oak hill inside

Writer’s note: This is the second story in the series “There’s No Place Like Richland County for the Holidays.”

The Ghosts of the Robinson and Jones families will once again gather at Oak Hill Cottage to tell their stories of Christmases past. 

Their tales, rather, re-enactments, this Saturday, Dec. 4, from 5-7 p.m., will consist of scenes depicting what it was like to live in the ornate mansion on the hill in times gone by. 

“The premise is that all of the people who have lived here come back and have a party,” Alan Wigton, president of the Richland County Historical, said during a tour of the notable house (which was featured in renowned author’s Louis Bromfield's book, “The Green Bay Tree,” on Thursday afternoon.  

The public has once again been invited to come out and join the party at the 310 Springmill St. location. Volunteers will play music throughout the evening to help set the mood. There will also be ornate decorations dating back to the Victorian Era weaved into the rooms and scenery for visitors to peruse and enjoy.

For instance, laundry was actually hanging in the maid quarters as if the women still lived in the space adjacent to the bedrooms.

For the past eight years, the annual “Ghosts of Christmas Past'' celebration has been held at the home of the former owners for one night only and mostly in December.

The event, which formally introduces the ephemeral characters to the public each year, has been pretty well-received by the community over the past holiday seasons. The festive celebration is offered as an additional glimpse in the gothic style mansion. “Ghosts of Christmas Pasts” is presented in addition to the regular docent-led  holiday tours that  are normally held on Sundays from 2-5 p.m. at the museum. 

Sheryl Weber, chairperson of the guild, considers “Ghosts of Christmas Past” to be one of the best kept secrets in Mansfield. She explained in a phone interview on Black Friday that visitors often come back each year to see what is being done differently with characters or at the cottage.

“The main characters and their four daughters, we always have,” Weber added.

During the evening, volunteers will be  dressed in period costumes ranging from the 1800s to the 1960s (representing the lifespan of the former residents and heirs). They will portray characters such as Dr. Johannes Aten Jones, who was an eye, ear and nose specialist, his wife Frances Ida and their four daughters.  

Daughter Leile Jones (Barrett), who is reported to have lived in the house the longest, as well as John Riley Robinson, the original owner of the cottage, built in 1847, will also be represented.

Robinson was a railroad engineer and also owned a flour mill on Walnut Street. He reportedly built  the cottage on the north-end because it was close to the railroad he’d also helped to build.  

According to the website for Oak Hill Cottage, the Gothic style reflected his sophistication and was a trend of the architecture of the time. 

In 1864, the house on the hill was purchased by Dr. Jones for his wife Francis.

Wigton showed the bedroom where he will embody Dr.  Jones. A basket of fruit, which was a typical Christmas decoration during Victorian times, sat on one of the stands in the room. A plush robe hung in the room as well. 

The Jones', who were also known as a family with enough means to be able to have items such as furnishings for the cottage shipped to Mansfield by train from New York, were also noted for updating some of the fixtures and plumbing and heating in the house as well.

“It’s not period furniture, it actually belonged to the house (to the family),” Weber said.

Daughter Leile was also reported to have traveled as far as New York to purchase her wedding gown. 

Documentation (i.e. bill of sales) for many of the items such as the wedding  gown and the furnishings in the home have been found and retained by the historic society. 

“We’ve been blessed in having that much history. (To) get a background of what life was like on those 10-acres on the hill,” Weber said.

Talking about the event evoked a bit of nostalgia for Weber, whose grandparents lived across the street from Oak Hill College. The former college history major and history buff mentioned she had also met Leile Jones ( Barrett), who had actually lived in the home the longest, while still in grade school. 

According to a press release, The Richland County Historical Society purchased the house in 1965, restored it, and opened it in 1984 as a house museum.

Furthermore, it’s been reported that Leile Jones hoped it would be restored to its original grandeur. In the spirit of the festivities, her character will return for a night to relive Christmases long ago.

This year’s “Ghosts of Christmas Past” event will not form guests into groups because of Covid precautions, and visitors will be sent through the house as they arrive. Cost is $5 for adults and $1 for children 12 and under, paid at the door, according to the press release.

The museum, which was closed last year due to Covid, will continue to offer tours from 2-5 p.m. on Sundays in December or by appointment. It will also be open on the day after Christmas.

The museum will then be closed in January and February and re-open for tours in April. To learn more about Oak Hill or John Robinson and the Jones, visit the site: https//:www.oakhillcottage.org.

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