I love this photograph for so many reasons. Number one, I love seeing a group of men out traipsing in the woods in three piece suits. While I love today’s casual clothes, I sometimes yearn for a time when people dressed up more often and rarely left the house without a hat. Second, I love the fact that so many prominent Cleveland businessmen were so invested in the success of the fledgling Cleveland Metropolitan Park System that they traveled to New York to see Great Bear Mountain.
For that last sentence to make sense I need to explain the story behind the photo. I first encountered another version of this photo in the attic at Brecksville Nature Center. It was a panoramic photo of about 10” x 20” housed in a worn out frame. I had no idea who these men were, with one exception. The familiar face of William Stinchcomb looked out at me from the back row. That, and the fact that the photo was found at one of our nature centers, led to my brilliant conclusion that this was an occasion important to our history.
OK, so maybe this conclusion wasn’t exactly brilliant, but a very smart secretary made a brilliant choice when this photo was framed. She kindly typed a list identifying the men in the photo and taped it to the back of the picture. She did not, however, feel the need to explain where they were and what they were doing. That took some digging in our scrapbooks of wonderful, old news clippings, dating back to 1912.
scrapbooks-a goldmine for historians
I found the answer in an article from May of 1922. That month newly appointed Director Stinchcomb led an expedition of 50 local businessmen to the Palisades Park on the New York-New Jersey border. Sponsored by the Cleveland Recreation Council, they were there to observe the infrastructure and operations of this park and to promote similar ideas for the new Cleveland Metropolitan Park System. They were particularly intrigued by the summer camps where “children, most of them strangers to grass even, came by tens of thousands for a two-week stay in camps . . .” It was not long before many similar camps began operating in the Cleveland park system. The men stayed and ate at the Great Bear Mountain Lodge, but since the Cleveland parks were designed to allow area guests to enjoy the reservations on short visits no grand lodges were necessary.
Plain Dealer-22 May 1922
Almost one hundred years later the benefits of our wonderful park system seem obvious to most of us. In 1922, however, the idea was still new, and sometimes strange to people. The Park Board was even taken to court by groups challenging the legality of the whole thing. So, in addition to observing the workings of Palisades Park these men had another job to do. As the Plain Dealer noted, they returned home “ready to tackle one of the biggest selling jobs of their lives . . . to all the people of Cuyahoga county the idea that they must have immediately a great public park where nature has been the architect and all folks will find attraction and comfort.” I think we can safely say that they accomplished their mission!
Final note: The original photo has been lovingly reframed using historic chestnut wood and hangs on a wall in our Overlook Conference room where these men can gaze out the window at the results of their hard work.