Historical Society gears up for 2024 summer open houses

by Laura Bednar

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.”

The Historical Society of Olde Northfield shows the communities of Sagamore Hills, Northfield Village, Northfield Center and Macedonia their origins as part of the former Northfield Township, as well as the people and items that have been part of their respective areas through the years.

The society operates the Palmer House Museum, at 9390 Olde Eight Rd., in Northfield, one of the few remaining vertical beam construction homes in Ohio. Historical society Treasurer Karen Komer said this unique fact is one of the reasons she believes the museum should keep going.

“It was cut by hand, too,” she said.

According to the society’s website, the Palmer family settled in Northfield in 1832, and William Palmer, son of Hezekiah Hayden Palmer, built the home in 1844.

In 1915, the Nordonia Hills School District bought the house and moved it to make way for what is now Northfield Elementary School. It housed school personnel before a 1954 Ohio law prohibited that activity. It then became a library sponsored by the PTA until the Nordonia Hills Library was built in 1964. The district still owns the house and leases it to the historical society.

Historical Society President Chet Bertel said he, along with nine other volunteers, runs the museum, which has two floors and five rooms filled with historical pieces.

“We’ve catalogued 800 items,” said Bertel. “All the items are donated.”

Volunteers entered each piece into the computer and typed out its information for display.

Komer gave an overview of each room. The music room includes a grafonola that plays records, an organ and a piano from the 1900s. The organ is self-playing and has 250 rolls of music to entertain guests.

“We also have a Civil War-era flutina, which was a precursor to the accordion,” she said.

The kitchen features an 1800s era stove, early kitchen tools and artifacts from the Nesbitt family, whose farm included what is now Nesbitt Road in Sagamore Hills. A dress room displays military memorabilia from the Civil War, WWI and WWII. Also on display is an almost 200-year-old wedding dress.

Upstairs, the bedrooms have old-style linens, quilts and a sewing machine. The machine was demonstrated during one of the museum’s open houses.

Museum activity

Over the past few years, volunteers have not only catalogued items, but organized them for easier viewing.

“We are more deliberate about where we put things [in each room],” said Komer.

Every few months, volunteers will change out the items with new pieces. A recent addition is an Army uniform from Charles Chaffee, who died in WWII after parachuting from a plane.

Students from Northfield Elementary School and St. Barnabas Catholic School take field trips to the museum. Bertel said the volunteers put on a scavenger hunt for children to find 15 items by visiting each room in the museum.

“There are people in each room to talk about history,” he said. “Kids get to see something from the community they are in.”

The Palmer House has open houses on the fourth Sunday of every month throughout the summer from 1-4 p.m. It kicks off the season on Memorial Day, with an open house from 8 a.m.-noon. The society also hosts an open house with games and demonstrations on Sept. 15, in conjunction with the Ohio History Connection’s “Ohio Open Doors” initiative, in which museums across the state are open for free viewing.

The Palmer House has free admission for all events during the season.

“A lot of folklore is oral. It’s important for people to see and touch historical items,” said Komer. “People connect with where they live.”

Komer said there will be a genealogy presentation in June at the Nordonia Hills Branch Library, at 9458 Olde 8 Rd., in Northfield, which will cover the genealogy of those in the Nordonia Hills area and educate people about how they can complete their own genealogy research.

Future plans

Bertel said the museum is completely funded through donations.

“Last year all four communities [in the museum] gave money,” he said. “The VFW has given money the past two years. We always write thank-you notes and bring up [donations] at government meetings.”

Palmer House has also accepted repair work from the community. A Boy Scout completed his Eagle Scout project at the house a few years ago, adding a walkway and repairing steps. This summer, Bertel said a Scout with a familial connection to the area will redo another set of steps and add a flagpole with gravel to the front of the house, among other miscellaneous fixes.

Komer said she and volunteer Ellen Bertel write grant applications for future museum projects.

An exhibit in the works for next year is a display of farming tools in the basement, which requires the walls to be scraped and painted and peg boards to be hung.

An actionable upgrade that Ellen will undertake is planting flowers and other 18th-century plants, such as hollyhock, around the building. Bertel will also add a rain barrel to the property.

“Ellen will talk [to visitors] about why we have certain plants,” said Bertel.

Inside the museum are photos of homes in all the communities dating back to the 1800s.

“One of our goals is to have current photos of the homes for a then-and-now comparison,” said Bertel.

The Palmer House is a member of the Northeast Ohio Inter-Museum Council, and through that membership, volunteers hope to plan something in conjunction with other museums for America’s semiquincentennial in 2026.

The Historical Society of Olde Northfield meets on the fourth Tuesday of every month at 6 p.m. at the Nordonia Hills Library. Guests are welcome to attend, and the society is open to volunteers.

For more information, visit hson.info, the Palmer Museum’s Facebook page or email palmer-house@hson.info. ∞

The museum has the handcuffs and badge of the first constable in the Macedonia area. At the time, he wasn’t allowed to carry a gun. Photo by Laura Bednar.

On our cover (photos): The Palmer House Museum at 9390 Olde Eight Rd. is open on the fourth Sunday of every month during the summer. Read more about the historical items from Sagamore Hills, Northfield Center, Northfield Village and Macedonia featured in the
museum. Palmer House The Palmer House is one of the few vertical beam constructed homes in Ohio. It dates back to 1844. One of the museum rooms features uniforms and other items from the Civil War, WWI and WWII. Photos by Laura Bednar.