Long before repurposing was a word, Lynda and Bill Grieves were practicing it.
The West Akron couple salvaged old architectural elements and construction materials decades before doing so was trendy. The Grieveses have used them to create a home and landscape that reflect their appreciation for timeworn craftsmanship and incorporate pieces of the region’s past.
Surprisingly, it’s a house some thought should never be built.
Bill Grieves’ father bought the property in 1948, when it was a long-undeveloped lot in Merriman Hills. No one wanted it, the Grieveses said, because rumor had it the location was vulnerable to damage from steam locomotives passing on nearby tracks. People thought that vibrations from the trains would crack the footers of any house built there and that smoke from the engines would dirty laundry hung out to dry.
Turns out they were wrong, and the Grieves family was rewarded for its gamble with a home that’s tucked in a pocket of wooded privacy.
Bill Grieves and his parents built the house in 1950, eight years before he and Lynda married. Bill, a lifelong fan of architecture, worked with the builder and architect on the design and construction of the brick bungalow.
Bill and Lynda moved in after his mother died so they could help his father, and they later bought the house when his father remarried. Ever since, they have been tweaking the house and property with their salvaged finds.
A liquor cabinet built by Bill Grieves, for example, is topped with slate that was once a faux marble fireplace mantel in the old Phillips Hall at the University of Akron. A hard-carved wood panel that used to hang over the cabinet came from the Spelman house in West Akron, the childhood home of John D. Rockefeller’s wife, Laura. Bill Grieves and his mother spotted the panel that they no longer display in a pile of discards waiting for a burn barrel and asked whether they could have it.
The brass chandelier in the dining room once hung in the tea room of Halle’s department store in downtown Cleveland, and the kitchen table is topped with a piece of blackboard from Akron schools. A remodeling of the master bedroom about 15 years ago incorporated some of the architectural elements the Grieveses had collected over the years, including painted Pennsylvania German shutters that now serve as closet doors, molding from oatmeal maker Ferdinand Schumacher’s house on East Market Street and timbers from a barn in Bath Township. The backs of the massive timbers had to be chiseled out to lighten them enough to get them up the stairs, Bill Grieves said.
The room is trimmed in wormy chestnut, a rare wood that they had stored for years. They’d bought the last of the wormy chestnut that the old Murphy Lumber had in stock and then kept it until the renovation.
Probably their proudest accomplishment is their driveway, created from granite cobblestones that once paved streets in the Middlebury area of East Akron.
They had wanted a cobblestone drive ever since they’d seen granite stones being torn out of Cleveland’s streets in the 1960s to make way for the construction of Interstate 77. They set out to find those stones, even tracking down a dump truck driver on a construction site and talking him into taking them to the place where he thought the stones were being discarded near the city’s steel mills. The search turned out to be fruitless, but the memory of that ride in a stranger’s dump truck still makes the Grieveses laugh.
Eventually a tip from a friend led them to Stow, where a man had been storing stones from the Middlebury streets in a field.
Bill Grieves laid the pavers one by one, working from the garage out to the street at a pace of maybe four courses a day. He laid the last row on the day in 1969 that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, “and it just fit. No cutting,” he said. “I still can’t believe that.”
What he didn’t realize at the time was that he’d made the mistake of laying the cobblestones on a bed of sand instead of limestone slag. The first winter, undulations appeared when the frost settled the soil under the tracks of the car tires. He thought he might have to tear everything out and start over, but then he found out Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens had done the same thing intentionally to give its driveway an aged appearance.
“We thought, hot dog!” he recalled.
Additional cobblestones form retaining walls edging the driveway and the street and decorate the extensive garden the Grieveses have created over the years behind their house. Some of the stones came from Cleveland’s Gateway area, some from train loading docks in that city and others from the old wading pools near Akron’s Derby Downs.
Cobblestones weren’t in much demand when they started, but they became harder to find over the years, Lynda Grieves said.
“We’ve sort of collected wherever we could find them and had fun putting them in,” she said. “That was sort of our hobby — finding things and then thinking, what could we do with that?”
The Grieveses built the garden a little at a time, working during summers off from their jobs with Akron schools. Bill Grieves taught drafting at Litchfield Middle School; Lynda Grieves was a principal at Portage Path and Firestone Park elementary schools. Both are now retired.
They worked in other finds, such as foundation stones from countless barns and a pre-Civil War millstone that serves as a garden bench. The roof over a seating area incorporates slate from a replica of a Long Island gatehouse that once stood on West Market Street in Fairlawn.
The garden received national recognition in 1996 when it was second runner-up in Home Mechanix magazine’s annual Yard Remodeling Contest.
Now the Grieveses are steeling for the day they say goodbye to their beloved home. They plan to move to a retirement community and have the house listed for sale with Stouffer Realty.
They appreciate the history and permanence of the material they’ve used, and they hope the home’s next owners will, too.
Some of that material existed long before they did. And as Bill Grieves, said, “We know it’ll be here long after we aren’t.”
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or email@example.com. You can also become a fan on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckenridge and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.