When Dieter and Elke Schneppat purchased their English Tudor residence north of Tiffin on SR 53, the expansive dwelling was empty. Dec. 13, 2008, will mark the family's 25th year in the mansion.
The couple is hosting public tours of the home and the adjacent guest house from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For $25 per person, visitors will be guided through the first floor of the residence in its Christmas decor. Proceeds are to benefit The Ritz Theatre and the Tiffin Art Guild.
Last week, Mrs. Schneppat shared some of the home's history and how she came to live at the Tiffin landmark. The Schneppats are the third owners of The Hermitage, built in the 1920s by George Kalbfleisch for his 25th anniversary. Mr. Kalbfleisch came to Tiffin as manager of the Standard Sanitary Manufacturing Co., the forerunner of American Standard. Mrs. Kalbfleisch started the Tiffin Garden Club.
"They were very private people, and this is the first time that the house has ever been open to the public. We're doing this, first of all, for The Ritz and the art guild, but also as a remembrance for Nevin Martin and Charles Livingston. They were very dear friends, very much for The Ritz Theatre, and very much involved with historic preservation," Mrs. Schneppat said.
For years, friends had been asking her to give tours of the home. With all the decorating she does at Christmas, she decided that would be the best time to invite visitors to come inside. Although she had been in the home while Mr. Kalbfleisch was alive, she knew few other people who had been so privileged.
"I had known Mr. Kalbfleisch, but I never thought I would live here. When I first met him, I was in charge of the program for our antique club," Mrs. Schneppat said.
At her request, Kalbfleisch gave the club a tour of the home. Mrs. Schneppat said she was fascinated by the home and would have tried to learn more about it if she had known it would be hers one day. Having grown up near the Rhine River in Germany, she was accustomed to seeing castles and mansions on the landscape. The first day she saw the Hermitage was on an autumn drive in the family car. Something about the place reminded her of their homeland.
"All of a sudden, I could see this house. You could just see it when the leaves came down. ... Every Sunday, almost, I would say, 'Oh, let's go by that house.'"
At the time, the Schneppats were living on Sycamore Street. Dieter, who came from a farming family, wanted to buy a farm and move out of town. They started looking for property, in the area and elsewhere. After Kalbfleisch died, an auction took place in the late 1970s to sell the furnishings. Mrs. Schneppat said she and her family were on vacation and missed the sale, but Dieter and Elke were drawn to the 80-acre estate, which included the farmhouse and barn, the main house and the guest house. They decided to place a bid.
"He wanted land and I wanted an old house," she said. "The girls had horses at the time and we wanted to have a place where we could keep horses for the girls. ... It was the whole thing that we were bidding on, and we thought we had it. Then somebody else came and paid the asking price. They sold off the 40 acres with the farm."
The new owners moved into the main house and covered some of the floors with carpeting. They also did some painting to suit their own tastes. About two years later, the property was back on the market. That is when the Schneppats were able to buy it. Although the mansion was in relatively good shape, age and neglect had dulled its original grandeur. Mrs. Schneppat said she did a lot of painting, wall papering and polishing to restore as much as possible.
"We knew how it was before, because we almost bought it," she said.
A friend of the Schneppats who also had known the Kalbfleisches was able to share some of the history. A friend of the Schneppats had obtained diaries from the Kalbfleisch family that yielded more details. Over the years, the Schneppats were able to buy back much of the original furniture.
Mrs. Schneppat said she wants to get The Hermitage listed on the National Register of Historic Homes. Mrs. Rosenthal, a woman who had been their neighbor on Sycamore Street, gave the Schneppats vintage photographs of some of the rooms in The Hermitage. Mrs. Schneppat said she plans to place the pictures on display during the tours this weekend.
"One is from the library ... and one from the kitchen. I thought I would put those out for people to see. I want to make it really interesting for them," she said.