Maggie Beynon’s joy was palpable.
The 2-year-old beamed as she raced from electronic button to electronic button, setting off strains of organ and harp music with presses of her small hand.
To her, it was just a fun day at the playground with her grandmother, Akron resident Cindy Beynon. But to the staff of Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, it was the beginning of what they hope will be a lifelong connection to the Akron estate.
Maggie was trying out Stan Hywet’s new Playgarden, a children’s area filled with interactive stations with historical themes. The landscaped, handicap-accessible playground opened officially last week, much to the relief of staff members who had struggled with construction setbacks caused by the harsh winter.
The Playgarden uses fun activities to introduce children to the history of Stan Hywet and the family that lived there, the Seiberlings of Goodyear fame.
But it’s not just for kids, said Linda Conrad, president and executive director of the historical estate.
“It’s been as much fun for the parents as for the children. Almost,” she said.
The 5,000-square-foot Playgarden is situated near the Corbin Conservatory in the northeast area of the grounds. Its six stations are designed to let kids use their bodies as well as their imaginations.
Maggie was playing in Harmony Hall, a musical station with a sculpture at its center that resembles the pipes of the grand Aeolian Organ in the Manor House’s Music Room. Press a button, and you set off a cascade of bubbles from the sculpture. (Soon sensors will put the bubbles in motion automatically as people enter the area.) Press more buttons, and brief bursts of music play from speakers.
Nearby is the Tudor Playhouse, a 15-foot structure inspired by Stan Hywet’s Carriage House that invites climbing and exploring. It has a rock-climbing wall, a foot bridge, a spiral slide and a marble chase, not to mention a pretty good view of the Stan Hywet grounds.
There’s a two-lane Bowling Lawn where visitors can try a game of outdoor bowling. There’s a Motion Garden where kids little and big can pretend to drive a restored 1929 Model A Ford truck, listen to 1920s music from its radio and pedal a bike or tricycle to power its headlights. There’s Joe’s Dig, a dog house named for the Seiberlings’ St. Bernard, which leads to a sand pit where visitors can participate in a pretend archaeological dig by searching for buried trinkets.
But the most popular feature of the Playgarden on a recent humid day was Splash Fountain, a water feature with a floor design that imitates the inlay in the Manor House’s round room and tulip-pattern sprays that mimic the fountain on the West Terrace. Users can step on sensors to send water jets shooting in the same directions the sun travels when it crosses the sky during the summer and winter solstices.
Ryan Yovichin, 9, of Akron, quickly discovered he could use his finger to redirect a spray toward 5-year-old Emmalyn Haag as the two splashed in the fountain. Ryan’s brother Jude, 10, watched the antics from a bench with Brenda Haag of Rittman, Emmalyn’s mom and the Yovichins’ nanny.
“It’s great. We’ll be back a lot more times,” Haag predicted as she watched her daughter busy herself by filling and refilling her waterproof shoes and using them to water the flowers in a bordering bed.
Signs with historical photos make the connection between the activities and the Seiberlings’ lives and home. A nearby snack center will offer healthful drinks and snacks in vending machines, and bathrooms are close by.
To visit the Playgarden, you must have tickets that include admission to Stan Hywet’s grounds; they start at $10 for adults and $4 for children.
The Playgarden project was in the making for three years, said Sean Joyce, Stan Hywet’s chief financial officer and the executive who oversaw the project. It was funded by $175,000 from the Robert O. & Annamae Orr Family Foundation.
The playground was designed by the Pattie Group, a landscaping firm in Novelty, and installed with help from the Stan Hywet staff and some of the estate’s regular contractors, Conrad said.
The idea is to appeal to families and make them want to keep coming back to Stan Hywet, Conrad said. The Playgarden is one of several family-friendly activities there, which also include the At Home with Nature play area, a native butterfly display, geocaching, questing and a scavenger hunt in the Manor House.
It’s all in keeping with F.A. and Gertrude Seiberling’s vision for Stan Hywet, which was a place to share with others, Conrad noted.
The couple loved family, so seeing kids romp around the grounds surely would have pleased them.
“That’s what the Seiberling family would have wanted,” she said.
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or email@example.com. You can also become a fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MBBreckABJ, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckABJ and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.