Monday, January 30, 2012

A 'Hike' into the Past - The Halle Farm, a Gorge and the Penitentiary Glen Reservation

Today Lake Metroparks Penitentiary Glen Reservation comprises 424 acres of forests, wetlands and nearly 7.5 miles of hiking trails.  Acquired in 1974, this Kirtland property was once the summer estate, working farm of Samuel and Blache Halle.  All that remains today is the original horse barn that now serves as the park nature center.  Today's blog will take us back on a brief hike into the history of the Halle Legacy.

The Halle Brothers Company:
 The Halle Brothers started their company in Febraury 1891.  Their retail goods business expanded in 1902 and just nine years later their annual sales revenues exceeded 2 million dollars.  A high end retail store, business continued to prosper for them downtown.  By 1926, their sales revenues had passed 14.8 million dollars.  The Pioneer Building was acquired in 1927 and Halle Brothers located their retail business directly across from Playhouse Square.  For awhile the success of their business and the theater district was unparalleled.  Expansion occurred and Halle Brothers migrated into new territories and states.  However by mid century, history was not as kind.  Rivals Higbees and May Company chipped away at their customer base.  Downtown Cleveland faltered as suburbs grew and industry relocations stalled their business model.  Chicago's Marshall Fields bought out nine stores in 1970.  The remaining six stores limped into the 1980's.  Halle Brothers of Cleveland closed forever in 1982 and became a footnote in the history of Cleveland.

The Halle Farm:
In 1912 the Halle family, Halle Brothers Company of Cleveland, moved into their summer estate and working farm.  The Burnette family was hired to be the caretakers of the farm.  Maude Dolittle, a Massachusetts teacher was hired to be a summer naturalist for the kids. Much is known about the estate and working farm as artifacts and primary sources are housed in the original horse barn which now serves as the park nature center.  Inside the center, a memory lane display and artifact touch boxes are on display.  "Then and Now" kiosks and cottage replicas are available for viewing.  The Halle Farm photo albums present a glimpse into early 19th century life on the estate.  The original paneled stable trophy room and equine library / sitting room is now a park meeting room.  The trails on the property are open to the public to walk or snow shoe 365 days a year.  The Halle Farm may have officially ended in 1974 but the Lake Metroparks leasing of the site allows visitors to catch a glimpse of this storied history.

The PG Gorge:
Settlers came upon the gorge as early as 1880.  The gorges divide the park into two sections.  A one hundred foot wall makes the terrain difficult to traverse.  With restricted access, the gorge's name was borrowed from the traditional definition of a penitentiary.  Guided hikes are offered and adjacent trails offer scenic views of the reservation daily.  Inside the nature center, a gorge media exhibit allows one to experience its terrain in a unique format.

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