The dream of building Wildwood began when Sarah Elizabeth Van Patten of Washington D.C. became the bride of Prosper Harvey Ellsworth, a physician, in 1873. Sarah moved from a highly cultured and socially conscious eastern city to join Prosper in the rough-hewn country village of Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Sarah chose the basic design from a magazine and persuaded her brother to do the architectural work. Novaculite rock was quarried nearby for the massive foundations. The interior rooms are large to accommodate the many parties and receptions given by the Ellsworths. As individualists, they departed from the usual square rooms and creatively utilized oblong, triangular and pentagonal shapes to permit two to three exposures and four to five windows to each room. Construction took six years at the cost of $40,000.
Native trees were cut and seasoned three full years before they were fashioned into ornate woodwork. The intricate work was performed by woodworkers from the Pullman Company who were working nearby and the finer carvings were done by Mrs. Ellsworth herself. Each of the downstairs rooms features a different wood. Massive sliding pocket doors separate the rooms. The cherry stairway that twists upward from the reception hall is a woodworking masterpiece and its rich tones are highlighted by two large stained glass windows that were designed by Sarah and crafted in Italy. The finely detailed fireplace tiles were imported from England.
The Ellsworth's left many historical marks on the face of Arkansas. Sarah led the fight to preserve Arkansas' beautiful Old State Capital in Little Rock and was instrumental in the movement for the selection of the Arkansas state flag. Prosper moved to Hot Springs in 1866 and as one of the Spa City's earliest physicians, Dr. Ellsworth was one of the founders of the Hot Springs Medical Society.
Before their marriage they were active in the Civil War. Dr. Ellsworth was a surgeon in the Union Army. His cousin, Elmer Ellsworth, was the first person killed in the war. Sarah sang in the chorus on the day President Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address.