“Meet me at the chimney,” my friend Lee Smith (born in 1906) told his hiking buddies. Many years ago, Lee and I were going to hike in the Royalview Area of Mill Stream Run Reservation on what is now the “Yellow Trail.” He wanted to show me the beauty of his favorite reservation. “What is the chimney?” I wondered aloud. It certainly could not be a crayfish chimney, which is too small to be easily seen as a meeting spot. Possibly it was another of Lee’s endearing names for locations, like the “apron,” a small parking lot near Valley Parkway. “You’ll see,” Lee told me.
As we hiked at a fast pace (although already in his 80s at the time, Lee was still a speed walker) we rounded a corner and a chimney appeared in the forest! It was a brick chimney, almost as tall as the surrounding trees. As we got closer, a stone foundation came into sight. Someone had constructed a building here, far from any road.
Lee then told me what he knew of the chimney. The building had once been a sugarhouse, producing 1200 gallons of maple syrup each year. Lee remembered seeing it when sap was still being boiled inside. Searching through the leaves, we found quite a few old tin buckets. In 1945 the sugarhouse burned down, leaving only the foundation, chimney, and some ancient sap pails.
There were two sugarhouses in the immediate area; the one just described belonged to Jeremiah Drake, and another owned by Jack Clement which was a bit smaller and can no longer be seen. Former Strongsville resident Deloss Drake remembered gathering sap and cutting wood in both of these sugar camps when he was young.
A walk through this area today reveals few maple trees large enough to have been tapped for sap in the 1930s. Once the sugarhouse burned, the property owner sold 1500 – 2000 large maples to a basket factory in Cleveland. A bit of internet research revealed the name of the factory that probably bought the trees: Asplin Basket Company, located on the corner of W. 150th and Lorain. They made utilitarian baskets used to ship vegetables to market. Dorothy Brumbaugh worked at Asplin’s Hartville, Ohio branch (which later housed Longaberger Baskets) in 1932. She recalled that, “Big logs were hauled in from the northern part of the state where they cut big trees down. The logs were cooked in large vats and run through a sawmill and through a machine that shaved the material into thin strips to make the different size baskets needed. They made peck size, twelve quarts and half bushels.”
Sadly, the chimney is no longer warm with the smoke of wood fires boiling the maple sap, but it is still very visible. The next time you are at Royalview, tell your hiking friends, “Meet me at the chimney!”