LIBERTY, Ohio – A motorist who blinks could miss catching a glimpse of the Sampson and Thomas mansions in Liberty Township. The two stately structures sit hundreds of feet back on a lonely stretch of Logan Road, behind a stand of trees.
But the vision for what the property can become is easy to see for Nate and Dani Wilson, who are turning the 27-acre parcel into a winery and restaurant, with plans to add a wedding/reception center, and later, an inn.
The Wilsons are the owners of Woodland Cellars, a winery and meadery in Hubbard that they opened in 2017.
They recently purchased the property at 3128 Logan Road for $275, 000, using a $200,000 loan plus their own funds. The site includes the two mansions, which were built in the early 1900s and are in a mild state of disrepair, plus two carriage houses, a pavilion, a pond, parking lot, and acres of woods with paved trails.
The property was formerly owned by the Diocese of Youngstown, which used it as a spiritual retreat center, but it has been mostly vacant for at least a decade. A 36-room dormitory, built in the 1950s by an order of monks that previously owned the property, will be razed.
The Wilsons are in the process of restoring both mansions, with Nathan doing much of the work.
The Sampson mansion, a white Greek Revival edifice with four pillars, will be the main building. The neighboring mansion, also known as the Thomas Estate, is a brownstone villa. Both structures feature ornate woodwork, molded plaster, glass interior doors, grand staircases, sculpted marble mantels and other details that reflect their gilded history.
The Wilsons intend to plant a small vineyard on the property and hope to open as a winery some time this summer.
Developing an estate winery wasn’t something the Wilsons had been planning. They simply became aware of the site’s availability and pounced on it.
“We just happened to be crazy enough, and dreamy enough, and decided to take the chance,” Dani says.
The couple is still kicking around names for it.
Nathan, a Niles native, holds science degrees from Kent and Youngstown state universities. He was a science teacher at Mahoning County Career and Technical Center for seven years before quitting a few years ago to open Woodland Cellars.
Dani, a New Wilmington, Pa., native, is a graduate of the Creative and Performing Arts High School in Pittsburgh. The musical theater major has acted in shows at New Castle Playhouse and other theaters, and foresees using the mansions for dinner-theater nights, or even interactive murder-mystery nights. “We could do a real-life ‘Clue’ here,” she says, with a laugh.
Another idea the Wilsons are toying with for the future is “stay and play” overnight packages, in collaboration with nearby golf courses.
Acquiring financing to purchase the parcel wasn’t easy. Banks were leery of lending for the project, Nathan says, but the Mahoning Valley Economic Development Corp. made it happen. “From Day One, Mario Nero of MVEDC was interested and believed in me,” he says. “He went to bat for us.”
After getting the electric, heating and plumbing in the stone mansion up to code, Nathan is turning his attention to the Sampson mansion, where he will also remove the carpeting and refinish the floor as well as restore molding and other opulent details.
Toward that end, he is trying to shape a partnership with YSU that provides unique educational opportunities in this time of social distancing.
Nathan has created a list of fields – ranging from viticulture and archaeology to engineering, botany and beekeeping – in which students can take part.
“YSU got $6 million from the state for remote learning and learning outside the classroom,” Nathan says. “It would be great if we could collaborate that way.”
The Wilsons currently make wine, mead and cider at their Woodland Cellars business in Hubbard. The grape juice is purchased mainly from California, with apples and honey sourced from Ohio farms.
Incidentally, Woodland Cellars takes it name from the street where the Wilsons own a home. They made their first batch of wine in its cellar.
Production would be moved to the Logan Road property. Rows of grapevines will be planted there, although Nathan says it will take several years before they bear fruit for harvest.
Pictured at top: Nate and Dani Wilson are turning the 27-acre parcel into a winery and restaurant.