Lake has water! Historical homes in Richfield Heritage Preserve will be open for the first time

by Dan Holland

Residents can expect to see a number of different sights at Richfield Heritage Preserve during a park open house on Sunday, June 12. For the first time, visitors will be able to tour the interiors of all the historic homes in the preserve along with several other structures including The Lodge, Garfield Hall and several cabins on the 336-acre property.

The north end of the property features Lake Linnea, also known as the upper lake. It was the former estate of the Neal family, who operated a 200-acre apple and peach orchard and built three picturesque homes known as Amity House, North House and Coach House on the land.

The south end of the property was formerly owned by James Kirby, an inventor who laid claim to 160 patents that included washing machines and vacuum cleaners. Lake Jinelle, also known as the Lower Lake, which was patented by Kirby is near the Oviatt Road entrance to the preserve.

Kirby’s Mill, located on the lake, provided hydroelectric power to the Kirby estate. The lake was drained in 2019 and two extensive repair projects followed, the first involving armoring the dam spillway at a cost of $600,000. The second involved removing truckloads of sediment on the front of the dam and replacing deteriorated concrete on the dam wall to bring it in compliance with state regulations.

Repairs on the Lake Jinelle dam and less extensive repairs on the Lake Linnea dam cost the park district about $650,000. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources helped fund the second project with $140,000.

 The Friends of Richfield Heritage Preserve (formerly Friends of Crowell Hilaka) have been working to restore the water wheel at the dam. Lynn Richardson, co-founder of Friends said the group began a fundraising effort in 2019 to restore the mill and its water-powered wheel.

The harsh winter slowed down the dam concrete repair. “The mill wheel is ready, but the millwright had to go on to other jobs [while waiting for the dam work to be finished.]” she explained. “He was hoping the dam would be done during the winter. … The mill is an amazing story – that and Lake Jinelle – which is the world’s only patented lake.”

Public tours of the former estates on the property will be one of the day’s highlights, according to Richardson.

“Just coming across these big, giant houses in the middle of the forest – it really suggests a fairy tale-type setting,” said Richardson. “But my heart is down in the Kirby House because he was so inventive. Once those buildings are up and running, that story of Kirby is going to be really inspiring. He was having fun with physics and making it work for himself.”

“People have been curious about the houses for many years,” added Anita Gantner, chair of the Richfield Joint Recreation District. “I know that I was, too, before I became involved in the park. As they are properties of Richfield, there’s no reason why the residents shouldn’t be able to see what they’ve got here. And we also want people to see what they may be saying yes or no to in the future.”

“The two dams at the upper and lower lakes are over a hundred years old and have had their issues,” said Gantner. “They were not up to code and would have had to come down. Those two features and the wastewater treatment plant are the three major infrastructure pieces that involved a lot of little pieces that went into them. Oviatt House wouldn’t have been restored if the lower dam had not been brought up to code.”

Oviatt House, which sits at the southwest corner of the property, serves as a site on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom trail. The Oviatt House volunteer group is currently restoring the house and finding fascinating original construction under layers of plaster and wall paper.

The Lodge, formerly Gund Hall, has been getting an update at the same time as the dam projects have been ongoing. The vaulted, wood ceiling and walls, and a stone fireplace have made it a warm venue for any large gathering. Heating and air conditioning were recently added to make it a year-around gathering place.

“I hope that the residents of Richfield will come to appreciate how their dollars have been put to work here and for us to be in a position to know how to put future dollars to work,” added Gantner.

“It’s a funny thing – it’s not like I was a big history buff before the Girl Scouts said they were selling the camp,” said Richardson, who serves as historian for the Friends group. ”I began to do a little research and got really interested in the park. I think this place draws people in, and you can understand the Scout camp alumni having some nostalgia, but people walking around the park for the first time are really intrigued by all the sights.”

The open house of the entire park will be June 12 from 1 – 5 p.m. A simple ribbon cutting will take place at 1 p.m. Children’s activities and light refreshments will be offered throughout the afternoon. ∞