A mysterious "cave" bordered by an archway of sandstone blocks stares out of the shale cliff across the river from Maple Grove Picnic Area in Rocky River Reservation. “Hermit’s Cave,” as it is sometimes called, was once the entrance to a 50-foot long sluiceway, a tunnel that brought water from the Rocky River to the Lawrence Grist Mill. Constructed in 1832 by Joel B. Lawrence, the mill ground grain into flour for inhabitants of the area. Water rushing through the sluiceway rotated a horizontal tub wheel, which then turned the grindstone and ground the wheat, barley or other grains. Mr. Lawrence built a wooden dam across the Rocky River to form a mill pond and provide the necessary constant supply of water. Sandstone blocks that formed the dam’s foundation (possibly cut from the Berea sandstone quarries) sit scattered along the river bank. An earthen dam extension still forms a ridge running through the woods at the edge of the picnic area. The only visible remains of the mill itself are the sandstone foundation walls, located north of Cedar Point Road along the Valley Parkway.
Cedar Point Valley area residents were dependent on their local mill not only to grind their grain, but also to weigh themselves! The mill had a good set of weighing scales, which proved useful in the neighborhood. Amelia Ames, who lived on Butternut Ridge Road, notes in her diary on July 11, 1865 that "After supper we all went over to the mill. I weigh 125 ½ pounds." It’s fun to visualize Amelia sitting on the scale in her long dress.
It would be interesting to know how many pounds of grain were ground into flour during the 81 years of the mill’s existence. The waterwheel and grindstone ceased turning forever in 1913, when a terrible flood on the Rocky River destroyed the dam and waterwheel. The Lawrence Grist Mill was never rebuilt.
Before Cedar Point Valley became part of Cleveland Metroparks in the 1920s, the final owner of the mill site was Albert Laisy. Albert grew cherries, apples, peonies and dahlias on the property to sell to Clevelanders. While he worked in his gardens, Albert’s son Fred often played in the old mill building and amused himself by throwing marbles down the grain chutes. Albert Laisy finally tore down the dilapidated building in 1917 when the structure became a safety hazard. Fred fondly shared these memories when he was interviewed by Cleveland Metroparks volunteer Galen Cooley in 1980.
The mysterious "Hermit’s Cave" turns out to be a clue to the past; it is evidence of a thriving community and business in the Cedar Point area of the Rocky River Valley. For more information on the Lawrence Grist Mill and to see a diorama of the mill site, visit Rocky River Nature Center.