By TERRY BRLAS
Strongsville Post editor
The Strongsville Historical Society recently celebrated some history of its own. The organization, founded in 1963, turned 50.
A program honoring the golden anniversary of the Historical Society was held at the Lathrop House on the grounds of the Strongsville Historical Village on Feb. 28. A full house of over 60 attendants heard 50 years of history condensed into less than two hours.
Strongsville Mayor Thomas Perciak officially declared Feb. 28 "Strongsville Historical Society Day." He presented historical society president Jean Wittrock a proclamation honoring the organization for its 50 years in the city.
"I want to congratulate the Strongsville Historical Society on the occasion of their 50th anniversary of preserving history in the city of Strongsville," the mayor said. "...The commitment by our community, by our residents, by our volunteers is what separates us from the rest and it really shows as you go through our town. I appreciate everything you do to make Strongsville special."
Matt Long, Strongsville resident and treasurer during the campaign of State Representative Mike Dovilla (R-Berea), presented a proclamation on behalf of the State House of Representatives.
"We are pleased to congratulate the Strongsville Historical Society on the auspicious occasion of its 50th anniversary, celebrated Feb. 28, 2012," Long said. "The recognition of this prestigious milestone is a tribute to the Strongsville Historical Society for its efforts to preserve and promote the unique history of the area..."
The society was founded when 20 Strongsville residents met at the home of Howard and Velda Chapman in the fall of 1962. At the next meeting in January 1963, Howard explained the need to preserve the city's history by way of buildings, furnishings, records and local lore. The official motion to formally organize the Strongsville Historical Society was made at this meeting.
The society has grown from those original 20 members to over 400 presently. The society has also grown from two buildings at the beginning of its formation to eight buildings on its two acres of land. The original pair of structures was the Chapman house and barn. The other six were transported from other areas of town to the Historical Village site. The buildings span the era from 1822 to 1904. Additions were constructed into the mid-20th century.
Society member Ruby Gormsen knew the Chapman's well and took care of them in their later years. After Velma went into Pearlview Nursing Home in July 1985, Howard was supposed to call someone to let him or her know he arrived home safely after visiting his wife.
"He didn't think it was too important, but he said, 'If it makes Velma feel better I'll do it,'" Gormsen said. "It was those phone calls that gave me a lot of insight into the Chapman's lives."
Howard died in 1988. Before he passed, however, he had the knowledge that the last houses were being moved into place on the historical society grounds.
"They were a remarkable couple," Gormsen said. "I'm so glad he did know that his last project had been completed."
Historical society historian Louise Varisco took attendees down memory lane with a history lesson of the organization and physical structures. A slide presentation illustrated some of the history of the village and society.
Questions were stirring in 1963 regarding the 1848 Pomeroy House on the west side of the village green. The structure had been unoccupied for a number of years and was deteriorating.
Through fundraising the Pomeroy House was restored and later listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, later becoming Don's Pomeroy House restaurant. Howard Chapman was instrumental in saving the Pomeroy house.
A log cabin was acquired from the Western Reserve Historical Society and erected on the Chapman property. The cabin represented the way of life from 1816 to 1825 and was the beginning of the historic village according to Varisco.
The Baldwin House, an early Western Reserve cottage built in 1823, was added to the historical village on Dec. 22, 1980. The cabin represents life in Strongsville from 1823 to 1850.
In 1967 the Olds General Store, built in 1917, was moved from the southwest corner of Strongsville to the society grounds. The store had closed in 1964.
In July 1988 the Lathrop and Ebenezer Howard houses were moved from near the corner of Pearl and Albion roads to the historical society grounds.
"Howard Chapman was in the hospital the day the houses were moved. He died the next day, but he knew that the houses safely arrived in the village," Varisco said. "If the Chapmans could come back and see what's happened here I think it would give great pleasure to them."
The Ebenezer Howard house is home to the Velda Chapman Doll Museum. There are also dolls from other donors in the museum.
"It had been Velda's dream to put her doll collection in this house," Varisco said. "Unfortunately she did not live long enough to see her dream realized."
She added, "Because we have buildings representing several periods in the history of Strongsville we have been able to put the artifacts in the appropriate buildings."
Money to maintain the grounds and buildings comes from grants, endowment funds, donations, fundraising events and memberships.
"We would not be where we are today without our volunteers and community organizations, which have graciously given of their time and money to help us," Varisco said.
Lois Mittelstaedt, daughter of the late Robert Mittelstaedt, presented a check from her father in the amount of $12,000 as a donation to the historical society at the 50th anniversary celebration on Feb. 28. Robert, who passed away in December 2010, was a member of the society and master gardener. A portion of the donation will be used for outdoor roses at the historical village and a portion will be placed into the general fund.
"Bob was a special friend of so many of us," said Ruth Brickley, former Strongsville Historical Society president. "He loved this place and he loved our roses. He was a master gardener, but roses weren't something he was into until he got going here."
To learn more about the Strongsville Historical Society and Village call 440-572-0057. Located at 13305 Pearl Road one-quarter mile north of Route 82, the village is open mid-April through mid-October on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m.