Filed Under Agriculture

Penitentiary Glen: The Halle Farm

Samuel H. Halle, who founded the Halle Bros. Co. department store with his brother, established his summer home far from the city in Kirtland, Ohio. Besides a summer house, the Halles added other extravagant amenities including a suspension bridge, a cottage, a horse stable, a vineyard, a rose garden, a swimming pool, tennis courts, and an air strip. The suspension bridge, built in the 1920s, was one-of-a-kind in Kirtland, and connected the summer house to a small cottage on the other side of the gorge. More than simply a leisure spot, however, it was a working farm. The Burnett family lived and worked the farm year-round.

The house sat on a large ravine. Easy to enter but very difficult to exit, the ravine became known as "Penitentiary Gulch." A local legend claims that the gulch was used to hold prisoners during the Civil War. True or not, the name "Penitentiary" stuck. Now a park, it is called Penitentiary Glen.

The Halle family used their summer estate to host parties, community celebrations, and important visitors. Each year the Halle family hosted and sponsored a "Pioneer Picnic" for the community that brought together people from all over Lake and Geauga counties. Samuel Halle continued to visit the summer home until his death in 1954. His five children inherited the property. The summer house burned down in the 1960s, and the horse barn, which had a hay loft and a considerably large tack room, was leased out in the early 1970s as a "Country Estate" under the Cleveland Trust Company's ownership. In 1975 Lake Metroparks purchased the property from the Cleveland Land Trust Company. The park district used the horse barn first as its headquarters. In the 1980s it was transformed into a nature center and continues to serve the public in this fashion today.

Visitors today can take a self-guided historic tour of the old Halle farm. Only two pillars on either side of the park's gorge hint at the onetime presence of the suspension bridge. All that remains of the Halles' summer home is its foundation. Remnants of the Halle gardens, landscaping, and orchards linger on in the park, and can be seen from the trails.

Images

Original Cabin, 1912 When Samuel Halle (pictured here on the far left) purchased his Kirtland property he found a cabin existing on the side of a ravine. that he decided to rebuild into a larger summer home. The date of the cabin's construction is unknown. The property was settled in the early 1800s, and by the 1830s was partially owned by Joseph Smith, founder of Mormanism. Courtesy of Lake Metroparks Archives. Don Strock Conservation Library.
Improved Summer Home, 1924 When the improvements to the "one room shack" were complete, the Halle summer house had "the appearance of a Swiss chalet." The Halles added a second story, electricity, and running water. The cabin's reconstruction was designed by Halle Brother's Interior Decorator and Architect Owen Coghlan. Courtesy of Lake Metroparks Archives. Don Strock Conservation Library.
Inside Halle Summer Home, 1930 The living room of their summer home cabin was finely decorated with oriental rugs and chandeliers. The architect who designed the improvements also oversaw the interior design. It may have appeared rustic from the outside, but the interior decor reflected the Halles' wealth and status. It was a respectable place to entertain the many and sometimes high-profile visitors to the farm, such as Randolph Churchill, son of Winston Churchill. Courtesy of Lake Metroparks Archives. Don Strock Conservation Library.
Horse Barn, 1930 Hay and corn were the main crops produced at the Halle Farm. The farm was run and maintained by the Burnett family, who lived there year-round. Besides raising crops, the Burnetts took care of the Halle horses and other livestock. Besides the stable, the Halles built a vineyard, grainery, creamery, ice house, and other farm structures. Courtesy of Lake Metroparks Archives. Don Strock Conservation Library.
Halle Brothers, 1916 The Halle brothers gained their wealth in merchandising. They started their department store, Halle Brothers Co., in 1891. The store eventually became a chain, and their wealth continued to grow. Samuel Halle lived in Cleveland Heights when not at the farm, and his brother, Salmon, lived in Shaker Heights. Courtesy of Halle Archives.
Nature Center The Nature Center at Penitentiary Glen resides in the former Halle horse barn, which was modeled after English designs. The Center offers exhibits on both the wildlife and the history of Penitentiary Glen. Image Courtesy of Kelsey Smith.
Kevin P. Clinton Wildlife Center Penitentiary Glen is known for its Wildlife Center, established in 1983. Around 2,000 animals each year are cared for and about half are released into the wild. People can bring orphaned or injured wildlife native to Ohio to the Center for treatment. It is the only facility of its kind in Northeast Ohio. Image Courtesy of Kelsey Smith.

Location

8668 Kirtland Chardon Rd, Willoughby, OH 44094

Metadata

Tim Trepal and Kelsey Smith, “Penitentiary Glen: The Halle Farm,” Cleveland Historical, accessed July 3, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/488.