Description of Historic Place
Wildwood is an elegant two-storey residence built in 1876 by contractor William Arnott. This grand house, influenced by elements of Greek Revival and Queen Anne architecture, is located on the corner of Catharine Street and Sugarloaf Street, perched on a bluff overlooking Lake Erie.
The property was municipally designated for its heritage value by the City of Port Colborne under By-law 1758/23/86.
Wildwood is associated with Alice Dickinson, wife of "gentleman and traveller" Joseph Jessop Dickinson. Alice acquired the land in 1886 from the contractor of the original house, William Arnott. Intended as their retirement home, the Dickinsons expanded the house substantially and named it Wildwood. Wildwood is among one of several properties in the area owned by the Dickinsons, and was the only property not sold to Inco Metals Co. in 1917 for management and staff housing.
Wildwood was a single-family home until 1943 when it was converted to three apartments by then owner John Horne Jr., who was also a local Councilman. Horne added three residential units to the south side of the property and records indicate that the Lake Erie high water mark was once found at the place where these new units were constructed.
Wildwood may also be connected to the War of 1812. The Sugarloaf Dune in west Port Colborne was the site of a battery during the war. The location and general topography of Wildwood suggests that Wildwood could have been part of another battery site built by General Brock. Based on archaeological reviews, it is believed that the Neutral Indians occupied this site and a Neutral Indian (c.1500B.C. to 1600 A.D.) burial mound at the west end of the property may be present.
Wildwood is a "house within a house” and exhibits the eclectic styling of the Victorian era. Its bay and oriel windows, tower, decorative mouldings and “art nouveau” stained glass windows are characteristic of the late 19th century Queen Anne style, while the porches and later additions are reminiscent of the Greek Revival mansions of the American south. Inside the house stunning original woodwork, a solid black walnut winding staircase and two extravagant fireplaces add to the overall grandeur.
Many mature trees remain from the Dickinson's era, including a 60 foot “Little Leaf Linden”, which contributes to the site. The trees provide homes for numerous bird and animal species including a roosting colony of Black Crowned Night Herons, which are rare in Ontario. It is also a stopping place for the annual migration of the endangered monarch butterflies. Due to the proximity to Lake Erie, soil covering the property consists of ancient beach deposits (age 4000 B.P. to present) and Aeolian dunes.
Sources: Wildwood Designation Report, City of Port Colborne, 2004; Pengelly, J.W., Archaeological Site Report, 1995.
Character defining elements that contribute to the property's heritage value include its:
- archaeological resources associated with the Neutral Indians
- orientation on a corner lot on elevated property, in close proximity to the shore of Lake Erie
- two cast iron lions imported by the Dickinsons from the United States that guard the entrance
- original solid brass hanging light fixture in the upper front hall and solid brass sidelights in the main floor dining room
- stone steps descending to the street, as reminders of the "horse and buggy" transport when passengers could step directly from a carriage onto an elevated lime stepping stone
- front door with bevelled glass and brass hardware
- bay windows with heavy bevelled glass and stained glass transoms
- Queen Anne oriel windows
- house tower, characteristic of Queen Anne architecture
- small outbuilding to the west of and behind the main house sided with clapboard and roofed with cedar of the same era as the main house
- large art nouveau stained glass window on the south side
- Greek Revival style porches on both storeys
- garden plants from the Dickinson's era including blue cillas, which are often found around Victorian houses
- mature trees from Dickinson's era in the woodlot to the west of the house, including 60ft tall “Little Leaf Linden”