Vacant land parcel brews up some heady history (Westlife)

Rocky River

Craft beer aficionados may know that portions of the Great Lakes Brewery, co-owned by Rocky River resident Pat Conway, are housed in the 1870s buildings which once served as horse stables, keg facilities and bottle storage for the Schlather Brewing Company from 1874 until it merged with the Cleveland and Sandusky Brewery in 1902.

Brewer Leonard Schlather and his wife Sophia built a summer estate on 93 acres overlooking the Rocky River valley, an area which now includes where Shoreland Drive and Wooster Road meet. City officials are hoping that a vacant plot of land at the northeast corner of that intersection may not only tie together the stories of the two Rocky River beer makers and other city history, but serve as a “passive park” for neighbors and cyclists.

Prior to last week’s legislative session, City Council held a public meeting to discuss uses for the property as well as application for a Cuyahoga County Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for its repurposing, which council later placed the measure on the second of three required readings. “This is a catalyst for investment in our community,” stated Mayor Pam Bobst, referring to a similar 2011 grant, which jump-started economic growth in the Old Detroit area of the city.

According to finance Director Mike Thomas, the city purchased the property for $154,000 several years ago. When the auto repair shop located on the land closed, a grant from the Cuyahoga County Land Bank was secured to tear down the building and clear the soil of any hazardous waste. It has been sitting as a green space for about three years.

“Our thought was to leverage the property to create a gathering space. We don’t envision this as an active park, but one that supports the commercial node,” Bobst added, referring to the strip of businesses on Wooster between Shoreland and Riverview Road.

“We believe this will be a strong project to submit to Cuyahoga County,” stated Bobst, continuing that it meets the grant criteria of collaboration and improvement of the quality of life. However, she said, historical significance can also be a deciding factor.
Enter some research done by Thomas, who is also treasurer of the Rocky River Historical Society.

“There is some old infrastructure there,” Thomas told Westlife. He added that the Wooster corridor is “closely tied to the agricultural history of the area, even before it was put under glass (greenhouses). “This portion of town,” he said, “also had close access to the Rocky River on the east.”

Thomas added that Sophia Schlather grew “victory gardens” on the estate grounds during World War II. It’s even speculated that her husband grew barley and other grains for crafting beer on the property. “I really would hope that we could do historical tours up Wooster and maybe grow barley and hops on the corner as a demonstration,” said Thomas.

(Bobst earlier suggested that the beer making grains could be supplied by Conway for his brews, bringing the area to a full historical circle.)

The proximity of the parcel to the Rocky River Public Library is an added plus, according to Thomas. In 1954, Sophia Schlather gave $100,000 to the library in memory of her husband, to expand its collections; the nation’s largest individual gift to a library at that time. Art work and furniture from the Schlather estate can also be seen in the library’s reading room.

“For a little spot, it’s certainly interesting,” Thomas said of the land.

“We were busy looking at the nuts and bolts of the application process, and Mike made this brilliant connection,” stated Bobst.

City officials will find out by December or January whether the grant application will be approved. Bobst said that the funds could total up to $150,000, and that the project must be completed by December 2016. She added that bigger cities do not need to compete for CBDG funds, but smaller municipalities with fewer needs do. “We never know who’s going to come in with another project,” said Bobst. She noted that if the plan is turned down by the county, it could possibly be supported by residential fund raising.

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