ohio House Mansion

This building was Mansfield's largest and finest example of Second Empire style residential architecture. It was one of the most imposing residences along Park Avenue West, which developed in the late nineteenth century as the town's finest residential street. Its large proportions, intricate exterior stone trim, elaborate molded metal roof dormers and extremely tall mansard roof gave this building distinction when compared to other houses of the period in the locality. On the interior, its fine walnut woodwork, round arched openings throughout, the presence of marble fireplaces in the principal rooms on both main floors and two massive stairways gave this building real distinction. The front stairway, set within a rotunda and designed so that it branched midway up into two lateral flights which formed a balcony at the second floor, was unique in Mansfield, according to research on other buildings in town. Historically, the house was erected for the son of one of the town's earliest landowners and pioneer settlers, Eben P. Sturges. In his own right, Dimon Sturges achieved local renown in his lifetime as a successful businessman and civic leader.

Eben P. Sturges was born in 1784 and at the age of 16 began a career as a merchant seaman. Captured during the War of 1812 and held in prison for some time, Sturges decided to forsake this career for one of a frontier merchant. He intended to go to Indiana, but during his stay in Mansfield was persuaded to sell his goods in that frontier community, becoming Mansfield's first merchant. Sturges soon became one of the town's leading citizens and owned much land around the community. Soon after his death in 1862, his son Dimon Sturges inherited land on Park Avenue West which he was later to develop as his residence. Dimon was named for his grandfather, who was a Revolutionary War soldier. He followed his father in the retail business in Mansfield and became quite successfull. In 1868, he was listed as one of the town's leading income tax payers. Dimon Sturges was Vice President of the Richland National Bank, organized in 1865. He was a member of one of Mansfield's most prominent families. His brothers and cousins were active in the financial affairs of Chicago; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Painesville, Ohio; and Geneva, N.Y. Dimon Sturges died about 1893 and the title to this house was transferred to his cousin, Susan B. Sturges.

It is not known whether he and his wife Helen Sturges had any children. Susan Sturges owned the house until 1898, when it was sold to the Mansfield Christian Endeavor Union. Its location near the former Mansfield Female Seminary, converted in the late nineteenth century into apartments, and its great size made the Dimon Sturges House an appropriate setting for a home for unmarried young women. The Christian Endeavor Union was active in the civic affairs of the town and maintained this house as its only property. The building was renamed the Windermere Apartments. At some time in the early 20th century, the Christian Endeavor Union ceased operating the building and it became simply another apartment building in the growing city.

Local auto salesman Roy B. (Mud) Gardner located his business here in 1923, adding a large brick garage to the property and expanding the Windermere Apartments by a large addition on the front of the former Dimon Sturges House. The building then became known as the Gardner Apartments. Gardner became a well-known merchant and civic leader in Mansfield, assisting in the establishment of the Ohio State University branch campus at Mansfield. After Mud Gardner's death in 1979, this building was vacated and stood empty through its remaining years.

In 1981 it was purchased by local industrialist and philanthropist Warren Rupp as part of his efforts to assist in the development of the adjacent Ohio Theatre (dating from 1928) into a community civic center. It was initially envisioned that the site would become a parking lot for the theatre, but other plans for the future use of the site soon developed. The Mansfield-Richland Public Library submitted a bond issue to the public in 1981 for the construction of a new public library on the site of the Gardner Apartments, but this issue was defeated.

Local architect Tim Alexander prepared a feasibility study for Mr. Rupp showing how the house could be restored for use as an historical museum. However, the projected cost of several hundred thousand dollars prevented any action from taking place on this proposal.

In 1982 plans emerged for the construction of a Holiday Inn in downtown Mansfield which would be constructed with assistance from a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Action Grant, plus other types of support and assistance from the city of Mansfield. The proposed new hotel would connect with the former Ohio Theatre, now acquired by a civic organization and renamed the Renaissance Theatre. The complex would then serve as an integrated hotel and convention center, serving the annual Miss Ohio Beauty Pageant, plus other events. Initially, the feasibility of incorporating the former Sturges House into the complex as perhaps a restaurant was explored, but this was soon abandoned.

When it was determined that the Gardner Apartments must be razed to provide space for the new hotel, the city entered into discussions with the Ohio Historic Preservation Office, as the property had been entered on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the city's Park Avenue West Multiple Resources nomination. A plan for the salvage of historical artifacts was agreed on. The main stairway and first choice on other salvage rights belonged to the city, which donated these items to the Renaissance Theatre. The Richland County Historical Society salvaged other items as needed for use on its restoration of Oak Hill Cottage. The Cleveland Restoration Society's Salvage Committee volunteers salvaged a truckload of woodwork and other artifacts and brought it to Cleveland for use in future house restoration projects. Finally, remaining artifacts were salvaged by private individuals prior to the building's demolition in July 1983. Construction began later that year on the Holiday Inn, which opened in 1984. By the spring of 1985 (the time of this writing) work is well underway on the construction of a connecting link between the Renaissance Theatre and the Holiday Inn and the main stairway and a number of doors and arched openings have been installed within the Renaissance Theatre's commercial space. The Sturges House stairway will serve to link the ground-level main theatre space with the second-floor walkway to the hotel. The woodwork being installed on the second floor commercial space of the theatre building will be leased by the Holiday Inn as convention and meeting space.