In the early 1900s, in the midst of coal mines and cornfields east of Riverton, was a 17-acre oasis of beauty — Wheeland Haven, the home of Olive Black Wheeland and her husband Cyrus.
Cyrus Wheeland was a farmer, grain and livestock dealer and land developer in the Dawson/Mechanicsburg/Clear Lake area until his early death in 1910. Following the loss of her husband, Olive Wheeland (1879-1959) spent many years making her home, often known just as “The Havens,” one of the most picturesque in Central Illinois.
She often invited groups to the estate, including the Springfield Amateur Art Club, the YWCA, church organizations and King’s Daughters Circles. Special cars from the Illinois Traction System would carry Olive’s guests from Springfield to the entrance of The Havens. There they would tour the grounds and perhaps listen to speakers on such topics as landscape gardening.
The Havens was an ideal spot for such instruction. Its landscaping included many planted and native trees, including persimmon, Ponderosa pine, oaks, hedge, various fruit trees and many others. In the 1970s, one of the native burr oak trees was estimated by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to be more than 450 years old.
In addition to the main house, the estate included the caretaker’s residence, a large horse/livestock barn and other outbuildings. Other features were a large pond, a tennis court and one of Sangamon County’s first in-ground, concrete swimming pools. Olive Wheeland also was one of the few people in the U.S.to raise Karakul sheep, imported directly from Russia.
Olive Wheeland was on the board of directors of the Springfield YWCA. Not only did she raise funds for the Y’s original building, she donated Camp Glen Olive, on the banks of the Sangamon River, to the organization. The seven-acre camp included gardens, a lodge house, and a swimming pool. The property was later donated to the village of Riverton and is currently the village’s Wheeland Park Campground. Unfortunately, the lodge burnt down in the 1960s or ’70s.
Wheeland also donated land to the state of Illinois for old U.S. 36, which runs on the south side of the property.
Olive Black Wheeland died in 1959 and is buried in Mechanicsburg Cemetery.
The estate was bequeathed to her daughter, Mary Alice Wheeland Vredenburgh (1908-77). It was later sold to a group of investors and may be remembered as The Mansion, a popular nightclub and music venue that played host to many classic rock concerts. (See a video here of Cheap Thrills playing The Mansion in 1990.)
The main house burnt in 1992. However, the caretaker’s house is still occupied, the barn has been converted to a residence, and the swimming pool is still used each summer by the current owners. The estate is private property, and no public access is available.
Wheeland Haven formerly was on the National Register of Historic Places, but was removed from the listing in 2003, presumably because of the destruction of the mansion.
More information: Illinois State Register files on Olive and Cyrus Wheeland
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