Bramley House garden memorializes late historical society president

by Laura Bednar

The Bramley House on Brecksville Road is one of several historical places in the city, but without the help of late Independence Historical Society President Patty Crooks, the historic home may not have become the community-friendly site it is today.

Boy Scout Nathan Firlik, from Independence Troop 297, created a garden at the Bramley House in Crooks’ honor as his Eagle Scout project, and a dedication ceremony took place on Oct. 2.

Current Independence Historical Society President Deb Hudnall said Nathan put together a crew to clean up the outdoor areas around the house. Work included pulling waist-high weeds and enhancing a garden with flowers, plants, a trellis and bench with memorial plaque honoring Crooks, who passed away in 2016 after battling cancer.

Nathan said he received plant donations from Petitti Garden Centers and the historical society provided the trellis and bench, which he assembled.

“It’s cool that doing the project led to this event,” Nathan said of the garden dedication ceremony. “It seems appreciated by the people involved.”

Bramley House was built in 1853 by Jasper Fuller and completed in 1856 by Matthew Bramley, whose family stayed in the house for generations. Immediate Past President of the Independence Historical Society Pam Dengler said the house sat dormant for a while in the late 1990s after Betsey Bramley, who last occupied the home, died.

Crooks, historical society members and a host of volunteers then went to work, restoring the building to be used as a museum and rentable space for events like wedding showers or business meetings.

During the ceremony, Dengler, who joined the historical society while Crooks was president, gave an overview of the restoration and lengthy process to get the Bramley House on the National Register of Historical Places. Aside from mountains of paperwork, Crooks, Dengler and Independence historian Wes Gaab traveled to Columbus to give a verbal presentation to the Ohio Historical Society in search of support for the restoration project. The state then awarded them a $75,000 grant to bring the Bramley House back to life.

Crooks’ husband, Jim Sr., was the general contractor for restoring the home, hiring out crews when necessary. He said the restoration was a team effort with historical society members, high school students earning service hours, and Boy Scouts. The restoration began in the winter of 2008 and was completed in spring 2012. A community open house was held later that fall.

“It was quite a bit of work,” said Jim Sr. “We made a fun endeavor out of it.”

Dengler said it was fitting the dedication took place in October 2022, almost exactly 10 years since the restoration was complete and the house open to the public.

“I came to know and appreciate how great of a person Patty was,” said Dengler. “Without her tireless effort, tenacity and grace, we never would have gotten it done.”

Crooks’ son Jim Jr. spoke at the dedication, stating that his earliest memory of the Bramley House was cutting down weeds and thickets in front of the home with his family. He said that the restoration and garden “ensure this can be a home to community service. That’s what my mom would have wanted.”

Jim Sr. said when he was notified of the garden work and dedication to his wife, he was ecstatic.

Not only were Crooks’ family members in attendance, but a Bramley relative also came to the ceremony. Glen Perram is the great-great-great grandson of Matthew Bramley. He visited the Bramley House last summer after finding out about the connection through ancestry websites and seeing the application to designate the house as a national historic place.

Perram lives in Dayton with his wife Michelle and said returning to the Independence area felt like a homecoming.

“The Bramley House is a real treasure,” Perram said. “It’s nice to see another family love this home so much.”

Jim Sr., along with family members including his five grandsons, still maintains the house. “As long as we can do it, we’ll take care of the property,” he said.

In addition to restoring the Bramley estate, Crooks instituted the historical society cakewalk at Home Days and started an academic scholarship for Independence students. Dengler said she left behind a legacy through the Bramley House restoration, her relatives and those she touched. “The relationships she fostered over the years will have the biggest ripple effect in the community,” said Dengler. ∞

Jim Crooks Sr. (back left) stands with son, Jim Jr., and daughters
Rachel Peluso (front left) and Jessie Siegferth. Photos by
Laura Bednar.

Boy Scout Nathan Firlik created the garden
as his Eagle Scout project.

Jim and Patty Crooks were recognized for their efforts with an
engraved plaque. Photos by Laura Bednar.

The bench in the garden displayed a plaque
honoring Patty Crooks.