Fall scenery on display in Cuyahoga Valley

Jennie Vasarhelyi
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Fall color changes at Brandywine Falls.

Nature and history blend together in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Tails surround visitors with the beauty of nature. Yet evidence of how peoples’ lives have played out on the land also abounds. Visitors can consider nature’s role in human lives across time and how it can be important in their lives today.

The walk from Boston Mill Visitor Center to Brandywine Falls offers especially nice fall scenery influenced by nature and history. The walk takes you through open woodlands along the Cuyahoga River, old farm fields that have regrown into meadow, and young forests. You will also see elements of two historic villages and homes built by two successful 19th-century farm families.

The round-trip walk is about four miles. Be prepared for steep hills and unpaved, potentially muddy surfaces. Start the walk by crossing the Cuyahoga River from Boston Mill Visitor Center. Continue along the road and then turn north (left) onto the Towpath Trail. After about 0.3 miles, you will find a connector trail on the right that leads to Stanford House. Follow Stanford’s driveway to the trailhead bulletin board. Then continue on the Stanford Trail through the woodlands to the spectacular 60-foot Brandywine Falls.

From Boston Mill Visitor Center to Stanford House, you are in the Village of Boston. Try to imagine what James Stanford might have seen when he arrived in 1806 as a member of a surveying party. More than two centuries European settlement hadn’t happened yet. The forests would have been mature; their trees, massive.

Stanford stayed in Boston as one of its first settlers. He found fertile soils—his help from nature--and considerable success. Trees fell as buildings and farm fields became features of the landscape. Generations followed. Stanford’s son, George, built Stanford House around 1830. It now offers overnight accommodations and whole-house rentals. George’s son continued the family farm, cultivating 100 acres with wheat and hay, as well as keeping cattle and sheep. Both George and his son also held prominent positions in the community including Justice of the Peace. The Ohio & Erie Canal opened in 1827 and aided the family’s success by providing transportation to ships goods to markets. Boston boomed as a canal town, becoming home to a boat-building industry.

When you reach Brandywine Falls, you have arrived at the remnants of the second historic village anchored by another prosperous farm family. The village was Brandywine; the family, the Wallaces. Fertile soils for farming helped their success, but so did the waterpower of Brandywine Falls. The Wallaces had wide-ranging business interests beyond farming. Their presence in the Cuyahoga Valley began with milling. George Wallace built a saw mill at Brandywine Falls in 1814, adding a grist mill, woolen factory, and distillery by 1830. The family continued mill operations until the 1870s. George Wallace also had business interests elsewhere, including the first hotel in Cleveland.

His sons, George and James, spent some of their youth living in Cleveland. They became friends with Alfred Kelly, later a commissioner for the Ohio & Erie Canal. James won contracts to construct 11 miles of canal near Massillon and the aqueduct at Roscoe. He also operated a canal boat for two years.

James and his brother started buying land for farming and timbering in the valley in 1833. The farm peaked in size at 830 acres. Their legacy is the house, now a bed-and-breakfast called the Inn at Brandywine Falls, adjacent to the falls. James built it as his family home between 1848 and 1852.

The village of Brandywine no longer exists. Construction of I-271 diminished its historic footprint in the 1960s. People fought the highway, arguing for preservation of scenery near the falls. Amongst the champions of preservation was a Tri-County Planning Commission member, John Seiberling. He noted the loss, realizing the need for a vision to motivate preservation. He became a major champion of the

idea of creating Cuyahoga Valley National Park. He helped achieve the vision after becoming elected to the U.S. Congress. He shepherded the bill to create the park through the political process. The legislation highlights one more way that people can be aided by nature by stating that the park was created “for the purpose of providing for the maintenance of needed recreational open space necessary for the urban environment.”

Boston Mill Visitor Center is located at 6947 Riverview Road in Peninsula. For more information, call 440-717-3890.