Across from the circular wading pool along Gorge Parkway in Bedford Reservation stands a shelterhouse with a curious name: Hermit’s Hollow. With a name like this, there must be a good story behind it.
Most of our information comes from a gentleman, Joe Jesensky, who lived 101 years and spent much of his pastime sketching, observing and studying the natural and cultural history of Tinker’s Creek Valley. This beloved man was an artist, naturalist, historian, and writer. Scotty Mills, a past Cleveland Metropolitan Park Policeman, also passed his recollections on about the man who became known as the “Old Hermit.”
This old hermit was Chris Foss. According to Joe’s recollection, Chris was from the Eastside of Cleveland and had quit school before or around the time of the Civil War. Chris had spent much of his life picking crops as an itinerant worker. Eventually, he found work as a painter putting fresh coats of color on barns and farmhouses. Bedford seemed a fine place to settle as it was a small community out in farm country. As he grew older and the paint ladder got harder to climb, he landed a job as a caretaker on a property managed by the Boy Scouts. It was here he settled into a woodland cabin and spent the rest of his days.
Joe Jesensky sketch of old Boy Scout Cabin - 1925
Joe Jesensky sketch of Tinker's Creek near old cabin site - 1931
View of Tinker's Creek near old Hermit Hollow site - 2015
The cabin was nestled in a hollow near Tinker’s Creek where the water tumbled down short falls of shale and sandstone, a perfect place for a loner who loved peace and quiet, yet was cordial to an occasional visitor. Eventually the Scouts lost interest and the landowners allowed Chris to be a squatter on their secluded property. In 1924, Cleveland Metropolitan Park District purchased the land and Chris Foss was permitted to continue to live and he was thought of as a peaceful individual who could be a set of eyes for the park police. The cabin also served as a respite for the park police who hiked and rode horses throughout Bedford Reservation. The cabin was a warm-up spot on cold blustery winter days. Keep in mind this was several years before Gorge Parkway was constructed.
Scotty Mills, an early park ranger took a liking to Chris and became good friends. Then Joe Jesensky, a young artist and naturalist began to explore Tinker’s Creek and its natural beauty. In his outings Joe stumbled across Chris and his cabin. Over several months time, Joe befriended Chris and like Scotty began to take a special interest in the well-being of Chris Foss the old hermit.
Joe, Scotty and other folks from Bedford and around would check on Chris every few days and bring him food as the weather became harsher in the fall and winter. Stacks of wood would be provided for the hermit and a consistent spirit of generosity would settle on the cabin in the woods as the years went by.
In 1928, Chris’s health took a turn for the worst. Scotty found Chris Foss very ill and bed-bound. Scotty eventually took him by horse to the nearest home – Astorhurst and then called the ambulance to have him admitted to the Bedford hospital. He recuperated over the winter in the hospital and was being coaxed to enter an “old folk’s home,” but he strongly refused. As the weather broke and Spring brought in warmer temperatures, Chris was brought back to the little cabin in the woods. Slowly he lost his strength and languished throughout the Spring. If not for Scotty Mills and his daily patrol visits and personal concern, Chris would have been without daily help.
Joe Jesenky sketch of patrolman Scotty Mills in Bedford Reservation - 1932
Cleveland Metropolitan Park Policeman Scotty Mills - 1955
“One day in mid-June” in 1928 as Joe writes, “I ventured out to the park, it being my acknowledged turn to call on him.” He found the door locked and made his way to a window and peeked in to find Chris “huddled in his bedding on his cot.”
Joe Jesenky sketch of Old Hermit of Tinker's Creek - Chris Foss - 1929
“Gone was our kind and gentle friend, who had never spoken a cross word in our recollection. He was laid to rest in Highland Park cemetery and suffered a pauper’s burial, as no relations could be found. The cabin remained but little longer, with no one but Scotty or an occasional hiker to disturb it. Park laborers eventually tore it down, and nature made short work of destroying the last evidence if old Chris Foss, the hermit. Later that location was selected as good ground for a much needed, larger picnic spot, and it was created on the land just adjacent to the site of the cabin. In fitting tribute … we all agreed … the park officials doffed their caps to old Chris one last time … and named the new facility, Hermit Hollow.” … Joe Jesensky.
Photo of Joe Jesensky at Deer Lick Creek - Photo by Ian Adams
Taken from the book, Joe's Place - Conversations on the Cuyahoga Valley
The Cuyahoga Valley Association - 1999