Filed Under Parks

Look About Lodge

The Cleveland Natural Science Club

Look About Lodge in Cleveland Metroparks South Chagrin Reservation is a symbol of a time when General Science was introduced into the curriculum of Cleveland schools. The lodge offered a home to science educators entrenched in a battle against juvenile delinquency and public perceptions of a failing educational system.

On June 29, 1927, the Cleveland Plain Dealer proclaimed the death of a "Schoolboy Reign of Terror" at the hands of science. Quoting the principal of Sterling Elementary School, located at the heart of the Cleveland's notorious "roaring third" police district, "Last year, in just a few months, I confiscated from small boys twenty-eight weapons of all varieties…Most of these were dirks made of cast-off butcher knives…Fights were uppermost in the mind of every boy." All had changed, according to the newspaper: "today harmony reigns. Fighting has ceased… Science wrought the change. A course in natural science has been running all year, and the children have become so interested that they no longer want to fight.”

Ellis Persing, associate professor at the Cleveland School of Education, helped institute and guide this scholastic experiment. Persing not only aided the training of teachers in offering courses on plants, birds and General Science, but personally taught the delinquent schoolboys to make electric motors, radios and telegraph instruments. As chairman of the Cleveland Schoolmasters Club's science committee, he worked to institute a twelve-year program of science study in public schools such as Sterling Elementary School. The curriculum of public schools, their administration, and the profession of teaching was undergoing massive changes in Cleveland and the country.

As part of this transformation, efforts were made in Cleveland during the 1920s to develop courses in General Science and introduce them into lower school grades. Persing, with a cadre of former university students, established the Cleveland Natural Science Club in 1925 to promote this cause. Founded on both an enthusiasm for and belief in the importance of science education, the club continued to steadily attract teachers and those interested in nature study.

Expanding in membership and purpose during the first half of the 1930s, the growth of the Cleveland Natural Science Club culminated in the construction of the current Look About Lodge in the Cleveland Metropolitan Park District's South Chagrin Reservation. The clubhouse is a symbol of a time when science education was pitted in a battle against knife wielding juveniles and perceptions of a faltering educational system. The club provided teachers both an opportunity for continued professional development and resources to promote change in Cleveland's public education system.

Persing, accompanied by peers throughout the Midwest, committed his time and labors to promote the inclusion of science courses at public schools. In a society radically altered by war and technological advances, proponents of revising school curriculum believed that an educated public needed the ability to think scientifically in order to solve modern world problems. Academics such as Persing provided specialized training to teachers, who incorporated biology, elementary science, and revamped nature study courses into public schools during the 1920s.

Through his work at the Cleveland School of Education, the associate professor connected with like-minded educators wishing to include natural sciences in their classrooms. In 1924, Persing and nineteen students formed the Cleveland Nature Club as an extension of their studies; Persing met with the teachers to hold informal discussions and perform fieldwork. Alumni of the group reformed as the Cleveland Natural Science Club the following year with the goal of promoting science education in classrooms, promoting the conservation of natural resources, and cultivating a public appreciation of the outdoors. Meetings and field trips offered members continued education, specialized training and hands-on experience to aid in professional development. Although composed mostly of women teachers, the club also attracted persons tied to outdoor education and public service clubs such as the Boy Scouts.

By 1931, the group grew to over 100 members. Meetings were held at libraries, homes and university buildings, but much of the club’s activities and fieldwork led them into the Cleveland Metropolitan Park District. The prior year, they helped develop and maintain nature trails in the Bedford and South Chagrin Reservations. Through the initiative of Persing, an arrangement was made with the Cleveland Metropolitan Park Board for the club to create its first headquarters in the South Chagrin Reservation. In return for the sole use of an old home located on parkland that was known as the Winslow farmhouse, the Cleveland Natural Science Club agreed to maintain the building and provide free educational programming to the public.

The club enthusiastically took on its new responsibilities. In addition to roofing, remodeling and repairing the ragged building, the grounds were landscaped with a Colonial Garden and private educational nature trail. Equipped with a natural history library, small museum, and unparalleled outdoor research facility, this shrine for nature study offered the small group of educators a space for recreation, study and club meetings. The small farmhouse, christened the Look About Lodge, brought to fruition the aims of the Cleveland Natural Science Club. Teachers of nature study and science were provided a home from which they could both share and expand their knowledge, experience and resources. The club would continue to grow as a place of interaction for educators, even as the successor institution to the Cleveland School of Education was defunded in 1936 by the Board of Education due to lack of available funds.

While maintaining its importance as a place for nature study, the growing popularity of both Look About Lodge and Cleveland’s park system during the depression era brought in new members. Although still composed mostly of female teachers, the professions and gender of club members diversified a bit. The small building soon proved inadequate for the growing club. With the assistance of the Cleveland Metropolitan Park Board, the Cleveland Natural Science Club secured a contract for the construction of a new Look About Lodge through the Works Progress Administration.

The lodge, completed in 1938, was fashioned to meet the needs of educators and natural history students. The design of the new structure more fully realized the club’s ambitions and expanding breadth of member interests. While an improvement in terms of available space, resources and layout, the building retained key features of the club's original headquarters: a museum, a library of scientific books, recreation grounds, and areas for study or group meetings. Its purpose also remained the same. Look About Lodge provided educators a place to explore and study the natural world in order that they may pass their scientific knowledge on to the public.

Audio

The Purpose of the Lodge Ralph Kneale Jr., author of Lodge Spirit, reflects on a quote by John Burroughs engraved in the walls of Look About Lodge. Source: Courtesy of Cleveland Metroparks
Science Club Meetings Donald Wieland describes the Cleveland Natural Science Club. Source: Courtesy of Cleveland Metroparks
Staying at the Lodge Ralph Kneale Jr., author of Lodge Spirit, remembers his nights spent at Look About Lodge as a child. Source: Courtesy of Cleveland Metroparks
The Windslow House Ralph Kneale Jr., author of Lodge Spirit, describes the founding of the original Look About Lodge at the Windslow House in 1931. Source: Courtesy of Cleveland Metroparks
Memories of Look About Lodge Clevelander Robert Hanes shares his memories of Look About Lodge in South Chagrin Reservation. Source: Courtesy of Cleveland Metroparks
A Brief History of Look About Lodge Barb Holtz, manager of Look About Lodge in the Cleveland Metroparks South Chagrin Reservation, provides an overview of Look About Lodge's history.

Images

The Science Club Receives a Telescope Members of the Cleveland Natural Science Club worked in small groups and committees based on their personal interests. The formation of these sections, which were usually composed of fewer than fifty persons, was meant to promote the exchange of ideas through informal group discussions. Following the receipt of a four-inch telescope as a gift in the late 1930s, plans were formulated for the creation of an astronomy section. Other groups were devoted to photography, folk-dancing, the promotion of natural science in elementary schools, maintaining the public nature trail, and planning group trips. Source: Courtesy of Cleveland Metroparks
Look About Lodge Look About Lodge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in April of 2006. At the bequest of Ellis Persing and Cleveland Natural Science Club members, architect Anton George Nosek Jr.’s design for the rustic cabin was inspired by Old Faithful Lodge in Yellowstone National Park. The Metropolitan Park Board regularly employed Nosek Jr. as an architect for WPA projects during the 1930s; his designs can still be seen in numerous shelter houses throughout the park system as well as the American Legion Camp in the North Chagrin Reservation. Source: Image courtesy of Cleveland Metroparks
Interior of Look About Lodge The craftsmanship of WPA laborers can also still be viewed in the architecture and interior of the historic cabin, which includes a stairwell built from halved chestnut logs and hand-wrought iron chandeliers. The deck chairs and benches that furnish Look About Lodge were built by the Bedford High School wood shop in 1939. Source: Image courtesy of Cleveland Metroparks
The Works Progress Administration The total price of building Look About Lodge was approximately $26,000. Funding from the Works Progress Administration provided the labor for its construction. The cost of building materials, however, fell to the Cleveland Natural Science Club. Members helped raise nearly $8,500 through personal loans, a membership drive, donations, and fund-raising activities. Source: Image courtesy of Cleveland Metroparks
Ellis Persing Founded by Ellis Persing, the Cleveland Natural Science Club was composed primarily of teachers during its early years. As an advantage of their chosen occupation, many club members were free to travel during the summer months. The travel section of the club regularly planned trips to national parks and places of scientific interest. Ellis Persing often led these excursions, as well as field trips throughout the United States with his college students. The rocks collected by members on their trips were included in the masonry of the upstairs fireplace at Look About Lodge. Source: Image courtesy of Cleveland Metroparks
Look About Lodge Porch, ca 1950 Look About Lodge was designed to meet the specific needs of the Cleveland Natural Science Club. Up to five groups could meet indoors, with room for an additional three to meet outdoors. Source: Image courtesy of Cleveland Metroparks
American Chestnut Three hundred and nine American chestnut logs from Loundonville, Ohio were used in the construction of Look About Lodge. American chestnut had long been the favored wood for log cabins in the eastern United States due to its availability, strength and resistance to rot. In the early 20th century, however, a fungus was introduced into America that decimated the once dominant tree species. The chestnut blight nearly brought the species to extinction by mid century. Source: Image courtesy of Cleveland Metroparks
The Winslow House The original Look About Lodge was located in the Cleveland Metroparks South Chagrin Reservation at the intersection of Solon Road and River Road. While the Cleveland Natural Science Club dedicated incredible amounts of resources and labor into the remodeling, landscaping and upkeep of the structure, it eventually proved to be too small for the growing club’s needs. By 1935, plans were being developed for either the building’s expansion or construction of a new edifice. While it was eventually determined that site of the farmhouse would not be suitable, the group wished to remain in the South Chagrin Reservation. Park landscape architect and science club member Arthur Munson initially suggested the location of the current Look About Lodge. Source: Image courtesy of Cleveland Metroparks
Bird Hike While still home to the Cleveland Natural Science Club, the Cleveland Metroparks assumed stewardship of Look About Lodge in January of 1993. The historic educational facility hosts numerous park activities and programs, and continues in its tradition of offering the public a place to both learn about and enjoy the natural world. Source: Image courtesy of Cleveland Metroparks
Trail Guide The Cleveland Natural Science Club continued to maintain a nature trail in South Chagrin Reservation following their relocation to the current Look About Lodge. Pictured above was a key maintained by club members for identifying and learning about the plants and flowers found along the footpath. Source: Image courtesy of Cleveland Metroparks
Card Party, ca 1950 To help fund the construction and ongoing maintenance of Look About Lodge, fund raising events were regularly held by the Cleveland Natural Science Club. Card parties were a favorite of both club members and the public. Source: Image courtesy of Cleveland Metroparks
Planting the South Chagrin Arboretum The 15-acre arboretum located in Cleveland Metroparks South Chagrin Reservation was originally planted and maintained by the Cleveland Natural Science Club. Club members used the grounds to display plants brought back from their travels. Source: Image courtesy of Cleveland Metroparks
Cleveland Natural Science Club Christmas Play The Cleveland Natural Science Club emerged from a belief that education could be an instrument of reform. Ellis Persing and a small group of teachers developed the organization to help advance a program of science study in public schools. With the opening of Look About Lodge, club members not only found themselves with a space to pursue scientific exploration — but a home from which they could socialize, interact with like-minded colleagues, and forge personal relationships. Source: Image courtesy of Cleveland Metroparks
Western Reserve University and Cleveland Normal School The advent of World War I brought to light the importance of cultivating an educated populace; concerns over high rates of illiteracy and foreign communities accompanied a general sense that the training of teachers needed improvement. Despite this new-found emphasis on education, enrollment at teachers' colleges was on the decline. The remedy lay in transforming the public's understanding of teaching as a profession, while giving opportunities for specialized training and career advancement to educators. As a response to the changing times – as well as increased Ohio teacher certification standards - the Cleveland School of Education was created in 1918 through collaboration between the Cleveland Board of Education, Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Normal School. The Cleveland School of Education provided professional training for public school teachers, and offered specialized courses for in-service educators. Employed in 1921, Ellis Persing’s work at the school was intimately tied to this endeavor of professionalizing Cleveland’s teaching staff. Creator: Image courtesy of Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections.

Location

37374 Miles Rd, Bentleyville, OH 44022

Metadata

Richard Raponi, “Look About Lodge,” Cleveland Historical, accessed December 4, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/689.