Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Our Waterfalls - Built With Prison Labor And Restored For a Wedding

Exactly six years ago, in the spring of 2014, we did the most spontaneous, crazy thing.  Let me give you a brief history of the weeks leading up to this.  I remember I had just told my neighbor we would NEVER leave Erie Road.  We had seventeen gorgeous acres, had a pond dug, and my dad (with our help) had built the cutest cabin overlooking the pond.  We had also just finished a huge house addition and patio and life was good and I thought we were in our forever home.  


 Then my friends Josh and Mel were in the market for a new house.  Everyone knew the "Old Lefere Mansion" (The Miner Estate or Trail Acres as known to the older generations) had been for sale.  It  was foreclosed and was up for auction online.

  I remember telling Josh it would be the PERFECT place for him and his ever growing family.  Duh me.  Josh likes to buy houses that already have the perfect paint color on the walls.  Green bathroom?  Sorry realtor, that would be a hard no on that house. What's that, a nail hole over the kitchen sink? What were the previous owners thinking?! Next!

  So I SHOULDN'T have been surprised when he responded with an "Ugh, are you kidding me?? No WAY, I heard that place is falling down and a total mess.  Ceilings and walls crumbling... all that. Not a chance!"  Well of course, that got me super curious to know if it really was that bad. Everyone knew the place. I remember driving by it with so many questions over the years.  What did the place used to be? It was so overgrown and mysterious and rundown, but you knew it was something magical, even if the magic had gotten lost. We called the realtor to just see for ourselves (who ended up forgetting our appointment and we let ourselves in) and next think I knew, we were the highest bidders and the winners of an online property that came with the biggest anxiety attacks I didn't know I could have.  🤣

Just a couple weeks after the conversation with Josh, we drove the three miles to our new future home, still slightly in shock at what we had done!  I was exploring in the huge old barn when I got a call from my husband that I needed to come see what he had found.  An old waterfall, complete with stone bridges!

It hadn't run in two decades, and was completely over grown!
The following picture is early spring, before all the foliage takes over. You can just imagine what this would look like when all the trees and shrubbery have leaves and the weeds are taking over.  It was almost completely camouflaged from view.

We were given an old map of the property that I had framed professionally and then a year after I paid for the service, the bottom which had been torn off was found.  Doggonnit. 
Anyway, you can see where the waterfalls are on the map in relation to our house and the rest of the property.

Now would be a good time to go into a little of the history of the waterfall.  John Miner was a bit of a mysterious man, but I did find some things out at the library.  He was known for hiring prison labor. The whole waterfall system was built by prison inmates. The gatehouse at the end of the driveway (click here or at the bottom of this post to see the gatehouse restoration project) was actually a stop for the interurban rail car before stopping in Parma, a mile further. When the prisoners were finished working for the day, they would would wait in the gatehouse with a guard and take the interurban back into Jackson.   (In 1923, the interurban crashed into the jail in Parma and you can read the article about that HERE if interested) The massive boulders, cement and stone work, valves and pipes, are really amazing to view up close.  Today, this would cost a fortune to replicate!

As you can see from the above map, there was a "sunken garden".  It shows in one photo I have, and with an excavator I'm sure we could find it back someday. The lined stoned walkway is beautiful  It has all filled in, and with the naked eye, not a trace of it remains.

Beginning clean up!  This took on several forms over the next few years.  We did the initial work of cutting down trees, clearing out the cement waterways, etc.

The pond has provided a lot of fun for the kids - ice in the winter, lots of frogs in the summer, and here are they are playing with Tilford the turtle. :)

Mother Nature can take over fast - but it was so rewarding to uncover things we didn't even know were there!  There were stairs leading down into the pump house, which we could see from the pond... but then around the backside of this mound....

Was a second set of stairs leading to a doorway!!

The boys and Tim spent hours digging and hauling out buckets of dirt that had accumulated on this old well over the decades.

Another year passed and we got a little more serious about getting it cleaned up and hired a landscaping crew:

But well, Mother nature again, and so again we hired some more clean up to be done.  This time our neighbor boy Austin - with help from his fam - put the final touches on with lots more sweat and strain and cleared out weeds and dirt and made it absolutely beautiful - just in time to see if we could get this thing running for my friend Laura's wedding in August of 2019!  

Here's Austin and little sister Madi working away. If you look close at the top boulders, you can see the huge "straps" holding them in place:

But let's back up to the spring of 2019 when my dad brought a pump out from Iowa, with lots of long hoses.  We waited with great anticipation, videos rolling, waiting to see what would happen.... He flipped the switch and utter fail.  He laid in bed brainstorming for hours how to get this thing running in time for the wedding.

His brainstorming paid off.  August, just days before the wedding, he put a generator and a pump down in the pump house, and if you want more details, message me for his cell number because I don't understand it all.  But we called in a huge truck with pool water and began filling.....

If you look on the left side of the pond, you will see the huge pipe that circulates the water.  It travels by pipe under ground to the top of the waterfalls, and cycles down through the cement streams, under the bridges, and over the falls.

Once the pond was full enough, Dad flipped the switch and we held our breath....  and water started moving!!!  And it was exciting!  And Pretty!  And OHHHHHH it smelled bad.  And oh shoot, what's this??

A geyser started shooting out of the side of rocks.  We figured there might be some of this to deal with... and thankfully this wasn't a tough one to dig up and patch.

I was blown away by how absolutely beautiful and serene it was when the water was flowing!
It really did seem like a dream to have it running - and be so gorgeous!
(But it would be short-lived!)

My daughter standing atop the smaller falls after we shut
the water off, while some still trickles over:

It's now rehearsal night, and we surprise the bride and groom with  A WORKING waterfall!

Now the nasty part. It's the morning of the wedding.  Wedding begins at 11:00.  After not being used for so many years, should it be a surprise that a dead raccoon's body had gotten jammed up in the pipe?  Body parts were actually coming out of the top of the falls, and it smelled RANK.  Coon problem taken care of, then what happens?  Another leak.  And this one wasn't so easy to find.  Here's my husband, less than an hour before the wedding, in his old clothes digging away, as people in suits and stilettos are starting to arrive.

With about twenty minutes to spare, Tim and Dad had the falls back up and running!
Kerry Ferguson, uncle of the bride, decided the water needed some blue dye. 
 Wow baby, was it BLUE!

Beautiful bride, Laura Netti with her handsome Groom, Ethan Manus on one of the bridges:

Unfortunately, the beauty was short-lived, as we knew it would be.  For one, the cement-lined pond had been compromised so bad from a tree that had grown up in the middle of it causing a lot of leakage.  The top of the falls also leaked a lot of water.  But now that we've had a taste of it's beauty, it's really something that would be special to have running for future fancy occasions.

Just for fun, how about some photos of when the Lefere's hosted car shows here for American Motors?  Some of the locals remember these! :)

Thanks for stopping by today!  And if you ever want to see them in person (not running currently!) let me know and if I'm around, I'll show you. :)

Also, they are a great photo op!  Here are a few I've taken of some pretty awesome seniors:

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  1. Such an interesting property. Love what you have done with the different sections of it.

  2. A fascinating and beautiful place! Would be wonderful to experience living there.

  3. Thanks for such an interesting history of your beautiful property.


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