Kaleidoscope: Historic farm now is part of school district grounds

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In a column in mid-February after a trip to Willoughby South High School for a Greenmen wrestling match, I briefly mentioned the former Chandler-Tucker estate now owned by the Willoughby-Eastlake school district. I promised readers more background later. So here it is.

Don Lewis of the Willoughby Historical Society sent me the historical info. Harrison T. Chandler, who with William H. Price founded the Chandler & Price printing press company in 1881, bought the initial 71 acres of the farm in 1900, and the title was transferred to Gertrude Chandler Tucker, daughter of Harrison, in 1913.

The Tuckers, who raised Guernsey cattle and percheron horses, built the 20-room mansion now housing the Willoughby-Eastlake central offices in 1915 from stones transported from the west side of Cleveland by rail, and horse and wagon.

They named the estate Elgercon after Gertrude, her mother Ellen and her sister Constance.

The farm eventually grew to more than 125 acres, running along the west side of Shankland Road -- mostly between Ridge Road and Euclid Avenue, but also a portion south of Ridge Road (now part of the Lake Metroparks' Gully Brook Park).

An old barn which predates the mansion faces Ridge, and four or five other barns built just after the mansion are behind it. A carriage house, multi-car garage and small greenhouse also remain on the property.

The greenhouse once was much larger, and the Tuckers also had a large vegetable garden and rose garden on the property. A number of tenant houses along Shankland (originally known as Chandler Road) are gone.

Because the Tuckers loved dogs, there is a dog cemetery to the east of the mansion, with a poem that Mrs. Tucker wrote carved into a stone.

When Mrs. Tucker died in 1953, she left the estate to Western Reserve University, which one year later sold it to the Willoughby-Eastlake school district for $150,000.

In September 1954, Chandler Elementary School was opened in the mansion to house 200 children. The mansion contained six fireplaces, and a large organ owned by the Tuckers was sold after the building was converted to a school.

One of the old tenant houses was used as a school for the mentally retarded, and the community fund and American Red Cross were located in another tenant house.

In the late 1950s, the barns and a carriage house were used for industrial arts classes for the junior and senior high schools, plus storage space in the hay lofts.

By 1960, Chandler School housed 300 students and was bulging at the seams, so in 1963 students moved to the new Edison Elementary School. South High School was opened just down Shankland Road in 1959 with an enrollment of 600.

Eventually, instrumental and vocal music classes took place in one of the barns.

After the mansion was abandoned as an elementary school, the Practical Nursing School and Chandler Technical School operated there. Both eventually were absorbed into Lakeland Community College, about 6 miles to the east in Kirtland.

In 1958, Chandler Road was renamed to honor Frank N. Shankland, a widely known educator and historian who was born on the road -- near the existing Lake County YMCA at Shankland and Euclid -- after his family settled there in 1866. Shankland helped found Burroughs Nature Club in 1918.

The YMCA was built in 1965, and on adjacent parts of the old farm a public swimming pool opened in 1965, a fire station was built in 1967 and a police station joined the landscape in 1981. The original YMCA and fire station have been expanded.

The land where the YMCA stands once was the site of a long gone one-room school, but not the Little Red Schoolhouse which now stands near the old Tucker barns.

The existing schoolhouse was given to the school district in 1977 and was moved from the north side of Euclid Avenue, west of Campbell Road. The relocation was a community effort to celebrate the nation's bicentennial.

The schoolhouse has been used by district and non-district students to illustrate how schools operated in the early 1900s. One cow barn today is used as a demonstration and learning center, and another houses some antique farm implements and other historic items.

The property west of the mansion is now the site of a middle school which opened in 1972. The school district's mansion and some of the barns are nearing their 100th anniversary.

CHAPIN FOREST RESERVATION

On my way up Route 306 to the Mentor-Willoughby-Wickliffe area, I stopped at Chapin Forest Reservation of the Lake Metroparks in Kirtland and took a walk on a loop trail around a small pond.

Chapin Forest is known for its distinctive rock formations and majestic forests. In fact, Berea sandstone used for foundations at the Kirtland Temple about 2 miles north of the site, plus other local buildings, was quarried there in the 1830s.

The park features four picnic areas and shelters, a playground, pond fishing, game fields, 5.3 miles of trails and limited bridle trails.

Frederic H. Chapin purchased the property in 1949 and donated it to the state. Rocky outcroppings were formed about 300 million years ago. Access to a ledges area is restricted to guided walks offered annually.

The property is filled with beech, maple, oak, tulip and hemlock trees. On clear days, visitors to a scenic overlook along one of the trails can see the Cleveland skyline 18 miles away to the west.

A UNIQUE PLACE TO STAY

In mid-January when I went to Berlin in Holmes County to watch some girls basketball games during the Classic in the Country, which I wrote about recently, I stayed overnight at a very cool place.

In the Tuscarawas County village of Sugarcreek is a motel called the Sugarcreek Village Inn. It's down a couple of blocks from The Budget weekly newspaper, where I worked from 1984-86 before coming to the Advocate.

The facilities include rooms in a two-story building, but the unique part is that a section called Victoria Station consists of six rooms in two late 19th century railroad passenger cars. There's even a red caboose where four or five people can stay.

The passenger cars and caboose have been there for a few years, but they weren't there when I worked at The Budget 26 years ago. They were placed there by the inn's previous owner.

The motel is across the street from the Genesee & Wyoming rail line which runs from Beach City to Zanesville, and while I was there I heard the horn of a midnight freight train passing through Sugarcreek.

I enjoyed a quiet night there, and awoke on Saturday morning to hear the clippety-clopping of horses pulling Amish buggies down the street outside the converted passenger cars.

The inn's owner told me the caboose is currently off-limits until some renovations are made and it can be used again for overnight stays.

The train cars were the second super unique place I've stayed in Ohio in the past year; the other being the Stockport Mill Inn, a converted old mill on the Muskingum River south of McConnelsville in Muskingum County. I wrote about that trip last spring.

Email: klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189

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