NORTHFIELD CENTER -- The house next to Northfield Elementary School doesn't look that much different from others along Olde Eight Road. It's not particularly big, and it's untypically square, with white siding and a set of steps leading up to its front door.
On either side of the front walk, more telling clues to its past are on display: a stone watering trough and an upended millstone, its grooves radiating from the center mounting hole.
Inside the Palmer House, as the unobtrusive building is known, are treasures that are all that remain of the first settlers of Olde Northfield Township. The home was built by Hezekiah Hayden Palmer in 1844. He had settled in the area with his wife, Abigail, in 1832 and lived in a log home until the frame house was built.
Today, the home is a museum operated by the Historical Society of Olde Northfield, which has reopened it to visitors after a nearly two-year hiatus.
Society Trustee Rick Devine, one of about a half-dozen volunteers, described the home's history to visitors on May 21, explaining that the home eventually was sold to the local school district about 100 years ago. It was put to use as a residence for teaching staff until the 1950s, when it was converted to a library. The Nordonia Hills City Schools still owns the building, but allows the society to maintain the museum under a lease.
"The teachers used to stay here, they stayed here until the 1950s," Devine told Gil Polcen, whose family has lived in Sagamore Hills since 1909.
"I remember coming in here when it was a library," Polcen said. "I'm glad to see it, because once it disappears, there's no getting it back."
Polcen and his wife Trudy were among the visitors who trickled in throughout the day.
Visitors were asked to sign the guest book, so the society can eventually show the community's interest when applying for grants and to potential donors.
Devine said making the museum accessible to the public is currently one of the society's primary goals, and several visitors May 21 had never been in the home before.
"We really love museums and this is the local one," said Karen Moyer, who visited with her husband Dave. "We really don't know much about the area because we've only lived here for five years -- so we decided to come in."
Devine said that the society had been in somewhat of a crisis in recent years.
"The organization almost fell apart in 2012, 2013," he said. "The trustees were resigning and some of us stepped in and tried to get the organization back going, but the membership was quite old. A lot of them had spent their time and wanted to be a part of the organization, but they just didn't have the physical ability to get out and volunteer."
As a result, the building fell into disrepair and the society ended regular hours, though tours for school and Scouting groups were conducted on a periodic basis.
Devine said the society has since found the resources to perform some repairs and begin keeping regular hours for visitors who wish to drop in.
"We had to do a lot of renovation," he said, explaining Eagle Scouts Dillon Radvilavicious and Stepen Davis rebuilt the front and side steps, respectively.
"Cuyahoga Valley Career Center students rebuilt the threshold and the door frame around the back -- we had an awful lot of repairs to do before we felt comfortable bringing people back into the house again," Devine said.
He said another volunteer is working on creating a historic garden.
"The only things that will be growing in this garden will be period-actual," he said.
Other visitors browsed through the exhibits on display in several rooms on the main floor, upstairs and in the basement.
"Now, I think we've got a much more presentable product," Devine said. "We've got a nice, solid, building now that we don't have to worry about the elements doing anything to it. Now we can work on the inside."
Referring to a player piano in the home's front parlor, Devine said a piano tuner would be coming by this week.
"One of the things we're thinking about doing is having a player piano concert," he said, adding the piano came with 140 rolls of music. "We've got classical music, we've got ragtime -- we've got all that."
Devine said he was encouraged by the turnout and hopes regular hours will attract more people to take interest in the organization and join the society.
"We are the product of our history and this is how our parents, our grandparents, our great-grandparents overcame all sorts of adversity and built the communities that we have now," he said. "To me, coming back and preserving those kinds of treasures helps preserve the memories of how we got to where we are. If we didn't have that history and that foundation to build on, how could we move forward?"
"A lot of people don't realize the tremendous history that we have here," he said.
The Historical Society of Olde Northfield will next meet at 6:30 p.m. at the Nordonia Hills Branch Library. The members meet monthly on a varying schedule. For more information, contact Devine at Rick_Devine@live.com.
Eric Marotta: 330-541-9433