Jefferson Twp was founded in 1754, at the time going by the name of Petersburg. The townspeople primarily survived by farming & iron mining. In 1900, Alfred Ringling came to town and bought Petersburg Pond, and a large tract of land around it. Ringling had a smaller lake nearby damned and stocked with fish. It would take 15 years before construction on the mansion would be finished. An unusual aspect of the mansion is that it is made of poured concrete. The walls around the property are all fieldstone, provided by local landowners at 25 cents per wheelbarrow full.
Alfred Ringling created a circus for his son Richard in 1917, and the animals were all housed right on the property. The son had no interest in the Circus, so eventually the circus went on the road to Dover. The wooden wagons got stuck in the mud, but soon returned in motorized vehicles (the first circus to use them). John died a few years later and his wife stayed here for several more years before moving. Developers tried to sell exclusive country homes but that failed so they built small summer homes. Some of them still exist. Knowing the rumors of midgetville in this area, logically one might think that the dwarfs were employees, and might have lived on site (or nearby) I explored the surrounding block & saw some homes typical of midgetville (low flat roof lines) but nothing that screaming midgetville. I asked a local boy if he knew of any small houses (I was asking rather surreptitiously and he clearly didn’t catch my hidden meaning) “There’s a small house over there for sale, but they’re gonna tear it down to make a bigger ranch house.”
I read an extremely interesting article written in 1961 by a town historian which describes the manner in which Ringling came into town as a “taking over.” The town has primarily existed on farming and the mining of iron, both of which were difficult, and not terribly profitable. The town of Petersburg really had no reason to say no when Ringling came in offering to buy large tracts of land.
One of seven brothers, sons of a Bavarian harness maker, the boys had decided that they wanted to be circus man more then anything else. They grew from simple vaudeville performances in their barn until they had enough to buy a goat, then a horse, then eventually take it on the road, at which time they changed their name to Ringling. (it had been Rungeling) Their talent and appetite for expansion were both impressive, and eventually they began absorbing other circuses into their tent. Eventually Alfred settled on this area to settle down and create a base. he entertained people in his massive living room, and had a $75,000 pipe organ installed. In 1955, the Spes Foundation, a worldwide order of the Roman Catholic Church purchased the mansion as an HQ to reach behind Russia with anti-communists material. “Spes” means hope in polish and is run by the Capuchin Fathers. When I stopped by I saw no one and no one answered the bell. I am hoping to contact the Fathers and perhaps obtain a tour. If so, I will definitely update this site.