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  • Writer's pictureTedd Long

The Middle Grounds

Once the headquarters for Toledo enterprise.

The Island House on the Middle Grounds area of Toledo is shown as it appeared around 1880. Next to the building is a train shed with railroad cars stored next to it. The wharf and a horse-drawn wagon is also visible. (Publisher: Toledo-Lucas County Public Library)

The area between Swan Creek and the Maumee River is called the Middle Grounds, an important location that quickly became the center of Toledo's commercial growth.

Docks, warehouses, grain elevators, and the city's train depot were all built on and along the Middle Grounds.

Early on in Toledo's development, the major means of transportation: lake vessels, canal boats and railroads, all converged here – creating an area of intense commercial activity. Docks, warehouses, grain elevators, and the city's train depot were all built on and along the Middle Grounds. There were hotels, boarding houses and even a church for the railroaders and sailors.

The historic Oliver House (1859) sits on the highest point on the Middle Grounds. At the time the Oliver House was built, it was Toledo's first grand hotel, boasting 171 rooms, each with running water, gaslights and fireplaces. The hotel overlooked a park and offered private rooms with views of the Maumee River. It was designed by architect Isaiah Rogers, in the Greek Revival style, and built by the family of William Oliver for whom the hotel was named; one of Toledo's earliest real estate investors.

Unfortunately, a destructive flood in 1883 changed the Middle Grounds forever. As a result, the train depot was moved to higher ground and in time the area was downgraded to freight rail yards and warehousing. Declining use of the canal forced grain elevators to relocate upriver. By the 1880's, this once busy commercial area fell into neglect and was all but forgotten and the Oliver House was reduced to a common rooming house. In 1919, Edward N. Riddle bought the Oliver House and converted it into an industrial plant for the Riddle Co., manufacturers of lighting fixtures. The new plant required that the interior be totally gutted. The only remnants of the grand hotel were two ornamental marble mantels, some wallpaper, and a black walnut and ash floor in the lobby area. Toledo's once grand hotel was used as a flophouse during the great Depression. In 1947 the Oliver House changed owners again and it was used by Toledo Wheel & Rim, an axle manufacturing company. In 1967, Successful Sales Co purchased the building for storing and demonstrating novelty items the company sold. By the 1960s, the building became home to several small businesses.

The Oliver House’s luck turned in 1990 when current owners Jim and Pat Appold recognized the potential in the old hotel. They bought it and remodeled it into a space for restaurants and pubs, meeting rooms and apartments. Today, the Oliver House stands as the only remaining hotel designed by Isaiah Rogers. Thankfully, Owens Corning soon followed the Appold's investment when they built their corporate world headquarters on the Middle Grounds, creating a welcome resurgence for this historic area.

One last piece of haunted history, the Oliver House served as a convalescent center for wounded soldiers returning home from the Spanish-American War. As a result, this historic hotel has a haunted reputation. Numerous apparitions have appeared to guests and diners over the years. The most common, is that of a soldier known as “The Captain.” He is said to show up most frequently dressed in full uniform.

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