Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Oliver House - South Bend Indiana

On a recent trip to South Bend Indiana, I visited the Studebaker National Museum. I found out that it shares a building with The History Museum of South Bend, so my desire to see some classic cars opened the door to a chance to explore the life of one of South Bend’s key industrialists of the 19th and 20th century.
Howard, Timothy Edward [Public domain] via wikimedia
James Oliver (1823 – 1908) was born Scotland. He moved to Mishawaka Indiana in 1836 along with several of his siblings. The area he lived in was near a large bog that provided iron ore for local industry. James took a job at the South Bend Blast Furnace Company in 1839. This is where he learned to refine and cast iron.
User:MarkusHagenlocher [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
In 1855, James moved to South Bend, and entered into a partnership at the South Bend Iron Works. Over the years James Oliver developed and patented several improvements to the field plow, and at the same time, bought the company from his partners. Key among his innovations was a process called “cold casting.” The molten iron was poured into a sand mold. This allowed the exterior of the plow to cool quickly, creating a harder surface that resisted damage from rocks and stones in the ground. At the same time, the interior could cool at a slower rate, and therefore did not become brittle. The Oliver Farm equipment Company became one of the largest producers of plows by the 1870’s. After death of James Oliver, the company stayed in the family until the 1930’s. It had begun to lose market share because James Oliver refused to produce riding plows.
Entrance Hall

60's fashion in the Entrance Hall

In 1896 James Oliver built a 38-room mansion for his family. He named it Copshaholm, after the town of his birth. The mansion is classic Queen Anne style, with a large wrap-around porch and rounded towers. It was built out of local Indiana fieldstone granite. The house was wired for electricity when it was built, but it was also set up for gas-lighting, so the both options are visible. The interiors are lined with beautiful wood finishing. Copshaholm was the family residence up through the death of James’ daughter, in the 1960’s.
Entrance Hall


The main rooms on the first floor were places of business and public entertaining. The main entrance hall leads to sitting rooms, parlors, the dining room and den/office of James Oliver. A vaulted music room was added in the 1900’s, with a ceiling that stretched up to the 2nd floor of the house. When I visited the house was set up for Christmas, so there were decorations and trees in every room. It was also housing a display of 1960’s women’s fashion, which made for sometimes incongruous views.
The house also had a large kitchen and parlor. This included the largest ice box I have ever seen.
Kitchen Ice Box
Highball Set

The second floor is where the family lived, and where guests would stay. It was designed to provide privacy, with both public and private hallways. This allowed servants and family to move from room to room without being seen by visitors.
Bedroom Mirror


The third floor was primarily staff quarters, again with corridors hidden away from public view. This was necessary because the 3rd floor was also home to the family’s grand ballroom. Large party’s and dances would be held here, at the top of their home.

One thing I found interesting was the built-in methods for the family to call for house staff. When constructed, the building had a buzzer system. A family member would push a button in a room where they were, and an arrow would shift on a board in the kitchen. Later and inside phone system was installed. This allowed the family to speak with staff directly. Today only one of these systems still works, and it is the older buzzer system.
House Intercom

Buzzer system

While it is not as grand as the mansions of the industrial barons of New York or Chicago, Copshaholm is a wonderful look at the life of a midwestern business owner at the turn of the 20th century.

Entrance Hall


Tuesday, February 12, 2019

See Classic Cars at the Studebaker National Museum


In 1852, brothers Henry and Clement Studebaker moved from Maryland to South Bend, Indiana. The sons of a family with a long tradition of wagon making, they formed a business which provided transportation vehicles for over 100 years. Today, that business and the wagons and cars it produced, are celebrated at the Studebaker National Museum.

The Studebaker family emigrated from Germany to the British colonies in 1736, settling near Hagerstown Maryland where they continued the family tradition of wagon making. The family held a large tract of farm land and their holdings included facilities for building and selling wagons. The Studebakers were pioneers in wagon building and design, creating the basic structure for the Conestoga Wagon and the smaller Prairie Schooner.
Pete, Jacob, Clement, Henry and John Studebaker - Stude62 at en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
 By 1852 the five sons of the Studebaker family had all relocated to northern Indiana. Henry and Clement opened a blacksmith shop and also produced parts for wagons. When the Civil War started, in 1861, they were manufacturing wagons, and made significant profits by providing them to the Union Army. The Studebaker factory in South Bend began to make all different kinds of wagons, from small surreys to large “four-in-hand” carriages that could hold up to 12 passengers.
1900 Bobsled

Peg Backwards/Forwards Car, used to transport congress people through the underground tunnel

As a family, the Studebakers stayed on top of technological innovations, and in 1895 they developed their first “horseless Carriage.” The created both electric and gasoline powered vehicles during the early 1900’s. Their manufacturing of automobiles continued through financial ups and downs, until the 1960’s. Their South Bend plant closed in 1963, and the last Studebaker was built in Hamilton Ontario in 1966.
Child's Hearse

1924 Light Six

1933 Speedway President

Today, Studebaker’s history us presented in the Studebaker National Museum. The museum, along with The History Museum of South Bend and The Oliver Mansion form the Museums at Washington and Chapin complex. The museum opened in 2005 and shows off its wonderful collection along with company’s history.

The collection is divided into three sections. The first floor covers the era from the 1850’s through 1934. Here you will find examples of the classic carriages produced by the company, along with its transition into producing automobiles.
At the Bonnie Doon Drive-In

Champion Starliner

1957 Golden Hawk

On the second floor you can explore the company’s products from 1934 through 1966. These include the Lark, the Commander, the Avanti and Studebaker’s 1960’s concept car, the Spectre.  Interspersed with cars on these two floors are displays that detail the history of the company, going through its highlights, and not shying away from economic decisions that almost forced the closing of Studebaker on more than one occasion.
Storage Display

Driver's seat in Fozzie Bear's car

Don’t forget to visit the lower level. This is where cars that have not yet been fully restored are in “storage display.” There are many interesting autos here, including Fozzie Bear’s 1951 Bullet-nosed Commander from The Muppet Movie. There is also a display of military vehicles produced by Studebaker over the years.

So, if you are in South Bend, say to visit a certain university, or if you are passing through on your way somewhere else, stop by and check out the Studebaker National Museum, you won’t be sorry.
Next week – The Oliver Mansion

Cost and Getting There:
The museum costs $10 for adults, $8.50 for seniors and $6 for children. From I-80 (The Indiana Toll Road) take exit 77 onto US 31 Business South. At the 2nd traffic circle take the first exit on W. Marion St. In 0.4 mi bear left onto Charles Martin Drive. In 0.3 mi Charles Martin Drive becomes Chapin Street. The museum complex will be on your right.