Visitors to Cuyahoga Valley National Park will see construction taking place at the intersection of Riverview and Boston Mills roads in the village of Boston. We are creating Boston Mill Visitor Center to provide the public with a clear location to start their excursion in the park. It is also a historic preservation project. The new visitor center will be housed in rehabilitated historic buildings. The project provides a new beginning for the buildings and helps ensure their long-term protection.
The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. The National Park Service maintains this list to coordinate and support public and private efforts to protect historic and archeological resources. It is one of the agency’s community programs that extends our work beyond parks like Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
The village of Boston is listed on the register as a historic district. It is a small, rural community associated with the Ohio and Erie Canal and a later company town period of development. Most of its current visitor amenities cluster around the canal. Boston Mill Visitor Center is adjacent to the tracks used by Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad and relates to the company town period.
Three historic buildings are part of the project. The largest of the three buildings will house the visitor center and is the focal point of the project. The other two buildings had been homes. One will house public restrooms and the other has a future use to be determined.
In 1880, the Valley Railway built the rail line and opened a train depot in the village. A paper mill opened near the railway along the Cuyahoga River in 1900. It manufactured flour sacks and roofing paper. In 1902, the company incorporated as the Cleveland-Akron Bag Company. The population of Boston changed as Polish immigrants from Cleveland moved into the community to work in the mill. The company provided housing for some workers, while others built their own. The bag company closed in 1923, but paper milling continued in the Cuyahoga Valley into the 1980s at Jaite Mill, a company started by a former director and manager of the Cleveland-Akron Bag Company.
The bag company constructed the primary visitor center building in 1905 for a company store and residential apartments. It had two separate commercial spaces with store fronts facing the railroad tracks. Some of our knowledge about the businesses comes from Clara Muldowney (né Zielenski). Her parents moved there in 1918 to run the company store after being recruited away from their small store in Cleveland. Her parents eventually bought the company store. Her mother provided overall store management, but her father was the butcher and managed the men’s clothing, boots and tools. Her father’s hamburger was widely known and much acclaimed.
Many of the historic characteristics of the visitor center building have remained intact. As part of our rehabilitation project, we will make adjustments to the building’s façade to increase its historic integrity. They include undoing changes that occurred to the window pattern, returning to a lighter paint scheme and replacing the more recent porch with an awning. The construction process itself will also be sensitive to the historic character of the site. For example, we will provide monitoring whenever we disturb the soil to protect archeological resources.
The visitor center project is a partnership between the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the National Park Service. As the park’s friends group, the Conservancy has raised more than $6 million in local funds for the purchase, rehabilitation and exhibit development for the visitor center. They have also taken the lead role in managing the work.
Construction work began in February. The non-historic porch has been removed from the primary building. Trees have been dropped where we will provide parking. Some of the most dramatic work will occur later this spring. The foundation for the primary building will be completely rebuilt. Crews will raise the building to provide access for this work.
Follow the progress on Facebook at facebook.com/CuyahogaValleyNationalPark and facebook.com/ConservancyCVNP.
Editor’s note: Vasarhelyi is Chief of Interpretation, Education and Visitor Services for Cuyahoga Valley National Park.