Old friends and new adventures in Richfield

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Amity House
The Amity House was built in 1936 by the Neal family, which owned and operated the Neal Fruit Farm. (Julie Geiss photo)

There is something about cooler fall weather and the return to school that makes me reminiscence about my college days and time spent with my roommates. Our friendship, which began in the fall of our freshman year, has weathered the test of time and distance.

This year, we were able to coordinate schedules and meet, in Richfield, Ohio. Heavy rain in the morning threatened our plans to spend time together outside. By late morning, however, sunshine and blue skies brightened our outlook and expanded our list of possibilities for the day.

After eating brunch together on the patio at Olesia’s Taverne, we needed some exercise before moving on to dessert. We headed to the nearby Richfield Heritage Preserve. Prior to being operated by the Richfield Joint Recreation District, the land was owned by the Cleveland Girl Scout Council and known by the camp name, Crowell Hilaka.

Adventure

As my friends and I started our hike, we could tell the land was once a summer haven for young scouts. Cabins, horse stables and trail signs made me feel like an excited camper awaiting adventure. As we continued on the trail, it seemed like we slipped back many more decades to the time before girl scouts roamed the woods. We paused our hiking in front of a building that appeared to be straight out of a fairy tale. Brick arches and stone pillars were the framework for this fortress from another time.

After a little research, I learned that this building was built in the French Normandy style. A brick turret near the front door looked like an elegant silo. A cone shaped top featured a wind vane with a quaint couple riding a bicycle seemingly in the sky. The Amity House was built in 1936 by the Neal family, which owned and operated the Neal Fruit Farm. Unfortunately, crop damage eventually led the family to sell the land to the Girl Scout Council in 1957.

Even though my roommates and I only get to see each other a couple times a year, we can easily slip back to our casual banter and laughter. Conversation filled the woods as we traipsed over puddles and across wooden planks along the trail.

Jewelweed

Just as I can imagine thousands of Girl Scout campers doing over the years, we paused to pop seed capsules on jewelweed growing along the edge of the trails. The plant grows in shaded areas near lakes and streams. We were hiking near Lake Linnea, and the plant was in abundance. The native North American plant is also called a “Touch-Me-Not,” due to the bursting seed pods.

The bright orange flowers are shaped like a trumpet and provide nectar for butterflies, hummingbirds and bees. While the plant is entertaining for children, and, apparently, adults too, it is known for being a remedy for poison ivy and nettle rashes. Juice from the leaves and stems can soothe and prevent an itchy reaction to insect bites too.

Our hiking was limited, due to water on the trails after the heavy rain in the morning. We stopped on our way to the parking lot to read more of the history of the land and look at a map. We had only explored a portion of the park; we will have to return to explore the southern end of the preserve.

Jim Kirby

It is around the lower lake, Lake Jinelle, where inventor, Jim Kirby, made his home after purchasing the land in 1919. After witnessing his mother being tied down by her housework, Kirby had the lifetime goal of “eliminating the drudgery of housework.”
He had the funds to buy the Richfield property after his invention of the washing machine spin cycle. He added many buildings to his property, including a hydroelectric mill and a dance hall with streetcar springs in the floor.

Kirby’s improvements also gave the grounds a fairy tale feel, and he even welcomed the public to enjoy his land several days a week. He sought out a variety of plants to enhance the property and stocked the ponds with trout and bullfrogs from Canada. His patented lake was designed to minimize silt collection and eliminated the need to be dredged.

Past owners of the land are connected by a love of nature and their fascination with the creatures that make their homes in the lakes, forest and streams in the Richfield Heritage Preserve. We were privileged to spend the afternoon enjoying all the park has to offer now while honoring and learning about its interesting past.

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