Summering Like An Oglebay
WHEELING — If you’ve ever strolled through Oglebay Park’s gardens, admired the view while eating at the Garden Bistro or enjoyed an evening concert in the terraced amphitheater, you know more about summering like the property’s founding family than you might think.
“Some things change, but a lot of their activities are very relatable,” said Kara Yenkevich, curator of collections for the Museums of Oglebay Institute. “People still want to lounge on the porch and talk to their friends. People still play badminton, croquet and golf.”
Those were all things the Oglebays and their numerous guests absolutely did during their summers in residence. A 100-year-old journal started by Sarita Oglebay soon before her 1912 wedding to Courtney Burton, Sr. makes that clear.
“Courtney comes up a lot of times in the journal,” Yenkevich noted of the enthused musings of a woman whose years of secret courtship — father Earl Oglebay wasn’t a fan — had finally blossomed into a public engagement. “Almost every entry is, ‘Courtney did this and this is what he wore.'”
Beyond the romance, the slim red volume also sheds all sorts of details as to what day-to-day life was like at what was then called Waddington Farms, Yenkevich added. So do a surprising number of photos — even though the Cleveland-based family was in residence there only during summers between 1900 and 1926.
“There’s a bunch of pictures of them out on the porch because the porch got a lot of action,” Yenkevich said of one common theme.
There was certainly the space for it. During the Oglebay’s residency, the original 1846 farmhouse and its later morph into a 16-room mansion were graced by a U-shaped wrap-around porch deep enough to allow for oriental rugs, lavishly upholstered wicker furniture and mammoth urns of palms and ferns that were grown in the farm’s nearby glasshouse.
The switch from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles also weighed in by 1912.
The Oglebays and their many guests still rode horses and took carriage rides, but Sarita frequently referred to a vehicle she called “the bubble.”
Whichever of the handful of Oglebay-owned cars the bubble actually was, only-child Sarita apparently loved it. Entries included joyous statements like: “We’re going bubbling” or “We’re going on a bubble ride.”
Sports and games were another frequent activity for the family and their friends, Yenkevich noted. A guest house next to the mansion included space for billiards and other indoor games such as bridge on the first floor, which was done in Egyptian Revival before that was a thing.
Outdoors, badminton and croquet were played on the lawn. And, the Oglebays were members of the Wheeling Country Club for a reason.
“She was working very hard on her golf in 1912,” Yenkevich noted of Sarita’s journal entries. The curator guessed that might be because her new husband enjoyed the game.
WHITE DRESSES, FRUITY TEA
While mornings were often reserved for quiet time and letter writing, food-centered parties often dominated afternoons and evenings, the journal also reveals.
Sallie Oglebay, Sarita’s mother, enjoyed hosting tea parties for ladies clad in white dresses in an equally delicate tea house situated on the terrace just above where the reflecting pool is today. A recipe found in Sarita’s other papers gives a glimpse as to what kind of tea might have been served.
Sarita’s Summer Tea was a mix of brewed tea, lemons, oranges and “White Rock sugar” (think rock candy).
“This was very much what was happening at the time,” Yenkevich said of what might now be called half-and-half. “Everyone was making tea with fruit, sometimes muddling the fruit.”
Women of the day were also experimenting with a kind of instant lemonade, she noted, infusing sugar crystals with lemon so that one needed only to add water.
(Earl Oglebay, Sarita’s father, preferred mint juleps — to the point of comical obsession, Yenkevich noted. The retired shipping magnate once hosted a farcical party that featured juleps and more juleps, identifying other parts of the menu only as “incidentals.”)
Other evening activities enjoyed by the Oglebays included listening to phonograph music or the reading aloud of books. Sarita’s journal noted that her new husband was exceptionally skilled at the latter — being downright sonorous of voice if her entries are to be believed, Yenkevich said.
NOT ALL PLAY
While the Oglebay entourage was clearly resorting while in summer residence, Yenkevich added that one member of the family generally had things other than mint juleps on his mind.
“Mr. Oglebay was doing farm business — having a whole different experience,” she explained of how the honorary colonel turned his full attention to cutting-edge farming upon his retirement. “He loved his cows — he even had a favorite bull.”
Each summer morning, farm documents reveal, Waddington Farms department managers came in through a direct door to his home office to give a report. The reports were generally good.
When the Oglebays bought the ultra-rural property in 1900, there was an eight-room house and 25 acres of land, Yenkevich said. In addition to greatly expanding the house’s footprint, Earl Oglebay immediately began buying up adjacent farmland, which she explained was often in a failing state as inappropriate farming techniques had stripped the land of nutrients.
An agricultural visionary, Earl Oglebay began terracing garden areas and started planting nutrient-adding field crops like alfalfa, she explained. Soon, what would become a 750-acre farm was sustaining crops, chickens, cows, horses and an abundance of seasonal visitors.
Yenkevich noted that Waddington Farms had electricity and a phone before such amenities were available in Wheeling. The mansion also had a fully plumbed bathroom and a flower- and palm-producing glasshouse that was made by the same designer who created Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh.
“If something had happened and they needed to just self sustain, they probably could have,” she noted of the extent of the operation.
SAME PATH, DIFFERENT CENTURY
These days, what was a main farm path is brick rather than gravel and goes through nothing but manicured gardens, but Yenkevich said the photos reveal not that much else has changed. On a particularly good summer day, she joked it is easy to imagine she is among the family’s guests when she’s walking it.
All around, the Oglebay’s presence can still be literally seen, she said. There’s still a reflecting pool, urns of towering garden plants, columns galore, vistas, pergolas and ponds. There’s even a bit of wicker furniture on the porch outside the former guesthouse — now the offices of Oglebay Foundation.
“How wonderful is it that we still have all this?” she said, noting city officials were initially reluctant to take on the property as a park as requested by Earl Oglebay’s will. Just two years prior to his death in 1926, the city had accepted the land that is now Wheeling Park, she explained.
“Some were like, ‘Do we really need another public park? It’s up a hill. How are people going to get there? ” Yenkevich said of the debate of the moment.
It wasn’t all naysayers, she noted.
One proponent of the acquisition — which was ultimately endowed by Sarita, by then a young widow and single mother given Burton, Sr.’s 1919 death from Spanish flu — suggested the park would someday prove so popular that neighborhoods would spring up around it and farther-flung visitors would simply travel in by airship.
The neighborhoods are there. The visitors are there. Yenkevich perched on one of those wicker chairs that remain and smiled as she pondered this.
“I’m still waiting for my airship to come in,” she said.