T.B. Scott Mansion in critical condition: Can it be saved?
TINA L. SCOTT
Have you ever wondered what it looks like inside the T.B. Scott Mansion? Have you ever wished you could tour the building and maybe explore the underground tunnel that (now closed off) leads to the hospital? What if you could again?
In the past, tours of this historic Merrill icon were possible. But for more than 20 years now, the Mansion sitting high on Holy Cross Hill, which is an integral part of Merrill’s history, has sat unoccupied and largely ignored by its owners, currently Ascension Good Samaritan Hospital. Now it is in critical condition, facing demolition. Can it be saved at this late date?
Vivid memories of the Mansion
Many years later, Jan Yonke’s memories are still vivid. “As a child, my mom worked at the Holy Cross Hospital [now Ascension Good Samaritan] in Merrill,” Yonke said. “At that time, the hospital was run by the Sisters of the Holy Cross. I remember a weekend in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s when my mom asked if I’d like to go with her to the old Scott Mansion, as the Sisters were giving tours. I was thrilled!”
“The thing that stands out most in my mind about the tour was the tale the nun told as she guided my mom, me, and the other tourists through the beautiful old mansion,” Yonke remembers. “It was a captivating tale of mystery, mixed with factual historical information regarding the mansion and its previous owners, all of whom died under peculiar circumstances.”
That tour started a fascination with the Scott Mansion that Yonke still has today, she said. The Mansion has been part of Merrill’s history for as long as she can remember. “As a matter of fact, its memory dates back to my grandparents’ era, as well,” Yonke said.
Sandy Mantik, who now lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming, shared some of her memories. “I was born at Holy Cross Hospital, and as I was growing up have very vivid memories of being in the hospital – walking up those big marble stairs in the front. My sister worked there during High School and became a nurse. My cousin told me when I was little, I used to think the nuns were ghosts. I visited my father there during frequent hospitalizations and remember the sunny rooms for visitors. I played on the tennis courts behind the hospital. As a prostestant, I was fascinated with the nuns living in a convent behind the hospital and the priests living in the Mansion.”
“The hospital had this beautiful front lawn sloping down to the street … Next door was the most beautiful house I had ever seen. It was on the bluff overlooking the town and the river.” Mantik remembers being able to see the first floor, probably during an open house of some sort. Living in a very modest home herself, she said visiting that house seemed like a fantasy, imagining living in the Mansion and hearing the stories “of hauntings and an Indian princess.”
“It was a symbol of Merrill,” Mantik said. “Over the years, as I grew up, I learned to love it more. I always wanted to own it. To this day, I love old houses and revel in the design and architectural details.”
Michelle Salter who was born and raised in Merrill and still lives here, has memories associated with the Mansion since even before she stepped inside. “I remember reading about its history in a paperback book about it my grandparents had and hearing the stories from relatives down south that would sit in traffic to come up north on 51 (now Hwy. K), and it was kind of the gateway to see the Mansion on the hill come into view with the Hospital.”
When Salter did get the chance for a tour, she snatched it up. “I waited in a line for hours to see the downstairs as an adult, a childhood dream fulfilled,” she said. “Wish I could explore it again.”
“Merrill needs the Scott Mansion to survive,” Salter said. “It’s as iconic as the court house! Merrill’s second most recognizable building.”
Mantik agreed: “If I had any money at all, I would buy that house,” she said. “There has to be some way to save it.”
“It will be a very sad day for Merrill, if its citizens look up to ‘Holy Hill’ and don’t see the Scott Mansion presiding over Merrill,” said Sharon Anderson of Merrill.
Sue Gustin-Tesch of Merrill echoed others’ sentiments. “I would like the Scott mansion saved,” she said. “I have lived here all my life. … That beautiful Mansion, even in its present state, is one of the last historical homes in Merrill … We have to try and save it or the history from the past will be gone for the future.”
She emphasized that it’s about more than money. It’s about history and what the people of the community want. “I would be willing to help in saving the Mansion, and I think others will be, too. Once it’s gone, that will be the end. … I would do all I can to help, and I think others will, too.”
Diane Marnholtz, another lifelong Merrill resident said she, too, wants to see the T.B. Scott Mansion saved. “It is our history,” Marnholtz said. “I volunteered at the hospital for 30 years. And have been inside many times. Love it and want to save it.”
“We used to have our Christmas tea there years ago,” she remembered. “There was beautiful artwork from all over the world that were gifts and carved woodwork, fireplaces. The kitchen is old, but the whole building is full of charm, if it hasn’t been destroyed by the neglect.”
Those area residents and visitors who haven’t been in the Mansion fantasize about a tour.
Shannon Staskiewicz has also lived in Merrill her entire life, but she’s never had the opportunity to see inside. “The Mansion has always been the place to drive by and wonder about,” she said. “As kids, it was included in our Merrill History lessons. My daughter who is 10, learned about it in her lessons last year.”
Staskiewicz speculated about just one opportunity for the Mansion’s use if it could be saved: “Wouldn’t it be amazing to have these lessons in person like they do with the little schoolhouse? A Victorian Era lesson and local history all in one.”
“I would be heartbroken to see it go,” she added. “My daughter has been obsessed since their lesson and it is now a bucket list item for both of us to see it together!”
It’s not just Merrill natives that love the Mansion
Christopher Stamm was raised in New York City. As a newcomer to Merrill some years ago, “The Mansion was the start of my education about Merrill, its history, and the people that founded Jenny (Merrill). The fact that it has such an interesting history helped me start to appreciate and understand my adopted hometown. And the fact that it is featured in so many books about the area, Merrill and the T.B. Scott Mansion are tied together firmly,” Stamm said.
“And hey, who doesn’t love a good ghost story?” he said. “To lose that bit of Merrill’s heritage would be a crime.”
Deb Christi lives in the Town of Pine River. “I drive by the Mansion every day on my way to one of my many jobs,” she said. “I have been in Merrill for over eight years … I always believed the Scott Mansion was beautiful, and I would love to see the interior.”
Margo Pophal, who now lives in Irma, was born in Virginia and has lived in four other states before moving to Merrill in 1991 from New Hampshire. “I love the history of the towns I have lived in,” she said. “… We have lost way too many historical historical places in our country.”
She agrees the T.B. Scott Mansion is “a part of Merrill’s history and should be preserved somehow. Its beauty stands tall as you drive by it. I have always wanted to tour the home and see it and what I’ve been told of its beautiful wood works.”
Losing the Mansion, she said, “would be another loss that our future children won’t get to see or even learn about.”
Everyone I spoke with had ideas about how the Mansion could become a benefit to the Merrill area community and become a viable enterprise going forward. All of the ideas would require an investment, but many people volunteered financial contributions and volunteer hours to make the ideas a reality, if only they could be assured the project would be well managed and move forward.
“I believe other than the courthouse this is the most historic and iconic structure in our city,” said Greg Hartwig, a lifelong Merrill resident. “It has the potential to put Merrill on the map as a tourist destination. The story behind the Scott Mansion is like no other in Wisconsin and even has ties to the Titanic! If it is demolished, the residents of Merrill lose all of the stories and beauty of the Mansion.”
“I would love to see it turned into a haunted B&B with tours of the tunnels, etc.” Christi said
Tina Luedtke echoed those sentiments. “I think it would be a great bed and breakfast place. Or even a place for weddings or a haunted house.”
“Ghost tours, maybe not for the public but there are about 100 shows on tv that do ghost hunts, so reach out and get some of them up here to stay the night in the Mansion,” Stamm suggested. “That would be awesome stuff and great advertising, as well. You could even do a raffle, for an overnight stay.”
One thing everyone agrees on, the time to step up and save the Mansion is now.
“I am hoping for a miracle! That’s what it will take,” Hartwig said.
What residents don’t want
“The Scott Mansion is Merrill’s history,” Luedtke said. “It is so beautiful especially where it is located overlooking the city … It can never be replaced, and with its unique tunnels, etc., there is so much you could do with it. It is Merrill’s history.”
“It would be a shame to see all of this thrown away for medical offices or a parking lot,” Yonke said. “Possible uses for this gem are endless. It’s only a matter of committing the time and resources to preserve a taste of Merrill’s history. And for me, it’s worth it.”
“The structure needs to stay where it is, not be moved someplace else,” Hartwig said. “This land is not useful to [the Hospital].”
Many agreed. “Merrill doesn’t need another parking lot,” Pophal said. “It needs to keep one of Merrill’s historic sites.”
It takes a village
What no one person, or hospital, has been able to do before, perhaps a village, or in this case the residents of the City of Merrill working together, could accomplish.
“If everyone gave a helping hand in one way or another, they just may save this beauty,” Pophal said. She suggested volunteers could help with painting and repairs.
Staskiewicz said she would volunteer to help with ticket sales and fundraisers.
“I will donate money,” Marnholtz said, “When I find out it is a for sure thing.” Many others echoed her sentiments.
Some residents volunteered to work on a Capital Campaign Committee to get commitments for funds; others to work on grant applications for restoration and renovations of the Mansion.
Anyone who toured Merrill’s famed T.B. Scott Mansion in years past has an indelible memory of the visit. Many area residents, and those from much further away, who haven’t had the opportunity, would absolutely buy a ticket for the chance to do so.
There are lots of ideas and enthusiasm for ways the community can come together to save Merrill’s beloved, historic T.B. Scott Mansion.
Unfortunately, the future of the Mansion is at a critical juncture.
Two hospital systems now hold the fate of Merrill’s beloved, historic T.B. Scott Mansion and the ghostly legends that are a part of the building, in their hands.
The T.B. Scott Mansion and the “Holy Cross Hill” it stands on are currently owned by Ascension Good Samaritan Hospital, a part of Ascension Wisconsin. On Jan. 12, Aspirus Health and Ascension signed an agreement to transfer ownership of seven northern Wisconsin hospitals, including Ascension Good Samaritan, from Ascension to Aspirus. “While a definitive agreement has been signed by Ascension Wisconsin and Aspirus, it is not yet final and still needs regulatory and church approval and is not considered complete,” said Tom Weaver, Public Relations Manager of Marketing and Communications for Ascension Wisconsin.
Merrill residents are petitioning Ascension Good Samaritan Hospital and Ascension Wisconsin, asking them to stop the planned demolition of T. B. Scott Mansion and allow the property to transfer to Aspirus Health. The petitio then implores Aspirus Health to meet with and actively pursue a dialogue with residents of the City of Merrill and other interested parties who wish to preserve and protect the Mansion.