By Mary Giorgio

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Oliver Mansion in South Bend, Indiana, boasts a whopping 38 rooms and over 12,000 square feet. Built in 1897 for industrialist Joseph D. Oliver, the home is a popular destination for tourists passing through the city.

Joseph D. Oliver (a.k.a. JD) was the president of Oliver Chilled Plow Co., a factory founded by his father, James. James Oliver was the inventor of the chilled plow, which consisted of a cast iron blade that was stronger and smoother due to a cooling process. He patented the design in 1857.

JD began to work for his father in 1867 at the age of 16. He first worked as a bookkeeper, but within a year had been promoted to the role of treasurer. JD would go on to become the company’s president. Under his leadership, Oliver Chilled Plow became the biggest plow factory in the world.

In 1885, JD married Anna Wells. The couple had four children. In 1897, JD commissioned an opulent mansion for his family, meant to display their vast wealth. The Romanesque Queen Anne structure was built by New York architect Charles Alonzo Rich. The home was one of the first in South Bend to have electricity. It also boasted an early central vacuum system and burglar alarm.

The family named their new home “Copshaholm,” after the Scottish village that James Oliver had immigrated from. Upon completion, JD purchased a large parcel of land adjacent to the mansion. Landscape architect Alice E. Neale of New York City was hired to turn 2.5 acres into an Italian style garden, complete with a rose garden, tea house, and tennis lawn. The family entertained extensively and used the outdoor space for many gatherings.

The mansion stayed in the Oliver family for 72 years. Following the deaths of JD (1933) and Anna (1937), their unmarried daughter Susan Catherine took on the mantle of head of household. She lived in the home until her death in 1970. Her brother, Joseph Jr., also lived in the home until he died in 1972. At that time, JD and Anna’s grandchildren donated to the imposing mansion to the Northern Indiana Historical Society.

Today, the home is operated by the South Bend Center for History. The home is set up as it looked in the 1930s, complete with numerous original furnishings. Visitors can see what life would have been like for the family during those years. The home contains numerous works of art, including two bronze busts that were sculpted by famed Chicago artist Lorado Taft. One depicts JD, while the other bust portrays his father James.

The Oliver Mansion is a prominent reminder of South Bend’s industrial past. Tours are offered year-round. The home sits on the campus of the Studebaker National Museum and can be accessed through the museum’s main entrance gates.

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