The beautiful Cottonwood Mansion, on farmland north of Selkirk, Ontario, was built c. 1865-1870 by William Holmes Jr.(1810-1892) on property inherited by his first wife, Mary Hoover (1802- 1869). They originally lived in a small home north of the present-day Mansion. They had five children who were adults by the time of Mary’s death, when a year and a half later (in 1870) William married the widow Cynthia Anderson who had a 13-year old son. In 1871 at age 42 Cynthia gave birth to a daughter, Lillian. William apparently gave his five older children much financial help, but most of his considerable assets were passed on to the pampered Lillian, including their home, Cottonwood Mansion.

Although there was a one-room public school less than half a mile away (Holmes School), Lillian was tutored privately at home, and then sent to Alma College in St. Thomas, an exclusive school for girls, where she met the widowed brother of a classmate. They married at Cottonwood and lived there with Cynthia for several years, but eventually moved to St. Thomas and later to the U.S. At first they rented Cottonwood property out to local families and finally sold it. The new owners (Anderson, Cramp, Williams) lived only in the back part (servant’s quarters and kitchen) and the main building gradually deteriorated.