The Collingwood Arts Center

The Collingwood Arts Center has long been considered by some to be the crown jewel of haunted locations in the Toledo area. Truth be told, it’s one of my favorites, too. The history, the phenomena, the building itself. Haunted or not, the Collingwood Arts Center has a presence all its own. You can’t help but feel some measure of awe the moment you pull into the parking lot and look up at its imposing, ivy-covered, five-story structure. Over 100 years of life stare back at you from the windows and you can’t help but feel the pulse of history sweep over you.

The near-steady stream of people who continue to step forward with a tale to tell is a testament to this building’s enduring legend and legacy. A roundup of Toledo-area ghost stories is never complete without a re-telling of the strangeness that surrounds Collingwood.

But, where did it all begin? What’s the story behind all the stories?

The Collingwood Arts Center, like most landmarks from the early years of Toledo, has a rich religious and community history.

Before it was the Collingwood Arts Center, it was the Gerber House. Built in 1872, Christian Gerber constructed what he hoped would be his dream home. In pursuit of building the finest house in Toledo, Gerber spared no expense, but the opulent white structure began to cost more than he expected, running him deeply into debt. In 1875, Gerber was forced to give up his home and file bankruptcy. Over the course of the next few years, the Gerber House changed ownership several times until it eventually came into the possession of the Ursuline Order of nuns.

The Roman Catholic order of nuns known as the Ursulines was founded by Saint Angela Merici in 1535, in Brescia, Italy. With the goal of providing well-rounded educations for girls and caring for the sick and impoverished, the Ursuline order spread across Europe and, eventually, to America. Here in the states, the Ursulines were at the forefront of educating and empowering women, especially Native Americans and blacks.

The Ursulines came to Toledo in 1854, founding their first convent and school in the Cherry Street area. When they became the new owners of the elegantly-crafted Gerber House, they hired noted architect, Edward Oscar Fallis, to design and build a large convent complex consisting of fifteen buildings and three courtyards. Unfortunately, and for one reason or another, only two of the planned buildings, along with a power plant, were ever finished.

On September 6 of 1905, the Ursulines made the move to their new convent and academy on Collingwood Boulevard. In 1918, a new chapel and dormitory was constructed, which now houses the Children’s Theater Workshop.

In September of 1922, and at the request of Bishop Samuel Stritch, the Ursulines opened Mary Manse College. This was a women’s-only institution dedicated to teaching the liberal arts, sciences, medicine, and nursing. Mary Manse operated successfully until the early ’70s when a national economic recession hit. In what hoped to be a life-saving measure for the college, Mary Manse went co-ed in 1971, but it was too late. In 1975, Mary Manse closed its doors for good. For the remainder of its days, the building served as a retirement home for the Ursuline nuns.

Eventually, the Ursulines moved to more modern accommodations and, in 1985, Pat Tansey stepped forward to rent the old convent from the nuns for use as a community arts center. It has been known as the Collingwood Arts Center ever since. Up until just recently, the Arts Center has been a place where artists of all styles and mediums could rent living and studio space, teach and share their craft with others, and hold gallery showings of their work. It is at this phase of the building’s history where the flood of paranormal claims begin to make it out to the public and, if you are to believe the stories, it seems the building is teeming with activity.

In the theater, a ghostly nun is often seen in the balcony area. It is said she can be seen walking down the aisle, go to a specific seat, and, once she sits down, disappears. Some have stepped forward with the belief that this is the ghost of the Ursuline’s founder, Saint Angela Merici. A much more plausible explanation is that it is the spirit of one of the nuns who had lived there and had helped the mission of the Ursulines in Toledo.

In the Art Center’s attic, a gentle spirit is said to reside and a phantom bride has been seen wandering the western areas of the building. In the Gerber House, ghostly children have been heard laughing and playing. But, it seems to be the basement which garners the attention of most ghost seekers. If there is a sinister story to be told, many believe it centers around the basement where a dark figure in a hooded, black robe is said to appear. Many even report a “draining effect” while in the basement. But, an interview I conducted with a woman, named Carol Keen*, makes me believe things might not be so sinister after all.

Carol told me she attended school there in the late ’40s. She says a young man, named John, lived with the Ursulines. He was destitute and, in exchange for a room and board, he would take care of the grounds, perform minor maintenance repairs, and even help shuttle students to and from school. John, according to Carol, lived in the basement and, during the fall and winter months, was given a spare cloak – one like what the nuns would wear – for warmth. Could it be the cloaked spirit of John that people have seen in the basement? It certainly seems possible.

Carol also believes that the nun people claim to have seen in the Arts Center’s theater is not Saint Angela Merici, but the ghost of Sister Marcella who, Carol claims, enjoyed the solace of the theater while she was alive.

Rolinda LeMay, a former resident of the Arts Center, had lived in apartment 218 and came to think it was haunted by the ghost of a nun who, she believes, may have died from tuberculosis. Ms. LeMay told me she would often receive the impression of a nun with a persistent cough sitting by the heater that was located beneath a window in the room.

These are just some of the many stories that fill the halls of the Collingwood Arts Center. These days, the building sits primarily empty, with the exception of fundraisers, art classes, and performances. No one but the ghosts can call Collingwood their home anymore. Due in part to a failure in the building’s heating system and claims of financial mismanagement, the Collingwood Arts Center ended its artist-in-residency program on January 21 of 2014 when it gave its last 28 residents a 30-day eviction notice.

The Collingwood Arts Center, among other activities, currently hosts regularly scheduled pay-for-play ghost hunts open to the public.

The Collingwood Arts Center is a registered historical site and is located at 2413 Collingwood Boulevard in Toledo, Ohio.

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Collingwood Arts Center History, Collingwood Arts Center

Collingwood Arts Center, Forgotten Ohio

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Christopher Tillman

Author | Filmmaker | Speaker Christopher Tillman has been actively exploring claims of the paranormal since 1993. He currently resides in Toledo, Ohio.

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