Historic Town Center to be updated; century buildings to be preserved

by Dan Holland and Sue Serdinak

The money to start making improvements to the Richfield Village Historic District at Broadview Road and Route 303 has been in the village budget for a couple of years. In November, village council told Mayor Michael Wheeler it is fully committed to doing the project, acknowledging it will be expensive and messy.

Theoretically, the project started in 1999 when the village purchased the property on the southeast corner. Five years later, when Don Larsen was mayor, the village razed the two buildings that sat close to the intersection on Broadview Road. The substandard buildings, Vann’s Drug Store and the former Tin Shop, were lower than the roadway because of years of road paving, so their location made it impossible to construct curbs and sidewalks.

Since 2004, village officials have debated how to improve the appearance of the area, which is considered the historical center of Richfield. In 2021, council approved the expansion/reconstruction of the intersection and budgeted money for engineering work.

This year, Councilperson Ralph Waszak has pushed council and the mayor to move forward on the project, along with making improvements to the Green, including a multi-purpose timber-frame structure.

Council President Sue Ann Philippbar is onboard. ”It was a goal of mine to first, take special care of the three old buildings (Masonic, Fellowship Hall and Historic Museum) that frame our village green,’’ she said. “Then, with the input from our planners, mayor, and council, we are finally taking the plans off the shelf and beginning the implementation of our green and 303/176 intersection improvements. We will endure some pain with the construction of these hefty projects, but the final result is something we will all be proud of for many years to come.”

Changes coming

According to the engineering plan, the Route 303 and Broadview Road intersection will have new right- and left-turn lanes in all four directions and will include a new traffic signal with turn-arrow signals. The project will also include new sidewalks, pedestrian crosswalk, lighting and enhanced landscaping.

Total improvements in the historic district are expected to cost approximately $2.5 million, according to Wheeler. Finance Director Sandy Turk advised that the village would need to borrow money for construction.

“Council approved the expansion/reconstruction of the intersection in 2021, and we’ll finish the engineering for it in 2024,” said Wheeler. “But we still have to get rights-of-way prior to construction beginning in 2025. Once we get that all signed and the engineering is done and approved by council, work will begin. It will be about a one-year-long project.”

Approximately $375,000 will be used to upgrade the adjacent village Green. Improvements will include construction of the timber frame shelter, fully-accessible concrete walkways and picnic benches. Additional landscaping will also be included.

“We’ll be moving the Christmas tree further into the Green from where it is now,” said Wheeler. “It’s going to be pretty and have electricity for summer concerts and Christmas lights.”

Wheeler said he is hopeful the new amenities on the Green will open by June 1. The new Richfield Brewery, a full-service sit-down restaurant and brewery under construction at 3871 Broadview Rd., is also expected to open within the same timeframe, he said.

“We want a green that is useable for different events, and we definitely needed to improve the intersection to avoid having traffic jams two or three times during the day,” said Wheeler. “That’s our vision, to allow the traffic to flow more smoothly, along with a pretty town center where people want to spend time.”

The extension of the Cleveland water line to the village center, completed in September, has had a positive impact on businesses and makes the locale more appealing to prospective businesses, said Wheeler. “Now that we have sewer and water for all the businesses in that little commercial historic district, a lot of people are looking at what else could potentially be added there,” he said.

Historic Town Center

From its founding in 1809, the area known as West Richfield was the heart of the commercial and political life of the community. Businesses were established on all four corners and beyond, and business owners often built their homes near the business center.

Route 303 was first called East and West Road, then Center Road before it was named West Streetsboro Road. Broadview Road was called Diagonal Road, and West Richfield Road before it was named Broadview Road.

Diagonal Road (now Broadview Road) in the 1800s, came through the center of the district, which featured a stagecoach stop at the 1830 West Richfield Inn, which later burned down, a blacksmith shop and mercantile store on the southwest corner. An earlier hotel on the northeast corner was also destroyed by fire.

Surviving the fires was the blacksmith shop on the southwest corner, the only brick building in town. In later years the building was a post office, a confectionery and Ruth’s Snack Shop. It is still used as an office building today.

On the southeast corner of Diagonal and Center roads there was a tin shop, the Town Hall and a Baptist Church. The vacant tin shop, which had served as the VFW post following World War II, was razed along with the drugstore in 2004.

Although there has always been talk that the building now called Olesia’s Taverne of Richfield was part of the Underground Railroad, dates prove that it was built in 1886 after the Civil War. The two houses that today are north of the Taverne were once a cabinet shop that was cut in half and made into two houses.

The building that today is the Dougout, was the original Liberty Hall and later Sykes Store and was originally located on the south side of Center Road. For an unknown reason, the building was rolled on logs diagonally across the dirt roadway and planted on the corner where it is today.

According to Linda Fleming of the Richfield Historical Society, Thomas Ellsworth, a carpenter and mechanic from Connecticut, who later became known as the “Father of Richfield,” came to the area in 1821 and began building many of the large homes that are still standing today in the historic district. Cleveland business magnate John D. Rockefeller was known to frequent Richfield with his entourage, according to Fleming. “He was known to come out if someone would make him a pot of tea,” she explained. “He would rent out horses in Brecksville and ride into Richfield. One of our farmers would boil water and make tea for his group, which usually consisted of six or seven people riding on horseback.” ∞

This photo looks north from Diagonal Road. Broadview Road was first called Diagonal Road, and later Richfield Road and finally Broadview Road. Photos courtesy of Richfield Historical Society.

Circa 1946 Vann’s Pharmacy and soda fountain was a popular with residents.  Photos courtesy of Richfield Historical Society.

Van’s drugstore was razed in 2004 opening up a main corner adjacent to the Green.

The brick building that still stands on the Route 303 and 176 southwest corner was a blacksmith smith shop circa 1902.

The buildings that are now the Richfield Historical Museum and Fellowship Hall were built in the 1800s.

Circa 1946 the former blacksmith shop, confectionery and post office was Ruth’s Snack Shop, circa 1946.

To help pedestrians, planks crossed Center Road, now W. Streetsboro Road, in downtown Richfield, circa 1900.

Searles Store operated in what is now the Dougout.

Photos (cover): The intersection of routes 303 and 176 has always been the center of Richfield. The photos compare three of the corners in the early 1800s and today. The center will see many changes in the next few years. Photos courtesy of the Richfield Historical Society and by S. Serdinak.