GREEN:Parks and Recreation Director Mike Elkins summoned five horses by ringing a bell in the historical barn at the Levi Hartong farmstead at Southgate Park. Just moments before, the animals had been grazing peacefully in a nearby meadow.
Partners in the Summit County Sheriff’s mounted patrol, the horses that the community sees in parades have been stabled in the barn since 2006. The bell is their call to dinner.
“I’d better go find some crab apples,” Elkins said as the horses made a beeline for visitors standing near their corral.
The stone foundation of the barn, an original structure on the homestead, includes an inscription — “L.J. Hartong 1883” — carved into the cornerstone. The site, which includes a three-bedroom farmhouse also built in 1883, a summer kitchen, large chicken coop, two additional barns and a milk house is the only group of buildings in Green listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
For several years since it purchased the property, the city has struggled with how best to use the structures and the land, which also contains a small family cemetery.
Leaders have toyed with turning the farmhouse — currently rented to a private individual — into an exhibit space and a trailhead for the park. The farmhouse sits a half-mile away from the nearest parking area at the end of a trail sometimes used for cross-country running.
That proposal never seemed right, community development director Sarah Haring said in a recent interview.
Discussions began to find a sustainable use for the property with an added educational element. The idea of returning the home and up to 22 acres of the park back into farmland through a lease arrangement was suggested. Ideally, the right person would live in the farmhouse and use sustainable methods to farm the property.
“In the end there was a strong feeling that providing an engaging public exhibit space in this very remote area was not fiscally responsible, and in terms of maintenance and staffing, not sustainable. The idea of returning the land to its original and historic use — a small-scale agricultural farm — seems to be the right fit,” Haring said.
The idea originated in a Living Green Task Force meeting, and interest soon spread to the city’s Planning Department and grew from there, Haring said.
“All the living green initiatives have to, by their very nature, cross departments. This is a good example of that,” she said.
Earlier this year, Haring, Elkins and others met with individuals at the Cuyahoga Valley Countryside Conservancy, which leases Cuyahoga Valley National Park land to farmers. Their intent was to learn more about the process and make sure the proposed location could fit the model of sustainable farming on parkland.
“Having a success story and model such as the Countryside Conservancy in our area has really helped pave the way for us to envision success,” Haring said.
Last week, representatives from the Parks and Recreation, Service and Planning departments presented the idea to a joint meeting of the Parks and Recreation Board and the Historic Preservation Commission. They came away with unanimous resolutions of support from both.
“This project takes full advantage of the opportunities Southgate Park presents to our community and creates additional diversity within our entire park system. It would also create another living classroom for our community, only adding to the value of the park and those who visit it,” Elkins said.
Recent renovations include replacing the roof on the farmhouse in June to match the original pattern on the barn roof using a $21,000 grant from the Ohio Historic Preservation Office. Previously, the city removed a structure and stairway that was not original construction that connected the house and the summer kitchen.
Haring said the previous owner and current occupant have done a good job maintaining the interior.
“It’s been very well preserved on the inside to keep the historical nature,” she said
Officials anticipate they will begin accepting suggestions for land use from interested parties in the spring, but they are not specifying a timeline for the selection process. It’s more important to match the tenant, his or her proposal, its sustainability and if it includes an educational element that will benefit the community.
“Everything is on the table. We want them to fit their proposal to the land,” Elkins said.
Anyone interested in learning more about the program may contact Sarah Haring at email@example.com.
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.