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Historic Houses

The elegant 38-room Oliver Mansion, once home to the J.D. Oliver family, is one of three historic houses owned by The History Museum. The Worker’s Home, decorated to reflect how a Polish working-class family might have lived in the 1930s, is another of the museum’s historic houses. Both are shown daily by guided tour. The Historic Oliver Gardens surrounding Copshaholm include over two acres of lush, beautiful flowers. Within a short distance of The History Museum is the Navarre Cabin, located in the City of South Bend’s Leeper Park. The cabin, which underwent extensive restoration just a few years ago, was built by Pierre Navarre, the area’s first European settler.

The Oliver Mansion

It was over 100 years ago that 19th century industrialist J.D. Oliver, his wife, Anna, and their four children moved into their new home at 808 West Washington Street-Copshaholm as they would later name it. Built in 1895-1896, Copshaholm is a 38-room Romanesque Queen Anne house designed by New York architect Charles Alonzo Rich. The furnishings on all three floors are original, giving visitors a remarkable glimpse of how the mansion appeared during the 72 years the Oliver family lived there.

Oak, cherry and mahogany woodwork are found throughout Copshaholm. Leaded glass windows and 14 fireplaces add to the ambiance of the house. The furnishings include period porcelains, glass, silver, prints, and statuary. Two bronze busts by noted Chicago Lorado Taft-one of J.D. Oliver and the other of his father, James-are part of the collection.

J.D. Oliver was president of the Oliver Chilled Plow Works, located in South Bend, Indiana. The company was founded by J.D.’s father, James, inventor of the chilled plow.

Copshaholm is built of native Indiana fieldstone which was transported and cut on site by skilled masons. It was one of the first homes in South Bend to have electricity.

Surrounding Copshaholm are 2.5 acres of landscaped Italianate gardens, including a teahouse, rose garden, pergola, tennis lawn, and fountain.

Copshaholm and its gardens are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is registered as an American Treasure.

The History Museum now has its own YouTube page…click here you can take a video tour of the Oliver mansion.

Historic Oliver Gardens

A teahouse, formal Italianate garden, pergola, tennis lawn, and fountain can be found in the 2.5 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens surrounding Copshaholm, the Oliver Mansion.  Lilies, peonies, lilacs, tulips, daffodils, dogwood, irises, and lilies-of-the-valley are some of the flowers and bushes that bloom in the Historic Oliver Gardens.

The formal Italianate garden was designed circa 1907 by Alice Neale, an interior designer who decorated the Oliver Hotel in South Bend.  At one point, Neale suggested removing two large trees from the north side of the sunken gardens to give a more symmetrical look to the area.  J.D. Oliver, the man for whom Copshaholm was built, preferred to keep the trees and incorporate them into the design.  In time, both trees died.  Since 1988, new trees have been planted, with hopes of restoring what J.D. Oliver had envisioned for his Italianate garden.

The gardens are being restored to look as they did in 1915.  It is known that the Oliver family used their gardens quite extensively at this time for entertaining, and hosted many lawn socials and tennis parties.  Photographs, plant orders, correspondence, and Neale’s blueprints are being used as guidelines for the rehabilitation project.

Worker’s Home

Located just a short walk from Copshaholm and in sharp contrast to the elegant Oliver mansion is the Worker’s Home, a modest residence that might have been home to a factory worker of the Oliver Chilled Plow Works.  Painted white, the house reflects the subtle, clean and fresh look prominent during the early 1930s, seemingly in protest to the vivid-even gaudy-colors of the Victorian Era.  The front-gabled home has a living room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom and three bedrooms.  The Worker’s Home or Dom Robotnika, which means “worker’s home” in Polish, celebrates the community’s diverse ethnic heritage.

Furnished to reflect life as it may have been lived by a Polish working-class family of the 1930s, the Worker’s Home is an excellent teaching tool for The History Museum, because everything in the house may be touched.  It is a wonderful opportunity for students and families to learn about life during the 1930s.  Open the drawers, the ice box, and the cabinets.  Visualize a family of five living in this 1200-square-foot house.  Hear the stories of the Polish workers who immigrated to America during this time period.  From the President Franklin Delano Roosevelt calendar to the bedside rosaries, the nostalgic feeling continues from room to room.  The cookie jar on the icebox, the horsehair sofa, the radio and more bring back warm memories of a simpler lifestyle.

Built in the 1870s, the house was moved to the property of J.D. Oliver in 1907, where a succession of Oliver staff lived until the mid-1980s.  In 1992, it was moved to its present site by the Northern Indiana Historical Society.

Navarre Cabin

The Navarre Cabin, which is owned by The History Museum, is the oldest European structure in northern Indiana.  It is located in the City of South Bend’s Leeper Park East.  Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the log structure was built by Pierre Navarre, a fur traders who was the first permanent settler in this area.

Restoration of the Navarre Cabin took place in 2006.  The project included repair and replacement of original logs and reconstruction of windows.  The structure was then reset on piers.

The Navarre Cabin is used by The History Museum to help interpret pioneer settlement in the area.  It is opened by The History Museum during the annual school program, “Cabin Days,” that occurs every October.