words and photos by Charlotte Gintert
There was a time when ice skating was a favorite pastime of Akronites during the winter season. Outdoor ice skating ponds could be found here and there around the city, including at Elm Hill Park in West Akron. Unlike the other skating ponds around town, this one was particularly special because it had the lodge. It was the place to be long before the ice rink appeared at Lock 3.
Elm Hill Park sits on the block of Hawkins Blvd, Jefferson, Greenwood and Mull Avenues. The official name of the park is Elm Hill, but the sign at the parking lot labels it Forest Lodge, as it is commonly known. Whatever one prefers to call the park, it can be recognized by the rustic stone nestled near a grove of oak and maple trees.
The stone lodge replaced the original structure, a hunting cabin built by the previous landowner, Arthur H. Marks. Marks was an executive at B.F. Goodrich, where he invented the alkaline-recovery vulcanization process, the cord tire and the chemical research laboratory system.
Following a divorce settlement, Marks broke up his landholdings in Akron. His mansion, called Elm Court, and its grounds were sold to the Sisters of St. Dominic, who renamed it Our Lady of the Elms. He donated the land with his hunting cabin and fishing lagoon to the City of Akron, and it was renamed Elm Hill Park.
While often described as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project, construction on Forest Lodge was actually begun in 1933 by the Civil Works Administration (CWA), one of the precursors to the WPA. The project was temporarily abandoned when the CWA withdrew funding. City Service Director E. A. Kemmler was forced to find alternative funding from other federal relief programs to have the building completed. This did not occur until November 1934.
The construction of the lodge was just one of the improvements to the park that occurred during the Depression. The city also revamped the landscaping, built a stone retaining wall and expanded the skating pond area. The original skating pond was a natural pond maintained by local neighborhood boys. The expansion, which involved flooding a larger area around the pond during the winter, created a skating area that was only 18 inches thick so that it could stay frozen longer. If someone did break through the ice, there was little risk of injury in such shallow waters.
The city hired Lawson Case Drown as the park’s first caretaker upon the completion of the lodge. The caretaker was in charge of mowing the lawn, caring for the skating pond in the winter, operating the skate rental and concession stand, and maintaining the landscaping. He and his family lived on the second floor, rent free, in exchange for their services. The ground floor was home to the concession stand and community area where skaters could warm up by the fire in the large stone fireplace.
Eventually the lodge became a neighborhood recreation center for the city, hosting community programming throughout the year. The skating pond was modified and reduced in size in the 1980s in order to combat drainage issues. As the average winter temperatures rise, it has become much more difficult to maintain naturally cooled skating ponds. Skating finally ceased at the park in 2001 and the old lagoon was completely drained. During those rare occasions when Akron sees a prolonged deep freeze, folks can find old fashioned skating ponds in Summit Metro Parks Big Bend Area of Sand Run and at Brushwood Lake in Furnace Run.
City programming at Forest Lodge ended with the opening of the Northwest Family Recreation Center on Shatto Avenue in 2002. Today, the lodge is maintained by St. Sebastian Parish and is home to its administrative offices. The ground floor can still be rented for parties and other gatherings. The big stone fireplace is still there.
Charlotte Gintert is an archaeologist by day and a photographer by sunrise and sunset. You can check out her photos at www.capturedglimpses.com and follow her on Instagram at @capturedglimpses.