Col. Simon Perkins, Jr., son of Akron founder Gen. Simon Perkins, at one time had more than 1,000 Merino sheep grazing on the front yard of his stately stone mansion at the corner of Copley Road and South Portage Path. Townsfolk referred to the location as Mutton Hill, and the stone walls built to pen them in exist to this day around the property.
Perkins speculated that wool could become a valuable commodity for making blankets and coats to cope with the cold Ohio winters. And he knew the rocky hillside facing the then 19-year-old town would be ideal terrain for the sheep to graze on.
In 1844 Perkins partnered with abolitionist John Brown to establish a wool business that lasted 10 years. The arrangement was: Perkins would supply the sheep, food and land; Brown would raise the sheep then gather and process the wool while living in the house he rented from Perkins which was across the street from the stone mansion. Brown’s family grew their food on a half-acre plot next to the house. That piece of ground is currently used as a community garden in which local residents now raise their own vegetables. During this time, Brown was active in the Underground Railroad and on occasion brought runaway slaves to Akron who would hide in his barn until the coast was clear to head for Canada and freedom.
In no time the quality of the wool began winning medals at agricultural fairs. In 1846, Brown moved to Springfield, Mass., with his wife and small children to tend to the wool trade. His older sons remained in Akron to tend to the sheep. Apparently, Brown was a better shepherd than businessman. While the quality of the award winning wool remained top notch, a series of bad business decisions by Brown led to legal and financial troubles and created a loss of profit for Perkins. The business collapsed by February, 1854. Perkins remained president of the Summit County Agricultural Society for nearly 40 years.
The Summit County Historical Society (SCHS) of Akron recently rebranded the two properties as the Homes of Mutton Hill. Dave Lieberth, society board Chairman said: “In the 1850s, this was known as Mutton Hill. The people of Akron called it that because of Simon Perkins’ large flock of Merino sheep numbering 1,300 that he managed with John Brown. As we try to interpret the history today we think that’s a pretty significant part of our history and the property’s history – this agricultural use of land. So we have chosen to rebrand the properties as ‘The Historic Homes of Mutton Hill,’ meaning the Perkin Mansion, the John Brown House…some of the related properties in our neighborhood are part of Mutton Hill too. The Stadelman mansion on the corner which is now the [Akron] Women’s City Club, and the Wojno-Forney household. We hope people will respond to the rebranding and recognize that there is a historic component to these properties today.”
On Sept. 20, SCHS hosted a sheep-grazing and Border collie herding demonstration on the mansion grounds in connection with the annual Highland Square Neighborhood Association’s Porch Rokr Music and Art Festival. It was the first time sheep had been on the property in more than 100 years. There was live music echoing from the mansion’s Greek revival style front porch starting at 2 p.m. and going until 5:30 p.m. with four different groups performing. The grounds teemed with activities, including wool spinning demonstrations, crafts for children and tours of the mansion.
The day’s events began in the morning with a workshop led by David Kennedy on the topic of home studio and on-location recording titled: “Getting Started & Getting Better.” That was followed by Audio-Technica’s Steve M. Savanyu’s workshop on microphone selection and use.
The flock of Dorset sheep was provided by Spicy Lamb Farms, which is one of the Cuyahoga Valley Countryside Conservancy farms located at 6560 Akron-Peninsula Road in Peninsula. Laura DeYoung is the executive director of Urban Shepherds, which is a nonprofit organization promoting using sheep for land management and urban farming. She said the Spicy Lamb name derives from wanting it to sound like a British pub sign, something that would catch your ear and you would remember.
“We are growing mostly Asian herbs and vegetables, different spices. They say you should grow what you love and I like hot food. Thus the name Spicy comes from that; the Lamb, obviously, comes from sheep. We also have a tall spindle orchard where we are growing apples and pears.”
Edie Steiner and her Border collies help out at the Spicy Lamb Farm whenever they can. “We help move sheep around. We also do some herding lessons up there. We don’t have sheep ourselves, we live in the city of Akron,” Steiner said. The dogs are their hobby in a symbiotic relationship with the farm. One provides the sheep; one provides the services of good dogs. The collies conducted several demos during the day with enough space between them for the sheep to cool down. “Basically, my barometer is ‘their tongues back in their mouths,’” Steiner laughed. “When they look like they’re not hot anymore.”
Spicy Lamb will feature “Music on the Porches and Fall Farm Tour,” Sept. 27 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with sheep shearing, Border collie demos, spinning, crafts and games and a band rocking in the afternoon. And you can see the rest of the flock. The Cuyahoga Valley Sheep Dog Trials will be held there Oct. 18 and 19. For details visit: www.thespicylamb.com.
Visitors were treated to a demonstration in the fine art of spinning wool into yarn by Nancy Page of Nana’s Spinning Wheel in Lakewood. She held the spectators’ attention in an almost hypnotic state as they watched the whorl go whirling around. Visit her at www.nanasspinningwheel.wordpress.com.
Providing entertainment first was a group of students from Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts calling themselves the Commedia dell’Arte Troupe performing authentic Italian street theater in all its slapstick and pratfall glory. Second was Recipe for Life members Shelby Denton and Ariel McCleary of Stow providing Ukes & Harmonies. Next was Tracy Thomas offering rock, pop, folk and Americana musical stylings.
Closing out the slate was folk and rock music from the EffanGee Band, headlined by vocalist and acoustic guitarist Glenn Peterhansen and backed by lead and bass guitars, harmonica, drums, a conga drum player and a female vocalist. Peterhansen is also the entertainment director of the Porch Rokr festival.
There is a possibility that sheep could once again be grazing at Mutton Hill on a more permanent basis during the summer months. Lieberth recently joined the board of Urban Shepherds and is now exploring details – zoning issues, startup costs, fencing and shelter – to see if it would work out realistically. In addition to providing an enhanced visitor experience there is a practical standpoint as well…free lawn mowing and natural organic fertilization.
If things line up favorably, the animals could be on site by next April then be returned to their owners for the winter months. Benefits to this arrangement would be reduced maintenance costs (lawn service/gas/oil), fewer herbicides and pesticides and decreased greenhouse gas emissions. For more on Urban Shepherds, visit www.urbanshepherds.org.
This was SCHS’s first year participating in the Porch Rokr event. Leianne Neff Heppner, SCHS president and CEO said: “From the historical society’s standpoint, we’re very thankful to partner with Porch Rokr and the Highland Square Neighborhood Association, because they have such a great way of collaborating with community involvement, or getting people in the community involved. What we are hoping is with our ability to participate in Porch Rokr this year that people who have not heard of the historical society, or don’t usually think of this as their community, will think more of it in the future.”
SCHS treasurer, Keven McCauley, added: “It’s great to partner with Porch Rokr. The great thing about Porch Rokr is that it helped bring in a lot of people to the Perkins Stone Mansion, which is something we are always trying to encourage… that the younger generation get involved.” McCauley has volunteered for Porch Rokr for the past three events and is also a member of the Torchbearers.
SCHS, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, owns and manages the Perkins Stone Mansion, home of Akron’s founding family; John Brown House, home of the internationally recognized abolitionist; and Old Stone School in downtown Akron – a partnership with Akron Public Schools. Its offices are located at 550 Copley Road; Akron, Ohio. For further information visit summithistory.org.