The Brookfield Township Historical Commission has had a complete turnover of members.
Judith Puskar, Katie Sass and Janice Economides have let their terms expire due to age, health and other issues. The commission in January welcomed new members Shannon Devitz, Christy Gibson, Valerie Kokor, Christine Smoot and Jena Rummel.
Puskar, the former secretary, is staying involved as an adviser to the body, and Sass also participated in a subsequent meeting.
The commission oversees the Brookfield Township Historical District, which includes the township green, and the buildings now occupied by the Lane and Briceland funeral homes, Brookfield Community and Brookfield United Methodist churches, the Ferm family, Ichabod’s Smoke Shop, Kay’s Bridal, the Obermiyer Building and Village Green Veterinary. All of the buildings were constructed prior to 1900, except for BUMC.
The commission, which is to meet quarterly, is separate from the Brookfield Township Historical Society in that the commission is a governmental entity and the society tries to preserve and promote the history of all of the township.
The commission is responsible for making sure the buildings within the district adhere to the Brookfield Township Design Guidelines, which require that the district buildings maintain the same exterior front facade design as they have now.
“Anything done inside the building is up to the owner,” said former commission member and current society member Lois Werner. “You have no control over that.”
The commission also falls under state and federal historic preservation guidelines, said Trustee Gary Lees. The commission and the trustees have approval power over any exterior work planned by the owners.
A holiday tradition
Probably the most visible undertaking by the commission is the annual decorating of the green at Christmastime. The purchase of the decorations is done with commission funds raised from donations and fundraising activities. Township Fiscal Officer Dena McMullen maintains the commission’s account.
“I try to keep the expenses down as much as possible,” Puskar said. “Mostly, it’s replacing some of the things that are necessary for the wreaths and the lights and the poles, the garlands. The lights go out all the time.”
A new owner on the green
The commission members have discussed reaching out to district building owners, introducing the new commission members to them and reminding them of their responsibilities to keep up the exterior appearance of their buildings and the design guidelines.
They already have a new owner to contend with as Hill Top Properties LLC – also known as Hilltop Properties LLC – of Cortland has bought the Obermiyer House, which is across Warren Sharon Road from Lane Family Funeral Homes-Madasz Chapel.
Efforts to reach someone from Hill Top and former owner Betty Detelich were not successful.
Detelich is a member of the Obermiyer family, which had owned the house for more than 90 years. She lived in the building for a time.
In a January 2018 interview, Detelich said she put the building up for sale because she no longer wanted the responsibility of maintaining it, and none of her family members wanted the building.
The house was built around 1827 by Ambrose Hart, who ran it as a boardinghouse and a store. Hart was president of the county anti-slavery society and used the house as a stop on the Underground Railroad, the network that funneled escaped slaves to freedom in the northern United States and Canada. There is an opening in the home’s basement to a tunnel – now filled in – that was used to move escaped slaves, and the remnants of a trap door that connected the tunnel and the house.
The historical society has a slave shoe and a slave shackle that were found in the tunnel and donated by the Detelich family, Werner said.
“I am so enthralled with that Underground Railroad house,” Kokor said. “That is such an unusual thing for anybody to have.”
For that reason, she is worried about the new owner’s plans.
“Somebody’s gonna buy that house, because anybody can buy it, and something bad’s gonna happen one of these times,” she said.
The house has been converted into three, six-room apartments, with the section facing Warren Sharon Road and the attic used only for storage.
The commission agreed to try to reach out to the new owner.
“I feel kind of strongly that we need to connect face to face,” Kokor said. “I think it makes a difference if you’re talking to somebody face to face.”
Werner said she believes Detelich would have passed on the information about the historic district to the new owners.
“The Deteliches were very historic conscious,” she said, referring to Betty Detelich and her husband, Joe.
A search of the Trumbull County Auditor’s Office web site showed that Hill Top owns eight single-family homes or duplexes and 11 vacant lots in Niles, McDonald, Warren and Howland.
Future projects planned
Beyond concerns about the Obermiyer House, the commission already has begun an effort to place banners on light poles around the green that highlight the history of the district, Brookfield schools and local veterans. Devitz said she is designing the banners and working with Brookfield schools to get them printed.
Members also have discussed posting decorative street signs in the center, developing a unit on local history to be taught at Brookfield schools, printing a township map and history pamphlet supported by advertisers and creating new historical districts in the township.
For more information on the history of the Obermiyer House, see the story NEWS On the Green published in February 2018, which is posted on newsonthegreen.com