You never know where a little research will lead you. I recently spent a few evenings watching a fantastic emergence of 17-year periodical cicadas at Ottawa Point Picnic Area in Brecksville Reservation. This was followed by several daytime visits to view the thousands of flying, singing, mating, and egg-laying adults. What an incredible sight! But while I was cicada watching, I began to take notice of the shelter house located there. The fireplace looked fairly old; I wondered if this place was the Ottawa Lodge I’d seen mentioned in the old files I have been reading in the attic of Brecksville Nature Center. Indeed it was. Research on Ottawa Lodge led me to the Ottawa Club of University Settlement, which led me to “settlement houses.”
The “settlement house” movement began in England in the late 1800s. The purpose of forming a neighborhood “settlement house” was mostly to solve urban community problems. University Settlement was organized in 1926 by Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University) as a training site for social workers. Its original purpose was to help Eastern European immigrants adapt to life in America. By 1936 it was an independent non-profit organization comprised of many individual “clubs.” Many settlement houses had camps in “the country” that allowed children to get out and enjoy nature rather than spend the entire summer in the city, but University Settlement was not one of these. One night at a meeting, a member wondered aloud why a camp of their own could not be built. That night the group decided to raise money to build their own camp.
One thousand dollars was needed to buy materials for construction. Fourteen individual clubs of University Settlement volunteered to raise this money. Neighborhood children sold candy, gathered paper for a paper sale, and sponsored dances. Each pledged to raise a certain amount. It seems that the Ottawa Club, the oldest club of the settlement house, pledged the most at $300. Perhaps this is why the main building in the camp became known as Ottawa Lodge. After money was raised to purchase material the Metropolitan Park Board (now Cleveland Metroparks) furnished the land, and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) supplied the labor. When University Settlement Camp was dedicated on May 14, 1939, the camp was valued at $25,000.
Ottawa Lodge (as the camp became known) planned nine one-week long camp sessions during its 1939 season. Four were for boys, four for girls, and one for preschoolers. There were weekly excursions to Hinckley Lake, hand crafts, nature hikes, clay modeling, athletics, and dramatics. The camp seemed to have had a baseball diamond, a volleyball court, a place for a “council fire,” and a “lot where campers could raise vegetables.”
Campers in front of Ottawa Lodge in 1950s
By June of 1942, world events appeared to take a toll on the camp. A letter addressed to neighborhood groups announced that there would be only three “boys’ weeks” during the summer of 1942 because of the “difficulty in getting good men counselors this year, [making it] impossible for us to handle boys over 13 years old.”
Original plans show three buildings on the Ottawa Lodge site. The main lodge housed the kitchen, indoor activities, and indoor and outdoor fireplaces. Two other buildings were used as sleeping quarters for campers.
At some point (possibly after 1955), Ottawa Lodge closed as a camp and the main lodge was renovated to become the Ottawa Point Picnic Shelter that we know today. More research on my part is required before I learn those details. I am sure there are many former Ottawa Lodge campers out there who have memories of this wonderful place. I hope that some will contact me to share their stories. Some may even have memories of the 1948 emergence of cicadas, ancestors of those that I have enjoyed watching so much this year.