For generations of West Akron residents, winter recreation whirled and twirled around Forest Lodge in Elm Hill Park.

Mirth and joy filled the frosty air while bundled youngsters skated on a frozen pond in a wooded landscape. If they didn’t know how to skate, kids wobbled as best as they could on the gleaming ice. Ideally, the outing ended with a hot chocolate before a roaring fireplace.

More than a century ago, Forest Lodge stood in a sparsely populated area on the 165-acre estate of B.F. Goodrich executive Arthur H. Marks. The original lodge was a rustic cabin that Marks used for hunting and fishing.

Following a divorce, Marks unloaded the property in 1919 to the Elm Hill Estates Co., led by real estate mogul Charles Herberich, who promised to develop “the most attractive residential project ever launched in Akron.” Marks directed the sale of 33 acres, including his West Market Street mansion, Elm Court, to the Sisters of St. Dominic, who renamed it Our Lady of the Elms.

The rest became a swanky neighborhood built around a park that the real estate company donated to the city.

“Elm Hill is as pretty today as when its former owner, charmed by a small lake, great virgin trees and as pretty ground as lies out-of-doors, bought it for his own,” Herberich advertised. “These natural beauties will be preserved in Elm Hill. The lake, surrounded by virgin trees, will be a park of 15 woodland acres. In the midst of it Mr. Marks built a forest lodge which will be preserved as it now stands …”

Elm Hill Park, bounded by Hawkins, Mull, Greenwood and Jefferson avenues, opened in 1920. Skaters ventured out on the pond in winter, but it wasn’t officially opened for public use until early 1923 when Rollins Raymond, 18, of Beechwood Drive, promised city park manager H.R. Russell that a crew of neighborhood boys would provide upkeep just like “Uncle Sam’s foresters work out west in taking care of woods and shrubbery.”

The skating was free, but entirely dependent on the weather. Because the pond was only 18 inches deep, the danger of falling through the ice was less of a concern than at other ponds. The old cabin served as a shelter where skaters could warm themselves in front of a log fire.

The neighborhood slowly began to fill in with residences. St. Sebastian Catholic Church and its school opened across Mull Avenue in November 1929 just as the Great Depression took hold.

In 1932, the city doubled the size of the skating pond to 240 square feet and built a rock retaining wall. In 1933, the Works Progress Administration began to build a brick-and-stone shelter — a new Forest Lodge — to replace the aging cabin. The English-style building at 260 Greenwood Ave. had plumbing, heating and electricity.

Lawson Chase Drown, his wife, Anna, and their daughter, Janet, were named caretakers of the property before the formal opening in November 1934. For nearly a decade, they lived on the second floor of the building while operating a sports lodge, skate rental and snack bar on the first level.

“My grandfather had been trained as a teacher, and during the Depression, he lost his teaching job,” said Denise Remark Lundell, an accountant, local historian and lifelong Akron resident. “They had moved to Sullivan, Ohio, while he was waiting for an appointment to the WPA. When that came, he moved back to Akron because he was assigned to be the caretaker of Forest Lodge.”

The Drowns resided at the lodge for free but had to pay all utility bills and supervise the property, and one of the most important things for L.C. Drown to maintain was the lagoon.

“During the winter, he was responsible for flooding the skating rink, and my mom said he was meticulous,” Lundell said. “He would be out there watching to keep the kids off the ice before it had fully frozen because he didn’t want any ruts in the ice.”

Hundreds of skaters could fill the ice any given afternoon. When they were tired or needed to thaw out, they headed indoors to rest on log benches in front of a huge, crackling fireplace.

“The kids could go in and warm up there and take their skates off and unfreeze their feet,” Lundell said. “My mom said they sold snacks like candy bars and hot chocolate.”

Janet Drown liked living at the comfy, quiet lodge, although she didn’t particularly enjoy traipsing to Portage Path Elementary and later Buchtel High School in waist-deep snow while wearing a dress, boots and long coat.

“She said it was a real slog,” Lundell said.

The adolescent girl also wasn’t too keen on working the snack bar or skate rental, in part because she might have to wait on classmates.

“My mom was real friendly, but I think she was really self-conscious,” Lundell said. “She didn’t want to be noticed.”

After nine years, the Drown family said goodbye to Forest Lodge and moved to Lakemore near the end of World War II. Lundell believes the family’s improving economics led to the mid-1940s relocation. Her mother, Janet Drown Remark, always had fond memories of the lodge.

“She seemed to think that it was a pretty nice place to live,” she said.

Forest Lodge continued to operate as a winter recreation area for another 60 years. Although fashion trends came and went, the pond remained popular at Elm Hill Park (commonly known as Forest Lodge Park). Ice skaters whirled and twirled through the doo-wop 1950s, psychedelic 1960s, disco 1970s, new-wave 1980s and grungy 1990s.

At the dawn of a new century, Forest Lodge held its last skate in 2001. The city drained the lagoon, ending more than 80 years of winter fun.

Today, St. Sebastian Parish oversees the city-owned Forest Lodge Community Center. Parish offices are maintained upstairs in the caretakers’ former quarters, and the first floor is available to rent for meetings, parties and other gatherings.

Outside in the cold, empty lagoon, only memories whirl and twirl.

Mark J. Price is the author of the book Mafia Cop Killers in Akron: The Gang War Before Prohibition from The History Press. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or mjprice@thebeaconjournal.com.