Jeff Manes: Wolf Mansion has been ‘ideal’ for couple
November 30, 2012 10:36AM
Exterior photo of the Wolf Mansion, just south of Portage, Ind., on Nov. 8, 2011. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
IF YOU GO
At 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 23, Lynda and Clement Khan will conduct Christmas tours of the Wolf Mansion, 453 W. County Road 700N, just south of Portage. For more details, call 364-8102.
Updated: January 3, 2013 6:12AM
“We are all well and doing tolerable well. I call tolerable making about $4 a day. There are some doing better than that and thousands that are not making more than $2 a day. ... I have not made up my mind when I shall start for home. I think not ’til spring. ... Crippen and I have made about $800 since the first of March. You need not tell how we are doing.”
— Josephus Wolf,
in a letter to his father
from the gold fields of California
Dressed in a pair of faded blue jeans and a Depression cap, I felt a bit self-conscious pulling up to a large, imposing residence in my not-so-late model Ford Fusion.
While walking toward the front door of the estate, I was approached by a fellow wearing a baggy flannel shirt, jeans and scruffy work boots. A landscaper, I thought.
But then the guy called me by my first name, shook my hand and introduced himself as Clement Khan, owner of the Wolf Mansion in Portage Township. He and a small crew of men were building a greenhouse.
Khan, 63, has been married to Lynda for 43 years. They moved from the northwest side of Chicago to Porter County in 2003.
This is quite a place, Clement. What do you and Lynda do for a living?
“I was a stock and commodities broker at Prudential, and my wife is a lawyer; I handle the business end of it,” he said.”
“Investigations, negotiating leases, things like that. Lynda does mostly appellate work right now.”
You and Lynda moved from a small bungalow in Chicago to this beautiful behemoth in Porter County. That had to be quite a change of scenery.
“We were looking for a house that was architecturally significant. Lynda grew up in New Hampshire. She inherited a lot of Victorian Era family heirlooms, so this place was ideal.
“Lynda’s family came to the colonies from England and Wales during the mid-1600s. Immigrants who arrived later would try to marry into an old, established New England family.
“When Lynda and I got married, I didn’t realize I was doing just that.”
Where were you born?
“In Trinidad. It was a British Colony, so you received a good education. The chief products were oil, natural gas and sugar cane. There also are natural pitch lakes.”
Pitch as in tar?
“Yes, as soon as you dig, it comes up. Sir Walter Raleigh calked his ships in Trinidad on several of his voyages. Trinidad is considered the most cosmopolitan island in the world. You have Chinese, Indians, African-Americans, Germans, Irish, Spanish ... .”
Was your family always from Trinidad?
“No, in 1836, the British passed a law that abolished slavery in all of its colonies. I believe the Quakers were the driving force behind that. Anyway, after that, my great-great-great grandfather moved from India to Trinidad as a 12-year-old indentured laborer.”
Interesting. Give me the lowdown on the Wolf family.
“Lynda and I wrote a book entitled ‘History of the Wolf Mansion.’ We go back to 1764, when Andrew Wolf came to this country from Alsace-Lorraine (a region in northeastern France). Andrew was the grandfather of Josephus Wolf.”
Josephus Wolf is the man who had the mansion built.
“Yes, between 1872 and 1875. The work was done by 300 German bricklayers. The style of the house is Victorian Italianate.”
How many square feet?
Tell me more.
“The construction is called ‘three-brick’ construction, because that is how thick the walls are. Most of the floors are red oak; the staircases are made out of walnut.”
Was Josephus a large landowner?
“Yes, at one time he owned nearly 5,000 acres. When his father, Jacob Wolf, settled here from Athens, Ohio, in 1834, this area was known as 20-Mile Prairie. Josephus was about 12 at the time.
“In 1850, Josephus left his father’s Indiana farm for the California gold fields; he spent two years there.”
Did Josephus strike it rich?
“No, but he made enough money to get a good start and continued to buy up more land here. Upon his return home, he married his sweetheart, Susan Young.”
How much land do you and Lynda own?
“About six acres. Josephus and Susan lived on this land in a log cabin for 20 years before ‘The Wolf’ was built. Five of their children are buried in a small graveyard near this house.”
“Josephus enjoyed the view up there. You can see the Chicago skyline from the cupola. It has been retold that he also could make sure that his employees weren’t shirking their duties from that vantage point.”
I was pleasantly surprised at how down-to-earth and easy to talk to the Khans were. Wealthy Democrats and dirt-poor Republicans always have fascinated me.
The Wolf Mansion was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. Through the years, it has been a home; a floral, bridal and gift shop, a movie set, a chiropractor’s office and a temporary monastery.