Wheeland Haven, Riverton

Wheeland Haven, 1920 (Sangamon Valley Collection)

Wheeland Haven, 1920 (Sangamon Valley Collection)

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.

The pond at Wheeland Haven, about 1920 (Sangamon Valley Collection)

The pond at Wheeland Haven, about 1920 (Sangamon Valley Collection)

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.

May Alice and Olive Wheeland (Margaret Sopp/Findagrave.com)

Mary Alice and Olive Wheeland (Margaret Sopp/Findagrave.com)

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.

Remains of the mansion following the 1992 fire (Ann Robb Collection)

Remains of the mansion following the 1992 fire (Ann Robb Collection)

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

Contributor: Chuck Stoneschs logo (2)

Original content copyright Sangamon County Historical Society. You are free to republish this content as long as credit is given to the Society. 

This entry was posted in Agriculture, Architecture, Buildings, Historic Sites, National Register, Parks, Prominent figures, Women. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Wheeland Haven, Riverton

  1. Nancy Chapin says:

    So glad to know more about the background of what I knew as a “Y” camp as a child. We rode out on the interurban and spent the day there, swimming, and I can’t recall what else. Would like to know if others remember going to “Y” camp there.

  2. Michael McCoy says:

    My grandmother was adopted, by my Great Grandmother. Which is Olive Wheeland. Would like to know why you don’t have her listed as a Daughter to my Great grandmother. I wish if your doing a story on this is what I read that you would get the whole story right

    • editor says:

      Mr. McCoy: None of the sources I used — findagrave.com and Illinois State Journal obituaries and legal ads following the death of Mrs. Wheeland — mention any children other than Mrs. Vredenburgh. What was your grandmother’s name? I’ll be glad to amend the entry — that’s one of the great things about online encyclopedias, you can always improve them — but I need to verify the relationship.

      I’ll also send this message by email, to make sure you see it.

      Thanks for writing.

  3. Lanny Montgomery says:

    Actually, Old Route 36 runs along the North side of the property.

    • Chuck Stone says:

      The original Rt 36, which Mrs. Wheeland donated land to build, was located south of her property. When Rt 36 was rerouted to its present location, north of Wheeland Haven, the road south of Wheeland Haven became the Decatur Hard Road. In Riverton, the original Rt 36 is Lincoln Street and the bridge over the Sangamon was demolished. Hope this helps!

  4. Geoff woodford says:

    Curious, w lived in Riverton in the 60’s and I was taken to a strange, large mansion for “kindergarten”. Only one or two kids total. Huge mansion with many many rooms. A green room. A black and white checkered room with sunken steps, and tunnel. Supposedly a house associated with a Donner party relative. One lady lived there and watched me / us. Any idea if this is the same place….or was

  5. Geoff woodford says:

    Is this at Old Rte 36 and Old Decatur Road?

    • editor says:

      Geoff: Thanks for your notes. I’m not that good on Riverton geography myself, but several commenters before you discussed the home’s location, and it does appear to be at U.S. 36 and Decatur Road. Take a look at those comments.

  6. Anne Wilson-Dooley says:

    I am very much appreciating these Wheeland Haven posts. My 2nd great grandfather had the house property and surrounding farm land from ca. 1847-1900 when it was sold after his death. His house was added to for the mansion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *