Saturday, August 27, 2016

Marland Mansion—Ponca City, OK

with Linda "Lin" Farmer Harris

I enjoy a great mystery and when it's associated with a stately mansion it's even more intriguing.

Earlier this year we toured the Ernest Whitworth Marland Estate Mansion, 901 Monument Road in Ponca City, Oklahoma. The architecture and tile work in the home are incredible.

Marland Mansion-Front-Courtesy Marland Estate Mansion

Marland Mansion-Back-Courtesy Marland Estate Mansion
As we toured, I thought y'all might be interested in sightseeing with me. So I whipped out the camera and started snapping. However, one thing I learned upon returning home is what interested me might not be of interest to you. For example, the blue and pink bathrooms throughout the mansion.

Marland Mansion-Typical Tub under Shower-Harris photo

Marland Mansion-Typical Shower over Tub-Harris photo
Before Marland built the Monument Road mansion, his first home was 22 rooms set on eight acres of formal, terraced gardens at Tenth and Grand, near downtown Ponca City. His first wife Virginia Collins Marland oversaw the collection of shrubs, foliage, and flowers, deemed by the citizens as the most beautiful garden this side of the Mississippi.

First Marland Mansion—Tenth and Grand-Courtesy Marland Estate
After seeing the Davanzati Palace in Florence, Italy, he wanted to build his own palace on the Oklahoma prairie. In 1925 he hired master architect John Duncan Forsyth and scores of internationally renowned artists, decorators, stone masons, tile setters, and sculptors to make his dream a realty. Forsyth also built many other homes in Ponca City and in Tulsa. Virginia died in 1926 after a long illness and never lived in the new mansion.

Workmen labored from 1925 to 1928 to create the 43,561 square feet masterpiece built within limestone exterior walls and red clay tile roofs. The building and furnishing cost was $5.5 million dollars.

The docent said the 55 rooms are distributed over four levels and include 12 bathrooms, 10 bedrooms, 3 kitchens, and 7 fireplaces. I asked who was in charge of changing out the 861 light bulbs. He laughed and said, "Thankfully, not me."
Marland Mansion-Aerial View-Courtesy Marland Estate

We didn't have time to tour all of the small historic museums housed in some of the restored original buildings on the grounds. The chauffeur's cottage, now designated as Lydie's Cottage, reflects many elements of the main house.

Chauffeur's Cottage-Courtesy Marland Estate Mansion
E.W. and Virginia were childless so they invited two of her sister's children, George and Lydie (pronounced Ly-de) Roberts into their home. Eventually, they adopted the two children. Two years after Virginia's death, Lydie's adoption was annulled and she became the second Mrs. Marland, but the first to live in the mansion.

Mr. Marland was founder and president of Marland Oil that would become Conoco Oil Company and later Conoco/Phillips. He pioneered employer paid insurance, paid eye care and dental bills, and built over 400 homes for employees. After a hostile take over of his oil company by J.P. Morgan & Co., he went into politics and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1932. He was elected as the 10th Governor of Oklahoma in 1934. He ran for U.S. Senate twice, but lost both times.

E.W. Marland Accomplishments as Oklahoma Governor-Harris photo
He commissioned sculptor Jo Davidson to create the three Marland family statues from French limestone.

Courtesy of Marland Estate Mansion

Lydie and George Marland-Courtesy of Marland Estate Mansion
Marland died in 1941 after the sale of the mansion and grounds to the Carmelite Fathers for a monastery. After it was home to the Marland family, it became a monastery, a college, a convent, and now a historic home museum.

During my tour I was fascinated by the ceiling tiles and hand-painted panels. My pictures don't do justice to the beauty of the art work.

Marland Mansion-Harris photo

Marland Mansion-Harris photo
The wood work was intricate and detailed. Even the lattice patterned heating vents were amazing.

Marland Mansion-Harris photo

Marland Mansion-Harris photo
Can't have a mansion without a dumbwaiter with telephoning system or an elevator.
Dumbwaiter—Marland Mansion-Harris photo

Elevator Door—Marland Mansion-Harris photo

Elevator Door Open—Marland Mansion-Harris photo
The furnishings from the period were lavish, skillfully created, and abundant. Every room was a masterpiece. I hope you get a chance to visit the mansion.

What's the mystery I mentioned? Well, in 1953, Lydie packed up her Studebaker with tapestries and paintings and left Ponca City. She wasn't seen locally or heard from by friends and acquaintances for 22 years. However, while she was gone, the taxes on the cottage and its property left to her in Marland's will were paid through her lawyers.

In 1958, The Saturday Evening Post ran an article "Where is Lydie Marland?" It's believed that she lived near Central Park in New York City, and in the '60s participated in the peace marches in Washington, D.C. surrounding civil rights and the Vietnamese War.

In 1975, the Felician Sisters announced plans to sell the "convent" mansion. Lydie came home and asked the citizens of Ponca City to support the purchase of the mansion as a city treasure. She moved into her cottage on the estate grounds and lived a reclusive life until her death in 1987.

What mansions turned historic museums have you visited? What's your favorite.

Linda "Lin" Farmer Harris

Lin and her husband, Jerry, live on a hay and cattle ranch in Chimney Rock, Archuleta County, Colorado. Lots of pioneer homesteads, but no estate mansions.

Turning Tidbits of History into Unforgettable Stories
The Lye Water Bride
California Gold Rush Romance Collection


  1. Thank you for sharing this informative post with pictures.

    1. You're welcome, Marilyn, thank you for stopping by. I wanted to show all the pictures I took. The mansion is incredible for that small oil field town.

  2. What a great real story. I love seeing places like this and wondering about the untold stories and this one surely has them! I suppose my favorite historic mansion is Biltmore, although every gracious old home has elements that fascinate and delight me. And I'm always glad I'm not in charge of dusting ;-).

    1. Thank you, Stephanie. There are a couple of really interesting stories tied to the Marland Mansion. Lydie's brother, George Roberts, who seems to have fallen off the map after he was adopted by the Marlands, has an interesting story as well. You would enjoy the novella "A Biltmore Christmas (Romancing America)" — it's free right now on Kindle.

  3. I've been to Ponca City several times, but I've never visited the Marland Mansion. I'm going to have to remedy that. You should have let me know you were in the state. I might have been able to meet you guys. Maybe next time. I've visited several historic mansions. Saw some really cool plantation homes in South Carolina. One of my favorites is in Independence, MO--the Bingham-Waggoner Estate. Super cool historic house.

    1. Hi Vickie. You must take the time to visit the mansion. You won't be disappointed. Yes, when we come back to visit my sister in Ponca I'll let you know. I've always wanted to visit a plantation. We drove through Independence, but didn't have time to stop for pleasure. I'd read the some of the grounds were part of what would become the Santa Fe Trail. That estate would make a great post!

  4. I've never been in a mansion museum before. I used to drive by Bidwell Mansion in Chico Ca, but never went inside. It really didn't interest me much at the time. You know, for some reason the bathroom in your photos make me think of a prison. Maybe it's the tile. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Howdy Deb, thanks for stopping by. The bathrooms are very minimal and straight to the point functional, but the rooms that surround them are amazing. We were told that the nuns and monks really like the bare essentials. I've seen pictures of the Bidwell Mansion and would love to visit it. The inside must be great. The wrap around porch and curved out windows are so welcoming. If you drive by again, get some pictures to share.