March 24, 2022
In 2018, Violet Township purchased the Wigwam Event Center (10190 Blacklick-Eastern Rd NW) from the Wolfe family for $2.75 million.
The Wolfe Family, who had gained wealth and influence through the Wolfe Brothers Shoe Company, banking and media holdings including the Columbus Dispatch, purchased the original 20 acres in 1928 to build a small hunting cabin.
Over the decades, the Wigwam expanded to become a 63-acre exclusive retreat where the Wolfe family entertained both celebrities and politicians.
At that time, the property included lodging, a ballroom capable of seating up to 500 guests, a swimming pool, and a theater.
The property was utilized by the Wolfe family until 2016. In 2017, the property was closed and placed on the market to be sold.
Not wanting this historic and beautiful property to become just another subdivision, Violet Township began negotiations with Capitol Square, the development arm of the Wolfe family, to sell its land in its entirety to the Township.
The Township purchased the property through a bond (which is like a mortgage for government buildings). The payment for 2022 was $182,859. The bond is structured through June of 2049 but could be paid off as early as June of 2028.
Critics have questioned whether the Township’s purchase of the Wigwam was a wise decision. When the property was owned by Wolfe Enterprises, Inc., taxes could be collected. Now that it is owned by a government, that’s not the case.
The last year that it was privately owned, the Fairfield County Auditor reported that the Wigwam owed $100,000 in taxes. Violet Township Deputy Administrator Ed Drobina said of those taxes, only $19,000 would have been owed to the township itself. In 2021, the Auditor listed the value of the Wigwam at $3.29 million.
Drobina believes “that the Wigwam is a community asset in many ways that do not show up on a balance sheet. The Township’s purchase of the property prevented the immediate area from becoming oversaturated with residential uses and also preserved the unique historic buildings, as well as over 30 acres of forest on the property.”
Operating an event center allows local organizations and residents to utilize the facilities and event spaces while also bringing in people from all over the region for certain events, who in turn patronize nearby restaurants, hotels, and other attractions.
“The property also provides services to township residents by housing the Township’s administrative offices, including the Building, Zoning, and Fiscal Departments. The Township’s financial situation regarding the Wigwam is stable, and the Wigwam complex will continue to be an asset to Violet Township and its residents for generations to come,” Drobina said.
In 2020 and part of 2021, the property shuttered due to COVID-19 (by order of Governor Mike DeWine). Since reopening, it has been booked almost every weekend.
The total income for the Wigwam in 2021 was more than $210,000.00.
The township has held many types of functions at the facility, including weddings, receptions, corporate seminars, fundraisers, proms, recitals and theater productions.
“Weddings are already being booked for 2023, so if you are planning an event, please call as soon as possible to check availability of the date and space you are wanting to reserve. However, if a date is available, we are able to accommodate some events on short notice,” Drobina said.
The cost to rent the facility varies on the day of the week and which portion of the facility being rented. There is also discounted pricing for township residents and government entities.
The trustees do have the ability to waive fees if they feel it’s a benefit to the community or organization to do so.
For more information, visit the Wigwam Event Center website at wigwameventcenter.com or call (614) 575-5556 between the hours of 8 am and 4:30 pm.
“Earlier last year, Violet Township was also able to renovate one of the smaller buildings on the property into a multi-purpose building in order to provide a low-cost rental option,” Drobina said. “That building can be used without charge for community organizations during normal business hours if no one has it rented.”
On January 19, the township promoted Barbie Weidner, an event coordinator with more than 30 years in the hospitality and food service, to manage the Wigwam’s scheduling and events on a full-time basis. She had held this position in a part-time capacity since 2018.
The Pickerington Community Theatre (PCT) holds performances at the Wigwam several times a year. PCT’s current show, Arsenic and Old Lace, continues through the weekend of March 25. Tickets are $19.00 for adults and $17.00 for seniors and children 12 and under and may be purchased through the www.pctshows.com.
Over the summer, local Girl Scouts held a day camp on the property, and the Pickerington Public Library threw a large party to celebrate the conclusion of the summer reading program.
Last September, former Township Trustee Melissa Wilde arranged a partnership between the Township and the Fairfield County Park District (FCPD) in which the FCPD agreed to develop the Wigwam into a park and maintain the park for at least the next ten years.
“When I was first elected, I contacted the director at the time to discuss possibilities for a partnership,” Wilde said. “Violet Township is a strong supporter of the park district, and I wanted to find ways for our residents to enjoy more parks close to home. After the Wigwam was purchased, this became my ideal location for a partnership.”
History of the Wigwam as compiled by former township administrator John Eisel in 2018
In the 1920s, Arthur Johnson and Bob Wolfe searched the forests around central Ohio for the ideal spot for a hunting cabin. In the fall of 1927, the two discovered a 20-acre beech woodland in northeast Fairfield County that they liked, so they purchased the property from Reynoldsburg Bank at a price of $20.00 and sketched some plans.
A team of horses pulling a scraper graded the access drive, and cinder blocks were arranged around the entrance. A well was dug and a power plant installed.
Five German carpenters constructed the cabin using utility poles from the National Road which were purchased for $1.00 each.
Eisel noted that “the walls are as solid today as they were in 1928”. (The original cabin now houses the township’s offices.)
For the two fireplaces, Johnson and Wolfe collected bricks from an old kiln near McArthur, Ohio, and they instructed the Rieble Brothers to intentionally place the bricks unevenly, which drove the brothers crazy.
Johnson and Wolfe kept the property a secret from Wolfe’s father Harry “H.P.” and Uncle Robert who founded and controlled the Wolfe family’s enterprises.
On April 26, 1928, they invited H.P. to a small gathering at the cabin. After enjoying the dinner, company and ambience, the elder Wolfe turned to his son and said, “boy, I don’t care who owns this, or the cost – buy it!”
To which Robert laughed and exclaimed, “you already own it!”
Apparently, Harry had failed to notice the acquisition on his personal finances.
The family discussed what to name the property. An early suggestion was to designate it the “Wolfe Woods” or “WW”, but that title did not stick. Instead, the family drew inspiration from the native motifs they encountered in their travels to places like Sun Valley, Idaho, and the Seigniory Club in Motebello, Quebec, so the property became “the Wigwam”.
Buildings were added, each incorporating elements of native culture. The family commissioned a Columbus Dispatch artist to cover the walls of the card room in murals depicting scenes from the old West. (This room is now the Township meeting room.)
An elaborate carpet was installed throughout the facilities featuring native men in full headdress. Outdoors, a totem pole and architectural embellishments were added, which invoked the colorful wood carvings crafted by the First People tribes of the Pacific Northwest.
According to a 1964 Dispatch article, the table settings at the Wigwam feature the likeness of John Two Gun White Calf, the Blackfoot chief who may have been the model for the buffalo nickel.
Early on, the Wigwam housed monkeys, bears, peacocks and reindeer. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium was initially conceived by H.P. and Columbus Mayor James Jay Thomas after a trip to the St. Louis Zoo in 1920. Harry purchased exotic animals, which he kept at the Wigwam and the Franklin Park Conservatory until the zoo (now Columbus Zoo and Aquarium) opened in 1932.
On the stage in the original Wigwam theatre, Hollywood stars, including Bob Hope, Gene Autry and Jimmy Stewart, would perform before a capacity audience of 20. In 1987, the original lodge and theater were demolished and rebuilt as separate venues. The newer theater, which is still in use today, has 303 seats.
For many years, the FBI held its National Academy at the Wigwam, dating back to the J. Edgar Hoover days.
During the Woody Hayes era of Buckeye football, the team came to the Wigwam for dinner and lodging every Friday night before a home game. Hayes wanted all his players in one place so that they would be easier to watch.
“When the Township purchased the property, the goal was and still is to provide spaces for rental and community enrichment,” Weidner said.