Description of Historic Place
Built from 1904 to 1906, Willistead comprises three Tudor Revival-style buildings (a 2-1/2 storey manor house, a 2-1/2 storey coach house and a 1-1/2 storey gate house) on 6.2 hectares of parkland. Located in the premier residential area of the former town of Walkerville, the complex is recognized for its heritage value by City of Windsor Bylaw 5334 (1976).
The heritage value of Willistead resides in its outstanding 16th century Tudor Revival style architecture and in its association with the Hiram Walker family, who founded Walkerville, which is now part of the City of Windsor. It also has social value as an important community resource for many decades since 1921 and has locational value and landmark status as the "crown jewel"
of this historic Walkerville neighbourhood.
Willistead was designed in the style of an opulent old English Tudor manor home by renowned Detroit architect Albert Kahn, during his pre-industrial period (1888-1908). The epitome of Edwardian elegance, with both Elizabethan and Jacobean characteristics, the grand, 36-room, L-shaped manor house features superior materials and craftsmanship, combining half-timber construction, rustic stone, brick and ornately carved wood under a picturesque grouping of medieval red tile roofs and chimneys.
The coach house, which originally housed horses and carriages with living quarters on the upper floors, and the gate house, which served as the gardener's cottage, display a continuity of external materials, workmanship and design, effectively complementing the manor house. An iron fence with limestone piers, designed by Stahl Kinsey and Chapman, c. 1915, surrounds the flagstone courtyard of the manor house and the entire site. Other structures of note include the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee Fountain, the Walker family's gift to Walkerville in 1897, and the stone portico (c. 1863) from Hiram Walker's home in Detroit, which stand in the park.
Willistead was completed in 1906 for Edward Chandler Walker, second son of distillery magnate Hiram Walker, who established the model "company" town of Walkerville. Chandler was founding president (1890) of the Walkerville Land and Building Company and, following his father's death in 1899, became president of Hiram Walker and Sons. In 1921, his heirs donated the estate to the Town of Walkerville for public use, ushering in Willistead’s lengthy history as an important community resource. In subsequent years, the manor house was occupied by town council and police, a library and the Art Gallery of Windsor. Following restoration in 1978-79, it became a conference and special event facility.
The Willistead complex, in its park setting, has landmark status as the centrepiece of this premier residential neighbourhood developed by the Walkers in the early decades of the 1900s. Comprising many architecturally significant heritage buildings, Walkerville was modelled after Britain’s innovative “Garden City Plan.”
Sources: City of Windsor Bylaw 5334 (1976); Willistead Manor Study (Patrick Coles Architect, July 17, 1977); Building Analysis Form, Dec. 19, 1997; and City of Windsor Heritage Planner’s files.
Key elements that express the architectural value of Willistead's grand Tudor Revival style manor house, and which are echoed to a lesser degree in the coach house and gate house, include:
- high contrast half-timbering, combined with stonework, brick and stucco;
- overall quality of materials and craftsmanship (e.g, an Austrian-trained wood carver executed the exterior and interior wood carvings, and Scottish stonemasons hand cut and fitted the limestone quarried in Amherstburg);
- hand-carved exterior vergeboards;
- steeply pitched gable dormers with red clay-tile roof;
- tall and prominent chimneys, with each chimney pot of a different design;
- variety of windows, including many multi-pane leaded windows; and
- such outstanding interior details in the manor house as marble fireplaces, quarter cut oak panelling in most principal rooms, hand-carved balustrade and newel posts on the elegant six-foot-wide staircase leading from the Great Hall, and other hand-carved ornamental woodwork featuring typically Elizabethan motifs including Tudor Roses.
Key elements that express the value of the complex as a local landmark include:
- the size and grandeur of the manor house with complementary coach house and gate house;
- its setting on 6.2 hectares of parkland; and
- enclosure of the entire property by an iron and limestone fence with a gate house.
Key elements, in addition to the aforementioned, that express its association with the wealthy and important Walker family include:
- its relationship to other significant Walkerville heritage homes; and
- its proximity to St. Mary’s Anglican Church (1904), commissioned by Hiram Walker’s sons in memory of their parents; and
- the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee Fountain (1897) located in the park
- the stone portico located in the park.