words and photos by Charlotte Gintert
The picnic shelter at Gorge Metro Park is nestled in a cozy space above the fishing dock on the Cuyahoga River. Many visitors do not even realize it’s there. When a storm caused a tree to fall on it in October 2017, it is likely no one was around to hear it.
The tree damaged a large section of the roof and some of the support beams, and the question became: Should the shelter be removed, or should it be restored?
However, it was likely that the shelter was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the Great Depression. If that was true, the structure would be historically significant and should be restored. Only a handful of CCC structures exist in Summit Metro Parks.
The parks’ Cultural Resource Specialists started researching.
The CCC was founded in 1933 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of the New Deal. Its goal was to provide jobs on conservation projects for unemployed men such as building trails in the National Parks, fighting wildfires and erecting park buildings. Harold S. Wagner, the first director-secretary of the Akron Metropolitan Park District (known today as Summit Metro Parks), immediately recognized the value of the program and brought a CCC team to the Akron area.
Their first project was in the Virginia Kendall area, which was originally part of the Akron Metropolitan Park District. They built structures like the Happy Days Lodge and the Ledges trail and shelter. According to the records, the CCC built the picnic shelter at the Gorge in February 1937. An exact copy of the Gorge Shelter had previously been built in the Goodyear Heights Metro Park. That shelter is also still standing. These structures were likely designed by Wagner’s personal friend and National Park Service architect Albert H. Good.
The workmen received $2.50 a day for their labor, or about $44 in today’s dollars. The shelter’s floor and chimney were constructed using sandstone from Deep Lock Quarry. The lumber was locally sourced wormy chestnut. The post and beams are held together in most places by handmade pegs instead of nails. Unlike all the other CCC structures in the Cleveland and Akron area, this shelter and its sister in Goodyear Heights have elegant scissor trusses. The stone retaining wall below the shelter was also built by the CCC.
The Gorge shelter was designed to complement the landscape. Its location was chosen so visitors would enjoy a view of the sandstone ledges above and the Cuyahoga River below.
When Cultural Resource Specialists completed their work, it was clear that the shelter should be restored. The restoration was completed in three days in June, overseen by Mark Smith of Design Management Architects in Akron.
An Amish timber frame construction expert did the construction. Wormy chestnut is incredibly rare today, but thankfully, Summit Metro Parks had been storing some since the 1920s and the damaged chestnut could be replaced with the correct lumber.
“This shelter has a level of historic integrity that many do not,” says Cultural Resource Specialist Peg Bobel. This makes the Gorge and Goodyear shelters some of the most important park structures in Akron. According to the State Historic Preservation Office, this level of integrity makes the shelters potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The restoration project in June successfully retained that historic integrity.
The view from the shelter will change after the removal of the Gorge Dam. However, there is no doubt that it will remain a landmark in the Gorge Park for years to come.
Summit Metro Parks research on the shelter revealed one last fascinating fact. Architect Albert H. Good not only designed the Gorge and Goodyear shelters and a majority of the CCC park structures, but he also went on to write the book on American rustic “Parkitecture,” called Parks and Recreation Structures, in 1938.
Good received his appointment as the architect for the National Park Service thanks to the recommendation of Harold Wagner. So, in a way, the country has Akron to thank for all of its park buildings.
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.