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Title: Old Merrill House Memories

Caroline's memoir of the Twin Lakes house, written by request of her (younger by four years) cousin, Eleanor Greene White. Caroline's mother, Grace Foote, was a sister of Eleanor's mother, Gladys.  Grace Foote's illness in this memoir - is TB.


Caroline made these suggestions for additional chapters:

  1. The Transition Years:  Life in the cottages, Bom in #4 (before her new house was built), the Greenes, the Footes, Aunt Cora and Uncle John, and others; the selling of the property; the Twin Lakes Company
  2. The Beginning of the New Twin lakes:  The beautiful new home of Ida Merrill, the new country club, the Dumm family moves to Twin lakes, the Foote family moves to Twin lakes, the Gressard family moves to Twin Lakes
  3. The Greene family buys the house and extends the Merrill tradition. 

Unfortunately, these additional chapters were never written.


First photo shows "Old Merrill House" from across the lake. The cottages can be seen below the big house and the barn off to the right. Second photo shows Caroline's floor plan of the main and lower floors. See the next Caroline entry for more old cottage photos... 

Author: Caroline Morris
Date: November 16, 1968

Merrill House Memories

How shall I begin?  Today's popular command, "Tell it like it was," (sure to bring shudders to English teachers) keeps hammering at my memory cells.  Tell it like it was?  Reach back fifty-five years? I can only tell it the way it seemed to be at the "old" house.


If only I had more snapshots! In their absence, this will be an attempt to give a verbal picture of a charming, white house by the side of a peaceful country road with a lake as its background. From the front, it seemed long, low and expansive, yet the main section was two-storied, with a one-story wing at the south. A porch set close to the ground extended across most of the front and on around the north side. There was no porch railing, giving it more of a terrace look, with a wide overhang. Several big maple trees in the front yard provided a shaded, cool-looking front entrance. (Of course since the road was narrower at that time there was a bigger front yard.)


What a contrast from the low, rambling effect at the front, when you were down at the lake shore behind the house looking up the hill at the rear. From this view you were looking at three stories, (except the south wing.) Always to my young eyes, it looked high, wide, and imposing. Built, as it was, on a hillside, there was a ground-level story across the back (much as the garage level in the present Twin Lakes house.) On this lower level was the kitchen, a large dining room with a fireplace, plus a third room at the north end -- a room of many purposes-- for cleaning fish, storing sides of beef, making ice-cream or maybe applebutter, as the season might be-- or even a second dining room at times. As you can see, this old home seems to have been a forerunner of several modern building techniques:  the multi-level, the all-purpose room, even the wrap-around porch (popular in seacoast apartments.) 


Directly behind the lower level, half-way down the hill toward the lake was a fairly level strip, the vegetable garden. A few more steps down the hill stood the pump house, and at the bottom of the hill stood the five cottages fairly evenly spaced, from cottage #1 at the north boundary of the Merrill property to #5 separated from the pasture at the south by a fence. Down at the water's edge stood a small white bath house (approximately where the present much larger bath house is now located.)


Returning from the lake shore, let's take the path up the hill between Cottage #4 and the pump house, on up to the top of the hill near the road, turn left to the front of the house and pause, before we enter, to look across the road. All of you, of course, remember the apple orchard directly across the road, and perhaps the second orchard on lower land just south of the first one, but you may not recall that there was a driveway separating the orchards (in the approximate location of Clyde Platt's home) leading to a shed type garage which housed the family touring car. The first car in the family was an EMF, I am told. Most families in the country at that time (circa 1914-15) travelled by horse and buggy and their plumbing was the "outside" variety. Not so the Merrills -- except, of course, the cottages.


A glance to the North, from the front of the house, showed the bend in the road with a low rambling yellow house right at the curve, now stripped of its beauty -- a tavern of some sort. At this time of my recollection, a dear old couple named the Butterfields, lived there. Beyond that was the Pike property. There seemed to be no love lost for the Pikes, who apparently were encroaching upon the Merrill lake rights. A glance to the South showed the big barn approximately half a city block up the road. Directly across from the barn, on the east side of the road, set well back was the farm house. (This had been in the Merrill family for years, the same house that has been completely remodelled and was the home of Jim and Altadena Morris in recent years.)


Beyond the barn and the house, on both sides of the road, the Merrill farm stretched, to the South, the East (now the golf course) and to the west -- 375 acres of farmland. However, Grampa Frank Merrill was not himself a farmer on his land. He "rented it out." At the time of this recollection a family by the name of Fleshman were operating the farm.


As you enter through the front door, you come into a "house of many rooms."  There is no foyer, you enter the living room directly. At the immediate right is the "master bedroom" -- not named this because of size. Beyond that, the bathroom. Along the front side at the north corner of the house is another bedroom. Behind that on the northwest corner was a third bedroom.


Again, standing at the front entrance, you look straight ahead through the living room into the parlor, its windows at the back, overlooking the lake. At the immediate left of the front entrance was "the wing." For some reason I had named it the Telephone room. There must certainly have been an extension phone there on the desk which, in addition to a straight backed chair or two seemed to be the only furniture there.


To the right, off the telephone room, was at least one room -- maybe two. I clearly remember the one room, furnished somewhat in the den-guest-room manner -- a day bed and a big bookcase loaded with books. This I called "George's room." These were the days he was courting Aunt Mary and he was the most frequent house guest. He was now Dr. George Dumm having newly set up his dental office in Akron.


The bathroom, the stairway, and the hall are each indicated in the floor plan, but I have only an educated guess as to doorways into the hall.


The living room, as I recall, had a cozy, comfortable atmosphere, with a "library table," as these were called in that day, in the center of the room.  On either the north or the south wall was a dark colored sofa. I can't remember any particular color scheme, but I am sure "decorator color" had no special importance in that era.


The parlor seemed a bit more spacious. At least it had more open floor area, and I distinctly remember the piano on the south wall of the parlor. Windows were on the west wall overlooking the lake -- not a picture window, to be sure. One other piece of furniture I distinctly remember is the high back vanity dresser-- the one still in the family at Twin Lakes. In those days this was in the front corner bedroom.


This, then, is a general description of the first two floors -- the lower level and the street-floor living area; three rooms plus a furnace room "dug-out type" on the lower level, at least seven rooms and bath on the first floor. That brings us to the top floor -- all bedrooms (and a bath?) I have made no plan of this floor because I really have no idea of the number of rooms, nor can I seem to find out. (There must have been about six.) This part of the house was more or less off limits to me, and really not much part of the family living.


These rooms on the upper floor were the ones Bom and Grandpa Frank (as I called him) rented during fishing season and the summer to a more or less repeat clientele of sportsmen from Akron and Cleveland. The name "Charlie Pflueger," well known Akron name, comes to my mind as one who came to Twin Lakes every fishing season. It was thoroughly understood that we must never refer to this home as a "hotel." I am not sure whether all meals were served to these vacationers, but I do know there were Sunday dinners -- fish or chicken -- served family style, of course, in the big downstairs dining room.


However, and I emphasize this fact, none of this vacation business, with the room rental,  the boat rental, the cottage rentals, and the meals for the "guests" -- which all was really for only part of the year -- seemed to interfere too much with the Merrill family and social life. That was a thing apart, and as I remember, there was always an "open house" atmosphere around for the personal friends of all the family. There was singing in the parlor, much talk and laughter, and in warm weather folks would gather on the long porch. Someone would occupy the hammock under the trees in the front yard, pictures would be taken, and if friends or family were staying for dinner on one of the busy Sundays "in season," there would be a "second table" -- just for family and personal friends. Among frequent visitors to the house were dear friends, the Neilsons, Congregational minister in Ravenna at that time, the Pitkins, very close friends -- and many others whose names I have forgotten. Grandma Haymaker came frequently. There were Margaret's friends, Mary's friends, and usually on Sundays, Glady and Ed would come (bringing Eleanor with them after midsummer 1913 when she was born), Grace and Freem and I (of preschool age) would usually be there. 


With all of these general recollections, it bothered me that I couldn't remember any specific conversation I'd had -- particularly in the presence of Granpa Frank. I asked Margaret when I saw her this past summer if she could help me out on this. She did help me with several recollections, and here was the conversation piece she recalled. "There was a room full of people, and Caroline, you made an entrance, running in announcing -- 'Here comes the pretty girl' "-- I suddenly abandoned further pursuit along these lines. In self defense: I was one child among many adults obviously making a bid for attention.


It must have been the summer of 1913 (when I was not quite five) that I was really a part of the scene. I was flower girl at the wedding of Margaret and Fred Gressard. It was held in the parlor, and there were many guests. I mention this because it is the first actual occasion I definitely remember at the old house.


The Winter I Spent At Twin Lakes

That following Fall the house at Twin Lakes unexpectedly became my home for six months or more. After we had moved to Akron from Ravenna mother became quite ill, needing care and complete rest and good fresh air. So the Foote family moved to Twin Lakes. That is, mother and I did, with dad coming from Akron several times a week and staying in George's room. During the first part of this stay, I couldn't even see mother, myself. She was more or less in isolation in the front corner bedroom. I didn't see much of Bom right then, either. How busy she must have been running a big household and taking care of mother.


So, instead of attending kindergarten in Akron, I was introduced to country living in the winter -- among adults, of course. I can't remember feeling sad at missing kindergarten for I liked the prospect of living at Twin Lakes with Bom and Grandpa Frank. He was around the house more this time of year and I got to know him better. There were rides in the big touring car, with the side curtains on, of course, when it rained. There were trips up the road to the barn where I watched the milking and listened to the special assets of the Guernsey cows as compared to the Holsteins. Then I would be taken to the horse stall and allowed to pet a plow horse. One winter night when the lake was well frozen over, Grandpa Frank took me out on the ice on the East Lake where men were cutting ice to be stored in the ice house which was located on the south shore of the lake (in the vicinity of the present country club.) Any trip to the East Lake was special, for I could not go there alone as it was hidden by the apple orchard from any house view. (Cottages #6 and #7 were there.)


Of course, much of the time during the winter months was spent indoors. Next to fishing, my grandfather loved playing cards. I believe the name of the game was Euchre. Sometimes when he was playing with men friends I would eavesdrop -- not that this meant much to me when the talk was of politics, but I did understand that Kaiser Bill was a very bad man, and I felt sorry for the poor Belgian children. I would often hear the name "Teddy Roosevelt" and "William Jennings Bryan." At the local level, in connection with the new Kent Normal College, the name "John McGilvrey" comes to mind-- and especially, "David Rockwell," who was one of Grandpa Frank's friends.


Of course, there were many long hours for a little girl to spend alone in a house full of busy adults, but I don't remember feeling especially lonely. I could always go downstairs and watch the kitchen activity -- usually from the dining room where I would be in no one's way. Bom always had plenty of helpers. There was Old Levi, with his weather-beaten skin, coming in and out of the kitchen on many errands, going into the furnace room for coal for the fireplace and the kitchen stove; priming the pump outside the kitchen door.  (All of the drinking water and cooking water was supplied by a pump from a well.) Levi would no doubt bear the title of Maintenance Man today. There was Austrian Joe (my name for him) with a big moustache, who helped with the outside work. Even as late as 1946 he would hail me on the street with a big smile and a "Hello, Caroline." In the kitchen there would be Nelly Jackson, a peppy, talkative colored woman, and sometimes a Mrs. Scott, dainty and quick moving. Bom worked along with them. Maybe it was laundry days and they would be busy over the scrub boards -- or maybe it was ironing day. The ironing board was set near the stove and two flatirons were used. One was always being heated on the top of the stove while the other was in use. 


Bom was not always in the kitchen, but she was a truly busy lady with little time for fancy work and cards in those days. When she did have some time for relaxation, she would sit down at the piano in the parlor for a few minutes and play and sing folk songs or hymns. I particularly remember "Rock of Ages" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic."


In fact, there was music in the house much of the time -- either piano or Victrola. The Merrills were the proud possessors of a very early model Victrola -- gramophone style -- claimed to be so much better than the Edison which had come out first. Grandpa Merrill loved good music, and I listened to Caruso, Galli Curci, Alma Gluck, Overture of William Tell, Hungarian Rhapsody #2, and in a lighter vein to Roamin' in the Gloamin', sung by Harry Lauder, and to much Hawaiian music which Grandpa Frank especially liked -- and so did I.


By mid-afternoon I would watch out the front window for Mary. She was teaching in Streetsboro and had a room there with the Peck family, but I think she returned to Twin Lakes most of the days, partly to help entertain me, I am sure. This she did. Mary was very good company, but it couldn't have been all fun for her. She spent much time combing out my snarls in my thick, unruly hair, then combing it into ringlets. 


As Christmas approached, I was a worried little girl. For some reason it was not feasible to hang my stocking on the downstairs fireplace (no mantle as I remember.) However, I was assured that Santa would come in through the front door. He did. And the next morning there was the hoped - for sled against the living room wall piled with gifts. (This was the only Christmas, because of mother's illness, that we did not go to the home of Grandma Foote and Elgin's up on the hill in Kent, as we did until I was eighteen or twenty.) From the moment I got the sled, whenever conditions permitted, sliding down the hill along the path from the kitchen door past cottage #4 held priority. I was never quite able to make it to the water's edge. (How tame all this must seem to the "now generation" of youngsters who go with their parents to a weekend ski resort.)


The Night Rosa Came

One particular night that winter has stood out vividly in my mind through all the years. Bom, Grandpa Frank and I were still seated at the dining room table when the telephone on the nearby wall rang. I could sense something unusual about the conversation which followed. I heard "police station" mentioned and my ears turned up very big. It was Jake Fleshman up at the farmhouse on the other end of the wire. I heard Grandpa Frank say, "Wait until I get there," or words to that effect. When he hung up he explained briefly what happened. A young girl (16 or 17) with a shepherd dog had knocked at the farmhouse door, exhausted, frightened and freezing. She had walked in the bitter cold along the Pennsylvania tracks, with the dog at her side, all the way from Bedford to Earlville. Deciding she could go no further, she left the tracks, came up the station drive to the Kent-Twin Lakes road and stopped at the first lighted house. The Fleshmans didn't know what to do with her and decided to call the Merrills before they called the police. Grandpa Frank went into a short conference with Bom, then took out up the road. When he returned shortly, Rosa Morgan and her dog were with him. She had run away from a rooming house in Bedford where she had been working in a lamp factory. This day, upon returning to her room, her clothes and all her possessions were gone. So were her roommates. She seemed to have no family to turn to. Her father was some kind of refugee, possibly in prison for something of a political nature, and I don't know what had become of her mother. But starting that night she had a new home -- the Merrill house at Twin Lakes. I recognized this as a noble act -- like something out of a story book, with my grandparents as the hero and heroine, and they stretched very tall in my mind.


Of course, there were many ways Rosa could be of help in the big house that winter, and one of her chief duties was to look after me. The whole situation fascinated me. I found it difficult at times to become accustomed to her Bohemian accent, but I did like having a younger person around the house -- although really too old to be called a playmate. I can remember evening walks with Rosa and her dog up toward the barn and beyond -- the telephone wires singing in the cold air. I can't seem to remember whether Teddy, the Merrill dog, was still living and how the two dogs might have gotten along.


However, the sharpest memory comes from the day we almost lost Rosa. It must have been Spring, for the boats were in dock ready to go for the fishermen, but it was a miserable, gray day, and turned up windy. I can remember sitting in the dining room, and everybody wondering where Rosa could be. I became increasingly frightened and sad. I didn't want anything to happen to Rosa. Finally, Grandpa Frank, aware that she didn't know how to swim, started out in a boat to see if she could have possibly decided to take a boatride. He found her -- on the far side of West lake, in the water, clinging to the boat. She must have stood up and fallen out. Those flat-bottom boats just didn't tip over. Once more my grandfather was a hero. 


From here on, the story of Rosa becomes her story, not directly related to the old house at Twin Lakes. She did return with us to Akron that spring where she was mother's "helper," and throughout the years (she has been Rosa Schwartz for many years) she has kept in touch with someone in the Merrill family -- usually Mother -- and has always expressed her gratitude to the Merrills. 


Going back to Twin Lakes in that spring of 1914 -- Mother's health had been steadily improving. As she grew stronger, we took walks up the road, sometimes to the old farmhouse where we would enjoy a hearty midday meal with the farm workers. I would stare at the big windmill in the backyard, and did a good job of playing hopscotch among the chickens and ducks -- purpose: to miss them. It was in that big front yard that I learned to play croquet. (Maybe not that particular year.)


Although Mother's health had improved to the point that we could return to our Akron home apparently, as the months went by, Grandpa Merrill's condition was worsening. An educator by profession, a scholar, a linguist, one of the founders of Kent State Normal College -- (one day to become a great university)-- Grandfather Frank A. Merrill had retired from his active, promising career because of increasing ill health.  With his purchase of the major part of Twin Lakes and his ownership of the big Merrill farm, his life did not turn out to be the pattern of real retirement - let's call it semi-retirement, for as you can see by the foregoing pages, at times he was a busy man -- busy, to be sure -- but no doubt without that big negative quality - Pressure. His illness was finally diagnosed as diabetes. At this time "early diagnosis" of the disease was unheard of, at least in northeastern Ohio, much less the effective treatment of the disease as it is known today. (Insulin was developed the year after he died.)


So, in mid-March of 1916 Grandfather Merrill passed away at the age of 57 in a diabetic coma in a Cuyahoga Falls hospital. At the time of his death I was a first grader, Eleanor was a toddler, and Bill (William Merrill Gressard, his first grandson) was not yet one. How wonderful it would have been if our grandfather could have lived even ten more years to know and enjoy his seven grandsons, as well as his two granddaughters.


During the months, even several years that followed, dear, brave Bom carried on with courage, running the household and the management of the farm property. She had the moral support of the entire family, and I can't believe she had too much time for loneliness. Visitors often came to spend several days -- or weeks; Grandma Haymaker, Aunt Lillie and Uncle Bert, Uncle John and Aunt Cora Dickson. Uncle Elmer and Aunt Cora France would be callers for a day or evening because they lived close by in Kent and Uncle Elmer was busy at his Dry Goods store. (However, the France home was always the scene of the family Christmas dinner.) The Pitkins were regular visitors and there were school day friends of Mother, Gladys, Mary and Margaret -- all who spent many hours enjoying the hospitality of the Merrill household.


It was one afternoon several years later (1918-1919?) that I came home from school and heard some shocking news. It was an amazing story sounding like the original "Mission Impossible" for every bit of furniture was safely rescued as the house burned from the roof down. Margaret had been entertaining her in-laws, the Gressards, for lunch, Levi was there (it was he who discovered the fire) and I believe men came running from everywhere to help. What a wonderful scene of cooperation without panic that must have been.


And so ends the story of the Old House; and from this sad ending story there slowly evolved a beginning -- the beginning of a new era in the story of Twin Lakes. 

Updated: 11/24/18