Filed Under Parks

Frostville

Awakened from the grave on a chilly October evening in 1975, the ghostly manifestation of Western Reserve pioneer Thomas Briggs greeted trespasser at the Frostville Museum complex in Cleveland Metroparks Rocky River Reservation with scowls and threats of retribution over the displacement of his beloved home. Brave tour leaders steered visitors towards the not-quite-living history exhibition of Briggs’ partially-renovated residence, regaling them with details from letters penned by the phantom docent...

Awakened from the grave on a chilly October evening in 1975, the ghostly manifestation of Western Reserve pioneer Thomas Briggs greeted trespasser at the Frostville Museum complex in Cleveland Metroparks Rocky River Reservation with scowls and threats of retribution over the displacement of his beloved home.  Brave tour leaders steered visitors towards the not-quite-living history exhibition of Briggs’ partially-renovated residence, regaling them with details from letters penned by the phantom docent.  The writings, compiled by the Olmsted Historical Society,  recounted the labors involved in constructing the home and the settler’s joy upon its completion.  The specter could have shown a bit more gratitude – the house was previously slated for demolition, but had been rescued by the historical society.  With funds scraped together by hosting events such as annual antique auctions, members had managed to relocate a 20 x 40 foot section of the 139 year old home from Lorain Road in North Olmsted to museum grounds in 1969.  Efforts to restore the Greek Revival style building in accordance with its original design were well underway. The sturdy home’s new neighbors included a farmhouse erected in 1877,  a small storage shed containing a horse-drawn hearse, and a recently-constructed barn that displayed farm tools and a vintage fire engine.   The tiny pioneer village of Frostville was slowly being assembled within the rural terrain of the Cleveland Metroparks System.

Since the allocation of Frostville's grounds for use as a public museum in 1962 by Cleveland Metroparks, a handful of Olmsted Historical Society members stationed out of a farmhouse worked tirelessly to resurrect ghosts of the region’s earliest European and American settlers.  The group was founded in 1953 as the North Olmsted Historical Society; its members were not alone in their efforts to unearth a world that's demise was symbolized by highways and generic housing stock. In North Olmsted, and across the United States, the changes wrought by suburbanization spurred the establishment of organizations dedicated to preserving relics of local history. By the end of the postwar suburban boom, Cuyahoga County had no less than 28 historical societies devoted to conjuring up the restless souls of a distant - and often imagined - past.

This post World War II era marked the beginnings of rapid change in North Olmsted and its surrounds, and offers the backdrop for the historical society's invocation of the Briggs ghost.  Across the United States, urban sprawl and suburbanization transformed the character and landscape of small communities situated outside urban centers.  Consumer spending that had been restrained during the Great Depression and World War II was unleashed. Demand for homes and consumer goods skyrocketed.

A slight complication quickly came to light. The construction of new housing had been at a relative standstill in an economy marked by rationing.  The public not only had freshly available reserves of money, but depression era federal policies offered Americans greater access to affordable, long-term loans.  The passage of the G.I. Bill further encouraged home ownership among veterans through a guarantee of low interest mortgages that did not require a down-payment.  In 1946, it was estimated by the United States Senate that over three million homes were immediately needed to meet consumer demand. America was amidst a housing crisis.

As post war manufacturing switched back to the production of consumer goods, a burgeoning automobile industry stimulated home building in places such as North Olmsted. The annual production of cars in America grew from 70,000 in 1945 to over two million the following year.  This output rose to over 3.5 million by 1947.  To accommodate the new surplus of cars clogging the roadways, vast sums of federal and state funding were allotted to the construction of highway infrastructure during the 1950s. The outmigration of Cleveland residents to the suburb of North Olmsted centered along Lorain Road, which provided a fairly direct route between the cities. The opening of the Ohio Turnpike to traffic in 1955 further accelerated the growth of residential and commercial development in the region. 

With demand for housing compounded by new transportation networks into and out of cities, construction in suburbs flourished. The grounds that once sustained North Olmsted’s farming community were quickly subdivided and dissected with roads. Barns disappeared from the horizon. In their place, neighborhoods were platted and quickly erected using contemporary construction methods. Feeding the building frenzy, North Olmsted — declared a city in October of 1951 — witnessed an influx of new residents. A 1950 Census population of approximately 6,600 residents, which had nearly doubled during the prior decade, increased to over 16,000 by 1960. The trend continued, and the population reached almost 35,000 in the following ten years. Both commercial activity and the infrastructure of the city grew in turn. Notably, the late 1950s saw the beginnings of what would become the Great Northern Mall. The shopping complex helped transform North Olmsted into a regional retail center.

Suburban growth also left a wake of destruction in its path. Long-standing structures were regularly razed to make way for residential, commercial and retail developments. Open lands previously used for farming, greenhouses, and hunting disappeared. New settlers couldn’t entirely be blamed for vestiges of the past vanishing from the landscape. Time had taken its toll on many of the region’s oldest buildings, necessitating either demolition or the pouring in of funds for rehabilitation. Countless structures had grown decrepit through years of owner neglect or abandonment. The oldest buildings that remained in the increasingly suburban landscape, however, took on new meaning. They came to symbolize the community’s rural past. In North Olmsted, the death knell for idyllic rural society was countered by the historical society's efforts to salvage physical representations of the past.

The village of Frostville was a response to the changes brought on by suburbanization; the historic enclave was born from an endeavor by the North Olmsted Historical Society to prevent the demolition of a vacant home standing within the Rocky River Reservation. The aged farmhouse sat on land purchased by the Metropolitan Park Board in 1925. The homestead was maintained as a rental property until the 1950s, despite not having electricity or indoor plumbing. The historical society rallied upon learning of the building’s imminent doom, and incorporated as a non-profit association in 1961. The Cleveland Metropolitan Park Board agreed to spare the structure for use as a public museum and cultural center, even though policies enacted during the 1950s curtailed the allocation of park lands for exclusive use by private groups.

The relationship between the two organizations was forged on common ground. The Park Board was also reeling from the unsettling impact of suburbanization, and searching for ways to promote preservation and conservation of its lands. By the mid 1950s, parking lots in the Metropolitan Park System overflowed with cars during the summer months. Lines formed at picnic areas for use of grills and public amenities, and the many pairs of feet trampling through green lawns were decimating the flora and eroding the soil. The ever-present threat of environmental degradation escalated as increased populations settled adjacent to park land, especially in connection with the pollution of rivers, creaks and streams. By the late 1950s, park director Harold W. Groth expressed concern that there were “too many people for too little land.” Nature wasn’t being given a chance to recover from the seasonal onslaught of humans. For the first time in its history, the Park Board found it necessary to deviate from the original Metropolitan Park System plan. A proposal was published in 1961 recommending an 8,400 acre park expansion project. Land for the Bradley Woods Reservation in North Olmsted and Westlake was acquired by 1962 to help alleviate overcrowding at Rocky River Reservation and Hinckley Reservation.

Just as the Park Board tirelessly worked to recreate an idealized representation of the region’s lost natural environs through landscaping, the North Olmsted Historical Society labored to materialize an interpretive memory of the suburb’s frontier past. As an affiliate of the Park Board, the historical society took on the financial responsibilities of running and maintaining the on-site museum. The farmhouse — known as the Prechtel House — was remodeled, painted, vanquished of bees, and connected to the electrical grid. Descendants of Olmsted Township's earliest settlers donated antiques to furnish its interior. The homestead was named Frostville to commemorate the area’s first post office, which opened in 1829 at the home of Dr. Elias Carrington Frost. The museum was officially opened to the public as part of North Olmsted's sesquicentennial anniversary celebration in 1965. During these early years, the scope of the society’s mission broadened to encompass the historic preservation of the entire original township. The organization’s name was trimmed to Olmsted Historical Society in 1968.

Guided by Olmsted Historical Society's vision for recreating a small village representative of 19th century life in Ohio, Frostville steadily grew and took shape as a living history museum. In 1976, a one-room cabin built during the mid 1830 was placed in the company of the Prechtel House and Briggs House. A two-story federal style home known as the Carpenter House, which was also erected during the 1830s, was transported to Frostville in 1987. A church dating back to the mid-1800s was relocated to the homestead in 2005, and was soon-after neighbored by a carriage house traced to North Olmsted’s first settler. The restoration process for each historic building was long and costly, with many a rummage sale, haunted house, and auction held to acquire necessary finances. Additional structures built on-site included a general store, an events barn, a workshop, and a display barn. All the while, the historical society continued to curate a collection of antiques representative of the region’s history. Plans are currently underway by the Olmsted Historical Society to both construct a one-room schoolhouse and rebuild a detached summer kitchen annex of the Carpenter House.

After over half a century in operation, Frostville is no longer haunted by the ghost of Thomas Briggs during the Halloween season. The turmoil created by the rapid suburbanization of North Olmsted in the 1950s and 1960s subsided. The rush of newcomers slowed to a crawl; the population peaked in the 1980s at over 36,000 residents, and proceeded to decline. While traces of the region’s agricultural past have all but disappeared from the city's landscape, members of the historical society continue their efforts to keep the past alive at the museum complex. Visitors to the living museum in Rocky River Reservation are invited to surround themselves in a world pieced together through the research. physical toil, and craftsmanship of Olmsted Historical Society members. By curating an environment illustrative of 19th century Americana, the village of Frostville offers park-goers a physical link and sense of continuity with the bygone days of Olmsted Township's earliest settlers.

Images

Rocky River Valley Pictured above is Cedar Point Road in the Rocky River Valley, just down the road from the future location of Frostville. Prone to flooding, valley land was used by the region's earliest settlers for farming and grazing. Much of the low-lying area along the Rocky River was purchased by the Metropolitan Park Board following the 1920s for building its park system. Source: Image courtesy of Olmsted Historical Society
Prechtel House, 1905 The Prechtel House was built by Adam Poe in 1877, and purchased by German immigrants Martin and Margaret Prechtel a few months after its completion. The small farmhouse was saved from demolition by the North Olmsted Historical Society in 1962, and became the nucleus from which the Frostville Village grew. Source: Image courtesy of Olmsted Historical Society
Relocating the Carpenter House, 1987 The Carpenter House was moved to Frostville in May of 1987. Purchased by Forest Kitson in 1946, the home on Lorain Road was soon surround by an emerging business district. When the Kitson family decided to sell their property in 1985, the home was donated to the Olmsted Historical Society. After over a year of unsuccessful attempts by the historical society to solicit funds for relocating the structure, it appeared that the Carpenter House was doomed. In 1987, the George Gund Foundation presented the organization with a $15,000 grant to help pay for the move. While only needing to travel two miles, the house had to be split horizontally into halves to avoid collisions with overhead wires and trees along the route. The top and bottom sections weighed 30 and 40 tons, respectively. Source: Image courtesy of Olmsted Historical Society
Hearse and Bier The hearse and bier pictured above was built by John Ames in the 1840s. Ames, a carpenter, moved to Olmsted from New York in 1934. He not only found employment building homes such as the Briggs House, but acted as the local coffin maker and undertaker. The old-timey hearse is currently displayed at the Frostville museum. Source: Image courtesy of Olmsted Historical Society
Prechtel Homestead The Prechtel homestead was purchased by the Cleveland Metroparks in 1925. Despite lacking electricity and plumbing, the farmhouse was operated as a rental property of the Park Board until the 1950s. Source: Image courtesy of Olmsted Historical Society
Maynard Drugstore Postal Boxes While Frostville offers visitors a glimpse into the daily life of rural Ohioans during the 19th century, the museum also maintains a collection of historical artifacts from the early 20th century. Postal boxes from William Maynard's drugstore — opened in 1923 — are displayed in the Gifford General Store. The commercial hub of Frostville is also stocked with a variety of products that would have been available for sale at stores in the early 1900s. Source: Image courtesy of Olmsted Historical SocietyDrugstore
Stearns Carriage House The Stearns Carriage House is the last standing building in North Olmsted that can be traced to one the region's earliest Euro-American settlers, David Johnson Sterns. The small structure was moved to Frostville in 2006, and converted for use as public restrooms. Source: Image courtesy of Olmsted Historical Society
Carpenter House The Carpenter House was built circa 1831 by Vermont emigrant John Carpenter upon settling in what would become Olmsted. The home was designed in the Federal Style, which was popular in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The architectural type is most noticeably characterized by a rectangular, symmetrical exterior lacking in ornamentation. Like many Federal houses in the North, the house was designed around a central chimney fed by the home's multiple fireplaces. The Carpenter House was placed on the the Historic American Building Survey in 1935, Source: Image courtesy of Olmsted Historical Society
Cedar Valley Event, 2014 The village of Frostville hosts a variety of educational, cultural and fund-raising events throughout the year. While most programs do not require elaborate costumes or participating in staged battles, the public is welcomed by the Olmsted Historical Society to enjoy arts festivals, craft displays, historical presentations, car shows, and bouts of square dancing. The Cedar Valley Days arts festival, pictured above, is an annual event sponsored by the historical society and the Cleveland Metroparks. Source: Image courtesy of Olmsted Historical Society
Briggs House The Briggs House was built by carpenter John Ames circa 1836. The home was passed on through descendents of the early pioneer family for nearly 130 years, over which time the structure saw its share of remodeling and renovations.. Once relocated to museum grounds in 1969, the Briggs House was restored to its original Greek Revival style. Creator: Top image courtesy of Olmsted Historical Society
Frostville Village Church A wedding chapel was dedicated in the tiny village of Frostville on August 10, 2008. The Greek Revival structure was constructed in 1847 on the land of Amos Briggs, son of Olmsted Township pioneers Thomas and Abiah Briggs. Located at the corner of Butternut Ridge and Ridgeville, now known as Lorain and Barton Roads, the church served the region's Methodist community until 1868. The First Congregationalist Church soon-after purchased the building, where they held services until moving to a new house of worship in 1964. The building was eventually donated to the Olmsted Historical Society by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and relocated to Frostville in 2005. Creator: Images courtesy of Olmsted Historical Society
Jenkins Cabin Frostville's Jenkins Cabin is the oldest house in North Olmsted. Dating back to around 1820, the structure was originally situated off of what is now Columbia Road near the Westlake border. The sturdy post and beam cabin was built by Benjamin Clark, a squatter, who was soon-after evicted by the land owner. The homestead was later purchased by William Jenkins around 1860, and donated to the museum by his descendents. The cabin was moved to museum grounds in 1976. Source: Images courtesy of Olmsted Historical Society

Location

Metadata

Richard Raponi, “Frostville,” Cleveland Historical, accessed August 10, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/724.