Filed Under Race and Ethnicity

Mason's Farm

How an Ordinary Working Farm Became an Extraordinary Black Leisure Destination

The article Mason's Farm originally appeared in Green Book Cleveland, our sister project exploring the history of Black entertainment, leisure, and recreation in Northeast Ohio. Named for its proprietor Benny Mason, Mason's Farm was a Black-owned working farm in Solon that achieved national renown as a music venue and resort in the 1930s-40s.

In 1935, Benjamin “Benny” Mason purchased a 160-acre farm in Solon on Cochran Road south of Route 43 and established what became known as “Mason’s Farm,” a popular resort, country club, and jazz venue. A well-known game operator, Mason purchased the farm and the Cedar Country Club subsequently opened in 1936. Upon the farm’s opening, Mason remarked, “I want to do something for my people. I want to make this farm a place where they can relax and enjoy themselves. I want to provide a place for them comparable to other races.” Despite its rural location beyond the east suburbs of Cleveland, one of the features Mason boasted was the Cedar Country Club's proximity to the city itself, claiming only a twenty-five-minute drive from Carnegie and East 55th Street in Cleveland. With the accessibility of the resort, both in location and its integrated clientele, the farm quickly became a popular destination for visitors across the country as well as Clevelanders. The Cedar Country Club gained national acclaim as the “showplace of Ohio.” The resort included furnished cabins, a restaurant, and nightclub. Some of its features included a riding academy, picnic grounds, and occasionally tours of the farm for students.

The Cedar Country Club also functioned as a nightclub and jazz venue that boasted popular artists Tiny Grimes, saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, and many others. The Cedar Country Club, which one Call and Post feature lauded as "Ohio's Swankiest Summer Resort," was routinely described as luxurious and enjoyed a listing in the 1939 edition of the Negro Motorists' Green Book. While it looked like a barn from the exterior, the clubhouse boasted a bar in the basement, another bar on the ground floor as well as a dance hall, and a lounge and private rooms on the second floor. It was available to be rented out for private parties, banquets, and other events. Mason renamed Cedar Country Club "Mason's Farm" in 1941 and hired restaurateur U. S. Dearing as manager. In addition to its leisure destination status, Mason’s Farm was also a working farm with more than 2,500 head of livestock and 145 of its 160 acres set aside for growing corn, wheat, and oats.

Mason himself was an eccentric character in Cleveland history, often running into legal trouble. Some of the allegations against him included purchasing stolen jewelry, transporting alcohol during Prohibition, and the frequent policy promoting that made Mason famous. Mason was known as the “king of policy games” as he notoriously ran illegal numbers rackets. In the summer of 1932, Benny Mason became the target of the Mayfield Road mob. In a number of attempts by the Mayfield Road mob to expand their own illegal numbers games into areas controlled by Mason, four men were arrested outside of Mason’s home and thought to be there to kill him.

Throughout his time both as a policy operator and owning the farm, Mason was notorious for “resigning” as the lead policy operator, but ultimately would move his operation’s headquarters and resume his business. Despite protests from management that claimed no gambling was permitted on the property, policy games continued to take place at the resort, making it a well-known gambling center in Cleveland. Residents in Solon in 1938 explained that while they did not see any “big-time gambling,” Mason’s Farm did have several slot machines. Though this reputation may have accounted for its disappearance from the Green Book after just one year, Mason's Farm remained very popular throughout the 1940s.

However, Mason redirected a significant portion of his wealth from these illicit games to support his community. Mason was known for his philanthropy, particularly for his donations to Black churches in Cleveland as well as paying educational costs for Black students. Throughout the early to mid-twentieth century across the country, policy and numbers games were cornerstones in providing economic opportunities to Black communities. Gambling rackets not only provided employment opportunities to Black residents in the community, but they also became a widespread source of investment into businesses and philanthropy.

Mason's establishment closed in 1951 and was sold to the Nickel Plate Railroad to form an industrial park. Benny Mason was involved in a fatal car crash in 1954 near London, Ohio, that took his life and the life of his friend Walter Woodford as well as critically injuring his wife Blanche.

Images

Postcard of Cedar Country Club, B. B. Mason's Farm This postcard view shows the circular bar inside the clubhouse, the spacious wood-paneled dining room, and horseback riders at the club's riding academy. Mason's was reputedly one of the only farms in the state of Ohio to have a D-5 liquor license, a feat that is especially notable given that he was a Black businessman operating far from where most African Americans lived or owned property. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Creator: Sears Bros. Date: ca. 1940
Aerial View of Mason's Farm This aerial view shows the clubhouse, barns and stables, horse track, and guest cottages surrounded by crop fields. At the time, this area outside the village of Solon was completely rural. Today it is an industrial park. Source: J. Mark Souther Postcard Collection Date: ca. 1945
Benjamin B. (Benny or Bennie) Mason Benny Mason was born in Kentucky in 1894. By the late 1920s he began to have run-ins with police and mobsters over his operation of policy houses and other numbers "rackets." Yet, Mason was widely seen as fair and honest in these operations, and he plowed much of the money from them into philanthropic activities at a time when racial discrimination made it extremely hard for many African Americans to enjoy the economic success he found. Mason died in an auto accident in 1954 at the age of 60 and left an estate valued at more than $180,000, which. would amount to about $2 million in today's money. Source: Call & Post Date: January 12, 1952
Clubhouse The three-story clubhouse had two barbecue pits to the right side in this view and a garden to the left where Mason planned to offer outdoor dining. It is not known whether this plan was carried out. Source: Call & Post Date: June 2, 1938
Guest Cabins Mason's Farm had up to sixteen cabins for tourists. Source: Call & Post Date: June 2, 1938
A Working Farm As of 1939, ninety percent of Mason's Farm's 160 acres were planted in vegetables and animal feed crops or reserved for livestock. In addition to 65 acres planted in corn, 25 in oats, 25 in grain, and 20 in wheat, Mason kept 2,552 head of livestock, including horses for his riding academy, dairy cows, bulls, springers and roosters, goats, hogs, and shoats (a cross between a sheep and a goat). The farm also featured thoroughly modern agricultural equipment, two electrically operated wells. Source: Call & Post Date: May 25, 1939
Cover of Mason's Farm Booklet This booklet cover shows Mason, a stone wall and archway above the entrance drive leading to his stone country house, and a horse barn used for his riding academy. Source: Solon Historical Society Date: ca. 1940s
Mason's Farm Advertisement This ad gives a sense of the range of offerings one might find at a given time at Mason's Farm. Mary Lou Williams was an illustrious jazz pianist and composer/arranger who wrote for Duke Ellington and other jazz greats. The ad also calls attention to twice-nightly shows, cabins, riding academy, and picnic grounds. The name U. S. Dearing (who managed Mason's Farm beginning in 1941) was synonymous with top-notch hospitality, and Dearing would go on to be known for his namesake local restaurant chain. Source: Call & Post Date: August 8, 1942

Location

Cochran Rd, Solon, OH

Metadata

Cheyenne Florence, “Mason's Farm,” Cleveland Historical, accessed January 29, 2023, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/967.