John Kilgore is this month’s Roots Revealed Guest Blogger. John, Manager of Facilities Engineering, worked on the Lake to Lake Trail project and was inspired by the history of the area to write this blog post. John not only works for Cleveland Metroparks, he grew up roving our reservations and has a passionate interest in the cultural remains that dot the parks.
Big Creek Reservation’s Lake to Lake Trail offers the visitor a special experience, where one can explore both natural history and the human experience, past to present. The path immerses the traveler in a large greenspace used by thousands of birds, a grove of majestic trees, the largest glacial “pothole” bog complex in the county - and echoes of cultures dating from the first hunter-gatherers to the present urbanized environment. By exercising the imagination the observant hiker can not only travel 2-1/2 miles through Middleburg Heights, but also journey through time.
One such hiker sees a strange, raised plot of ground in a shopping center parking lot. Entering, she observes the grave stones of an old family cemetery. Reading the plaques, she is transported back to 1809 and the first family to settle in Middleburg Township, then part of the Connecticut Western Reserve. As she stands in this small space from that long-ago time, the busy parking lots fades and she imagines the months-long trip from Old Connecticut in creaking canvas covered wagons pulled by panting oxen. Perhaps the chunk of an ax on wood as trees are felled to clear fields and build cabins. She contemplates the grave of Jared Hickok, family patriarch, dead at 52 the winter after arrival at this place. His two sons Azor and Nathaniel also rest here, passing as young men within weeks of each other a year later. In the face of such tragedy, as well as the loss of three strong backs, how did Jared’s wife Rachel cope with caring for the remaining family while developing a sustainable farm in the heart of a wilderness?
Our hiker resumes her journey southward, moving past the Fowles Marsh bog. On a whim, she takes a trail spur and walks west through woods and meadow, up a slight rise near Fowles Road. There, in the midst of shading trees is a low iron fence surrounding another old family cemetery. Her eyes are drawn to two matching white marble markers, vertical and so close they almost seem to touch; Abraham and Rachel Fowles, whose lives spanned the settlement period; Rachel, same name as Jared’s wife. There is nothing to read here but brief testimony set in stone, but she wonders if there might be a connection. She may be inspired to do further research when she gets home.
The 1858 Cuyahoga County property map showed no landowners named Hickox in the area. Perhaps the losses of 1810 were too much for them to overcome. She found a number of accounts, many contradicting each other – the conditions of pioneer life tended to limit documentation. She learned that Jared and Rachel Hickox had a daughter, also named Rachel. And there was a connection with Abraham Fowles, a member of the second new family who settled south of the Hickox land in 1811. Some stories had Abraham blazing a trail through the swamp to the Hickox home to court Rachel, all the while helping his brother John carve out a farm where Fowles Road now sits. She learned that in 1812 Abraham and Rachel had the first wedding in the Township. He was in his early 20's, but she was in her mid-teens, much younger than typical for marriage at the time. What circumstances lead to that decision? The stones are mute, but they impart a feeling of successful partnership.
Abraham and Rachel stayed together the rest of their lives, became parents and grandparents, progenitors of a local family whose descendants were prominent well into the twentieth century. The hiker wonders - how did Rachel feel about her life of constant chores, bearing at least nine children under risky conditions, living her early years in a howling wilderness with few outside contacts? How did Abraham view his life of hard physical labor, always more to do? All that is confidently known is that she died at 49 and is buried in that shaded plot still owned by the Fowles family; right next to the husband she married so young. Abraham outlived her by only two years.
A hike on the Lake to Lake Trail is a great way to enjoy the outdoors. One can also encounter our cultural forbears along the way, and with a little investigation, a little imagination, perhaps a bit of their lives can also be appreciated.