by Ken Lahmers

Editor

When I was a youth, one of the favorite things my dad and I did on a Sunday afternoon was explore old rural houses and properties.

Back in the 1960s, nobody seemed to care if someone encroached on an unoccupied property where the house and outbuildings were decaying.

There was nothing of value to take or damage, and we never worried about someone coming along and questioning what we were doing.

We explored dozens of farmhouses. It was fun to imagine how life once was when someone lived there and the farm bustled with activity.

Exploring those old structures could be dangerous, though. Floors sometimes were rotten, and a person could fall through into the basement.

That never happened to us, but we had some close calls. There was a time or two when one of our legs went through a wooden step on the stairs.

I recall one place where we looked through a large hole in the floor into a basement full of water. I thought, "we'd be gonners if we fell down there."

We crept through the Arbogast house many times. Over a 15-year period, we saw its walls, ceilings and roof collapse into the basement and become a pile of rubble.

About 10 years ago, News Leader editor Eric Marotta and I checked out the delapidated house beside the former Gateway News house on Streetsboro's square.

All three of the old homes which were on the north side of the square are gone now; the Gateway house being the last to disappear.

I STILL ENJOY exploring old houses, whether they are falling apart or are preserved mansions once occupied by famous wealthy folks.

One of the latter which I've never toured is Stan Hywet Hall in Akron. I hope to finally see it and its spectacular gardens this summer.

The 65-room, 50,000-square-foot manor house was built between 1911 and 1915 by F.A. Seiberling, founder of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.

The revival-style home is celebrating its 50th year of operation as a museum under the auspices of the Stan Hywet Hall Foundation.

In the mid-1950s, the house was deteriorating and other uses were being considered for it -- a school, country club, hospital or nursing/children's home.

A group called the Women's Volunteer Committee for the Preservation of Stan Hywet Hall played a major role in transforming it into one of Ohio's most prominent showplaces.

One Akron area mansion which didn't follow a similar path was the O.C. Barber mansion on the southeast edge of Barberton.

The 52-room, 50,000-square-foot mansion was built in 1909-10 at a cost of $400,000. Barber, referred to as "the match king," owned what became known as the Diamond Match Co.

Barber was instrumental in getting the planned industrial city of Barberton off the ground, thus earning it the name "the Magic City."

The Barber property once comprised 3,500 acres. It eventually took on its modern day name -- the Anna Dean Farm -- named after Barber's daughter.

After falling into disrepair and after much controversy in the early 1960s, the mansion was torn down. demise was a black eye in Barberton's history.

When completed in 1910, the French renaissance-style mansion was referred to by the New York Times as "the finest mansion between New York and Chicago."

ESTIMATES are that it would cost about $6 million to build now. I'd have given anything to have seen the place in its heyday, or even its misery.

The farm once housed 35 buildings, including barns for all kinds of livestock. One cattle barn was the world's longest at 756 feet during its lifespan. It burned and was demolished in 1959.

Eight of the original castle-like structures remain, five of which have been restored by the Barberton Historical Society. Three are privately owned.

When he was a lad growing up in Barberton, Aurora Service Director John Trew recalls playing in tunnels which linked several of the buildings.

One huge former residence I visited about 40 years ago is Malabar Farm near Mansfield. The home of author Louis Bromfield has 32 rooms. The property is now a state park.

The most famous "big house" near where I grew up is the J.E. Reeves home in Dover. Although impressive, its 17 rooms pale in comparison to the others I mentioned.

Reeves owned a steel plant, bank and hotel. When I was a high schooler, I went to many banquets at the latter. A New Philadelphia landmark, I watched it being torn down in 1970.

The Dover mansion was built about 1870 and bought by Reeves in 1898. It has a turreted carriage house in the back -- complete with an antique car, carriage and sleigh.

The Dover Historical Society acquired the property in 1975 and restored the home. It has become a source of pride for residents of Dover and New Philly.

For every one of the magnificent old homes and mansions which are preserved, dozens of others died -- having succumbed to so-called progress.

E-mail: klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-688-0088 ext. 3155