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Summit County Historical Society’s John Brown House renovation underway

July 8, 2018

Summit County Historical Society’s John Brown House renovation underway

AKRON, Ohio - The Summit County Historical Society’s first comprehensive renovation of the John Brown House is well underway.

The $375,000 project to restore the exterior of the famous abolitionist’s house, funded in part through a $250,000 state grant, will be complete this month, with the house reopened to visitors in August, said Historical Society President and CEO Leianne Neff Heppner.

Over the years, work on floors, plaster, paint and the roof has been done, either through work by local organizations or grant funding, but no comprehensive restoration has been undertaken, Heppner said.

The 170-year-old stone wall surrounding the historic site has been restored over the past few years by local dry masonry specialists Mason’s Mark of Kent.

To stay as true as possible to the original house Brown lived in, which was two rooms and a loft built in 1830, the historical society is working with restoration specialists Akron-based Braun & Steidl Architects. With several additions over the decades, the house is much larger.

Consulting on the project is timber restoration specialist Rudy Christian, of Christian & Son, who led a project last year to rebuild the framework of the bell tower at Glendale Cemetery.

Although the Brown house was sided originally in poplar, no old-growth poplar is available, so the house is being sided with West Coast quarter-sawn cedar, which won’t shrink and will last for decades, Heppner said. The cedar won’t be painted so it can age naturally.

“We’re looking to make this place warm, safe and dry,” she said. ” So it’s going to be available for generations to come.”

The electrical lines threaded through the trees to the house are now underground, and new front steps are being built from a white oak that once stood on the property. The original oak front door is being refinished as well, she said.

Through a separate $400,000 state grant, the house will be made handicap-accessible with new entrance ramps built and a new restroom installed.

“Here we have an individual who gave his life for people to be equal and we have a house that’s not accessible,” she said.

A new parking lot, with an entrance further south on Diagonal Road, will be constructed.

The historical society is fundraising for another phase of the project in which new exhibits will be installed in the original front two rooms by the end of the year. The exhibits will focus on Brown’s life and abolitionism in Northeast Ohio. The historical society is working with CEI of Canal Fulton to develop interactive exhibits for all age groups and planning an area for people to meet.

The historical society is working on a strategic plan that will take the organization through its centennial in 2024 and Akron’s bicentennial in 2025. The John Brown House restoration is part of that plan

“We want the community to recognize that this location is for them, and it’s a safe place for people to come together to talk and not be judged,” she said. “We’d like to continue to grow that opportunity at the John Brown House when all of this comes together.”

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