Cuyahoga Falls plans to deconstruct 19th century farmhouse

Northampton Historical Society leaders want to see home preserved

Phil Keren
Kent Weeklies
Cuyahoga Falls Fire Marshal Lt. Steve Lyons points out damage to the Keyser-Swain House at Keyser Park. The city is planning to tear down the home. The oldest portion of the structure is more than 140 years old.

CUYAHOGA FALLS — The city is planning to tear down a 19th century-era farmhouse on park land, while the leaders of a local historical society said they want to preserve and rehabilitate the home.

The Keyser-Swain House, which is located in Keyser Park on Keyser Parkway, is slated to be deconstructed due to the structure's safety risks, said Sara Kline, superintendent of the city's parks and recreation department.

The city has owned the Keyser-Swain House since 1992. The house was built in 1877.

"The county has issued a condemnation order," said Kline. "We are proceeding with deconstruction and will comply with that order."

Dave Brown, president of the Northampton Historical Society, said he has requested that his organization and others be given three years to work on ways to raise money to pay for rehabilitating the structure.

"We can't give up," said Brown. "They're going to destroy the history… any kind of historical value in that area is going to be lost."

Kline, however, said that the city is planning to move forward with the demolition.

Plan recommends tearing down structure

The parks and recreation department on Feb. 8 presented to city council the results of a Continuous Improvement Plan for the parks system that was put together by consultant Brandstetter Carroll Inc.

"One of the items in the report is the high priority recommendation that the Swain Farmhouse be deconstructed immediately to mitigate the safety risk the property poses," said Kline.

The report noted the Keyser-Swain House is a "safety hazard," and "an aesthetic eyesore," in a prominent area of Keyser Park that has the potential to offer programming and events. In addition, several independent assessments found the cost to repair the house is higher than the price tag to replace it. Kline noted there have been studies conducted to determine the viability of restoring the home and an analysis estimated the cost to renovate the home is nearly $500,000.

There have been efforts to work with other groups to find a way to pay for refurbishing the home, according to the parks leader.

"Community stakeholders and interested parties have been engaged to offer time and the possibility that fundraising or grant applications could successfully fund a renovation," said Kline. "Unfortunately, those efforts have not come to fruition and the home continues to deteriorate."

Brown said he felt the home has "held itself up," and added he believes the structure is "repairable."

"There's ways to rehabilitate that house," said Brown. 

Brown said he became "emotional" after he found out at a meeting earlier in February that the house would be torn down. He noted the demolition goes against the wishes of the late Carrie Keyser-Swain, who Kline said sold the home to the city for $310,000 in 1992. Keyser-Swain died in 1995.

Brown shared a copy of a letter written by the children of William Keyser, brother of Carrie Keyser-Swain.

"The current Northampton Historical Society leadership is devoted to Aunt Carrie‘s vision to see her family farm used as a means of sharing history, education and agriculture," stated a letter signed by Cheryle Keyser Honn, Penny Keyser Shtul and William A Keyser. "We fully support this fine group's efforts. If our Aunt Carrie were still with us today, she would be making the community aware of her desire to preserve the house, the barn and the farm."

Over the years, Brown said, Northampton Historical Society has attempted to lease the house from the city, but he noted they were never able to come to an agreement that was favorable to the group.

"There's been back and forth talk, but no action," he said.

Brown added he felt the city should consider allowing an independent group to handle the property. From there, he said he hoped that volunteerism and in-kind contributions could be used in a long-term effort to restore the home.

Brown said he's spoken with other preservation groups that went through similar challenges when a municipality owned a historical structure and said he is now trying to contact the Cleveland Preservation Society to see if they can offer assistance.

Cuyahoga Falls Fire Marshal Lt. Steve Lyons points out damage to the Keyser-Swain House in Keyser Park.

A look at the structure

On a recent visit to the site, Cuyahoga Falls Fire Marshal Lt. Steve Lyons pointed out that the front porch is caving in, the stone foundation has "structural damage," and the chimney is "not usable." Kline noted the roof has a hole in it and she added there were animals, animal droppings and "visible mold" inside the home when she and other city officials entered the structure in 2018. Nearly all of the doors and windows have been boarded up, the paint is peeling on the doors of the two-car garage, and the gutter above it is dipping. 

Due to safety concerns, city officials are not allowing entry to the home, but large holes in the ceiling could be seen through a couple windows that were not boarded up. Walking around the perimeter of the home, broken gutters and rusted downspouts were visible and some siding was falling off the structure.

Kline emphasized the adjacent barn and community gardens will remain at the property.

"The idea of this being a park and being green space is certainly not going to change," stated Kline. "Anything that's constructed has to serve the broader community, but it's certainly going to be in line with the historic nature of this area."

The Continuous Improvement Plan also confirmed that the area of the city where the home is located is the least served by the parks system, according to Kline. The plan recommends constructing a lodge at Keyser Park that could be used for programs and events. On that point, Kline said even if the Keyser-Swain House could be restored, it is not large enough to be used for events.

"It would never be able to be used for a graduation party or a family reunion," she said. 

Once the Keyser-Swain House is torn down, Kline said city officials will design, obtain funding for and build a "rentable public facility."

When something is built on that site, Kline said it would be done in a way that honors Keyser-Swain's generosity and the area's history.

"I look forward to a new facility having the ability to display photographs, artifacts and information that honors the legacy of Northampton Township and the farming past of that area of our city," noted Kline.

She said the city is in the process of obtaining quotes and doing asbestos mitigation. While noting there is not a specific timeline for deconstruction, Kline stated, "given the safety concerns, I anticipate the deconstruction will occur in the foreseeable future."

History of the home

The home has been vacant for about 30 years. In 1877, Helen Best hired master builder J.C. Johnston to build the house, according to the Northampton Historical Society website. The house changed ownership multiple times before it was purchased by the Keyser family in 1905. A park was created after the Keysers sold part of the farm property to the city in 1986. The remainder of the farm property was sold to the city in 1993. Kline said the city bought the house from Carrie Keyser-Swain for $310,000 in 1992.

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at pkeren@thebeaconjournal.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.