Volunteer tour guide before it became a park. Mid '70s bus tour training by Ron Tolland and Sue Garland. Land for park acquired by eminent domain tatics. Valley threatened by hamburger stands and factories. Transition from dump site to Beaver Pond; return of wildlife. League of Women Voters lobby federal gov't.; Ford signs bill authorizing park. Personal history and education. Met husband on bus trip to D.C. She worked for geophysical lab during WW2. Bought lot in Walton Hills for sake of outdoors. Currently working on park's resource files and guiding train tours. Historical overview of area and natural resourses. Canal progress from 1825 to 1832; brings prosperity to Ohio. Rails bring canal's decline to all but tourism. Listing of tourist attraction along Canal. Park gives access to natural and social history.
Smith, Birdie (interviewee)
Loman, Nate (interviewer); Loman, Nate (facilitator)
Transcription sponsored by Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Nate Loman [00:00:00] The gist of this is just going to be talking about the Cuyahoga Valley and the Corridor, and we'll sort of start off with a little bit about you and family and, you know, that kind of thing. And then we're going to get into some just things you've witnessed change over time at the park, maybe some hurdles, conflicts, just sort of a narrative, a story about your role in creating and managing the Cuyahoga Valley parks.
Birdie Smith [00:00:33] Well, I don't really have much to do with managing it.
Nate Loman [00:00:36] But then your role in it. So we just want you to kind of I guess talk about your experience.
Birdie Smith [00:00:45] Well, I'll begin with the park because I was volunteering at Holden Arboretum.
Nate Loman [00:00:54] [To the facilitator] Are you, are you rolling?
unknown speaker [00:00:55] Yep.
Nate Loman [00:00:56] Okay, well, here we are, on June 23, 2008. We are here with Birdie Smith and will be talking about her role in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. So, Birdie, if you could talk to us about your name and where you come from, you know, maybe your birthdate, some little background information like that for us.
Birdie Smith [00:01:23] I was born in Alliance, I'm born in Alliance, Ohio, and on [...] 1922, and my dad was a teacher and he moved, we moved to North Canton because he became principal of that school and later superintendent. So I've been mixed up with education all my life, but I'm not really a teacher, except that you get to teach when you're guiding school classes and leading nature walks and things like that. So I started when I was volunteering, and the first time was at the Holden Arboretum before there was a park, and I volunteered there for quite a while. I was doing school groups and a friend of mine who is also a volunteer at the Holden Arboretum, her sister was Margaret Jackson, who was one of the instigators of this park, National Park, and she said, Birdie, why don't you come and volunteer in the park? So this was right at the beginning of the park. And so because I was going both places for quite a while, but then I decided, why drive for nearly an hour to go to Holden when in the park I can get most places in 15 minutes or half an hour. So I just... It was just that... I'm waving my hands too much.
Nate Loman [00:03:07] No, it's fine. Go ahead.
Birdie Smith [00:03:08] And it was... I just then began coming just to the park, and it was several days a week at that time, doing school classes first in the park. We didn't have any visitors centers or any place for the kids to go to meet. We met the school busses. The school busses came and on Canal Road there was... Oh, what's the name of the... Oh, one of those things that sells, I can't think of it, tonight I'll think of it, maybe along the way I'll think of it. Anyway, we used to meet the school busses and this place kept bullhorns for us because it was no other way to communicate with the kids on the busses. And we rode the busses with the kids and stopped at various places along in the park. By then there were sort of park boundaries. And so we'd ride down Canal Road. But all we did, we stopped at several places along Canal Road, like... Well, we'd talk about the Canal Visitor Center, but at that time it was still private. The places in the park... We visited... We could get out a few places. We'd see the Frazee Hinton House. We'd talk about that as we went by. And going down, we'd get out at Brandywine Falls. We could see Brandywine Falls. There was no fence or anything at that time. We had to keep the kids back. We'd stop at Virginia Kendall and do a little walk. And this was pretty much a good half day thing for the kids. And a lot of time was on the bus and we'd have to tell them what we were passing as we went by on the bus. We'd go to some, but depending on how much time they had, sometimes their tour was shorter than other times, so we would stop at Virginia Kendall and all of the stops were nice because the kids had been on the bus for quite a while. So it was a good chance for them to run a little bit or stretch their legs. But it was it was fun for us, too. And we'd get as far as maybe the Beaver Pond down south of Peninsula, but usually that was pretty much stretching it because they'd have to get back. We'd have to go back to Tupperware.
Nate Loman [00:06:21] What years are we talking about here? What... [crosstalk]
Birdie Smith [00:06:24] Life? Well, the park started in 1974. The president signed the bill to make a park. It was not a national park at that time. It was a Recreation Area, Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area. And so I think it was started in 1975, but there was... There hadn't been too much, by then it was so... The park was so young they hadn't done [much] yet to set up too much school stuff. So I can't give you... I can't think of an exact date when I first... My first bus tour,
Nate Loman [00:07:15] So mid '70s? Would it be the mid mid '70s?
Birdie Smith [00:07:19] Yes, 1970s. And we did have some training. Ron Tomlin was the chief of interpretation at that time and we had... Another person in the interpretation department was Sue Garland. Bill Birdsell was the superintendent of the park at that time. People, a lot of people blamed Bill for the rough tactics that were used when the park was... When they were acquiring land for the park. But the Army Corps of Engineers was in on this, too. And they were kind of not as kind as Bill.
Nate Loman [00:08:08] What was that confict about? Who was... [crosstalk]
Birdie Smith [00:08:10] Well, a lot of people didn't want to sell the land to the park. They wanted to keep their private property. And, well there was an arrangement where people could keep their homes or their property for a while. But it was... The park would take the property and the people had a certain length of time. They, whatever they agreed on, like ten years or some some length of time that they couldn't keep their property and live there.
Nate Loman [00:08:51] What communities were affected the most by those sorts of tactics that you spoke of?
Birdie Smith [00:08:57] Probably Peninsula and Everett. But there were people in Independence and Brecksville who owned property along the Cuyahoga River and Canal. that's what they were mainly concerned with, preserving the Valley. If you drove down the Valley back in those days, you could see hamburger stands and little factories and things encroaching into the Valley from both ends. And there were some people who were really concerned about this. I wasn't involved in its beginning because I didn't know about this land acquisition stuff. I didn't find out about it until I got involved in the park, which was after already the park had been established. But there were quite a few people who... And, well, Rockside Road is the north boundary of the park and from Rockside Road down, oh, close to Ira Road and Bath Road, all the properties that were along there were private properties. And some of those people were quite agreeable to selling their property to the park. But some of the people didn't. In fact, now down close to Ira Road where the Beaver Pond is, there was a dump. It was a... Well, it was a dump, old cars and all that kind of junk were just dumped there. And this dump was a going business in the park, but it had no place in park, the old autos and just plain junk. So the park did get that property and cleaned out all of that mess and made a boardwalk across where the canal goes by, the Towpath now goes across the boardwalk. And at the Beaver Pond, which is a wonderful natural history center because birds and all kinds of, well, waterfowl and birds in the trees, a lot of things are using that pond. Muskrats were using it. Oh we had geese and beavers. Beavers built the pond. They built the dam. Beavers have dams other places in the park, too. [siren in background] There's another beaver dam up near Jaite. That was private property in the park and now it's park head... Before the park. now it's park headquarters.
Nate Loman [00:11:56] Why do you think that... Can you talk about what you know about why the movement started to preserve this land, you know, why this strip of land? What did people see... [crosstalk]
Birdie Smith [00:12:11] Well, long ago the Olmsted brothers who were the founders, the builders of Central Park even in New York, they were landscape architect and somehow they got to the Valley and they said this should be preserved. Well, actually, that hadn't... They didn't do anything about it, except that it should be preserved. But then there were people like Janet Hutchinson and Mark [inaudible] and Jim Jackson and others—well, there were other people too—who could see this encroaching come. I'm not native to this. I came from grew up in North Canton, so but these people lived in the area so they could see what was happening. And so they started working on this. A busload of them, the League of Women Voters, a bus loaded up and went to Washington to start to see if they couldn't get something happening with Congress or the President or somebody. Well, they did it. They worked and they finally got a park. It was not really a national park. Although it was a national park, it was called National Recreation Area at that time. But they did get... President Ford signed it at the very end of December in 1974. And then from then on, there was still land acquisition going on. But in fact, I think there might be some occasional properties now. I don't know what, but it might be still some land that the park would think was desirable. But a lot of parks now are joining... They're making trails to join the Towpath Trail like the park that Jennie talked about, the West Creek Reservation. Somehow they're wanting to connect with the Towpath. And that was a wonderful acquisition, too. But it connected with the Bedford Metropolitan Park because Tinker's Creek Road, in fact, the old road from Bedford that went from Bedford down to... It was then called Egypt Road where Dunham Road at Tinker's Creek adjoined. But there was an old road from Bedford called... It'll come, just like Tupperware did. [inaudible]. Anyway, it was the original road where people from Bedford could haul the stuff down to the canal and when the canal was in business, every access to the canal was a wonderful thing because the canal actually opened up the state of Ohio. So it was... Anyway, for access to the canal was, as I said before, that was... Button Road was the name of the road. You know Button Road?
Nate Loman [00:16:11] No, but it came to you right away.
Birdie Smith [00:16:13] It came to me. Yeah, I knew it was a B. Anyway, that road had... And the road that goes up through the park now above, there's an actual sort of a national park up there because there's a scenic overlook that's a national scenic site where you can see the Tinker's Creek valley, which is an impressive thing. If you have the chance to take your school kids there, that's a good nature experience.
Nate Loman [00:16:50] That's up in the Cleveland Metroparks, right?
Birdie Smith [00:16:53] It's at Bedford Metropark. It's a Cleveland Metropark, but it's at Bedford Reservation. And it's a... The geology is fantastic in there because you can see all the shale, the sandstone. If you get into Earth history, it's a good place to go. You looked as if you were going to ask something. [laughs]
Nate Loman [00:17:19] Well, I'd like to maybe back up a little bit and know how it does someone who lives and comes from North Canton get involved and, you know, you mentioned the Holden Arboretum, which has to be what...
Birdie Smith [00:17:36] It's 30 miles from...
Nate Loman [00:17:38] It's at least an hour drive probably, right?
Birdie Smith [00:17:39] It's at least forty-five minutes.
Nate Loman [00:17:42] Yeah, forty-five minute to an hour drive from North Canton. How do you...
Birdie Smith [00:17:44] Well, I didn't... This was... I live in Walton Hills.
Nate Loman [00:17:50] Okay.
Birdie Smith [00:17:52] And it was my husband, after he got... He was a pilot in the Second World War. And when he was released from the Army or the Air Force, he went to Case and we lived in the Cleveland area. Then when he graduated from Case, he started building a house in Walton Hills. That was... The first project was, when he graduated from Case, was building a house. And he's an electrical engineer. So it was a good... I mean, he was raised on a farm. So he had some lots of outdoor experience. But my dad was a teacher and he was also interested in natural history. So I started when I was a kid being interested in birds and flowers and trees. So that's how I got started with Holden Arboretum because of natural history stuff.
Nate Loman [00:18:57] And what years are we talking about, you know, when you made the transition up from North Canton?
Birdie Smith [00:19:02] Well, when he was going to Case, he graduated from Case in 1950. So and before that, I was in college. I went to Mount Union and I had a premed major, so there was some more science. In fact, we were required at that time to have, along with our major, two important minors. And one of my interests was geology and one was music because I play violin. And I started doing that when I was in grade school. And also the geology, when I was a kid, we had a coal furnace and we used to get coal in a chute down into the basement. You probably don't even know what that's like, but the coal truck would come and the driver's name was Mr. Matty. He was our school bus driver, but he also did hauling for people. And the big chunks of coal. If I go down, I discovered if knock them apart, I can find fossils. And so that's where the geology interest started. I just figured when I went to college, if I had to have a science minor, it'd be geology. Then I could find out what I was finding in the coal bin [laughs], and so that was sort of one thing leads to another. So that's all I happened to get into...
Nate Loman [00:20:42] So talk about your time at Mount Union a little bit and what... You were a premed major, and one minor was geology, and what was the other minor?
Birdie Smith [00:20:50] Music.
Nate Loman [00:20:50] Music? Okay. Alright.
Birdie Smith [00:20:51] Because I was already... Had been taking violin lessons and so music was... We had to have an arts minor. If we were a science major, we had to have an arts. Had some, something with the arts, so I just took music, which was fun. It was because the president of the school, his wife... We had a string group in the conservatory, and the president's wife played in the string... And my French teacher played in the string group. And so it's fun just to know all these people. They were great, wonderful people. Mrs. Ketchum and Dean Rudent[?], she was... She spoke French beautifully because she had studied for in France for quite a while. But these were all great people I enjoyed knowing. And so it's still part of... In fact, tomorrow I have to play... I'm playing for the Bedford Historical Society for a tea or luncheon for the... Hower House Historical Society in Akron are coming to the Bedford Historical Society for this thing. And I just go and sit in a corner and entertain myself playing background music. [laughs] It's fun to do.
Nate Loman [00:22:28] So how did you meet your husband then? What's that story?
Birdie Smith [00:22:29] He grew up on a farm near Dundee, Ohio. He went to a one-room school. And when we were graduating from high school, the YMCA in Canton had trips to Washington for high school groups. And that's where I met him. He happened to be on that same trip that I was on. Dundee and East Sparta, and a lot of schools, a few students from each school were on a trip to Washington with the YMCA in Canton. And that's where I met him.
Nate Loman [00:23:16] In high school?
Birdie Smith [00:23:18] Well, we were graduated.
Nate Loman [00:23:20] Oh.
Birdie Smith [00:23:20] We were... This was a senior trip.
Nate Loman [00:23:23] Okay.
Birdie Smith [00:23:24] Well, I just met him. We, I mean, he was a friend from the trip, but he went... After that he joined the Army. He was in the Signal Corps and he was at Fort Knox, Kentucky, but all time wanted to be a pilot. Well, finally he could transfer from the Army to flying school. Well, all this time I was in college and I saw him maybe once a year just because we got together afterward. But that's how it happened and I met him.
Nate Loman [00:24:05] And what did you guys get married then?
Birdie Smith [00:24:08] Just before he went overseas, and I was working. Then when he went overseas, I drove his car home, but I stopped in Washington because I had some friends. One was a WAC and one was a WAVE in Washington. And I stopped on my way home just to see them. And we decided to get an apartment and I would look for a job in Washington. I worked for the geophysical lab in Washington. Luckily, because I had this chemistry and mineralogy and stuff like that and through the geology course, so I got to work in Washington. And that was interesting too. Washington with an interesting, a beautiful city then. And so when he came home from overseas, well, I just quit my job in the geophysical lab and that was part of the Carnegie Institute. But then he went to Case. And we lived in a couple of places around Cleveland.
Nate Loman [00:25:34] And you settled in Walton Hills and...
Birdie Smith [00:25:37] And after, yeah, then it just happened that we found a lot in Walton Hills. It was kind of country, so we both being outdoors people, we were glad to have a lot. Our lot... We have three acres in the woods – mostly woods, I have a big front yard to mow! [laughs] My husband died a couple years ago. And so, you know, I get to do all that stuff like cleaning gutters and cutting the grass. [laughs]
Nate Loman [00:26:11] Well, what do you do for the park now? What are you what is your role in the park nowadays?
Birdie Smith [00:26:15] Well, it happens right at the present time I'm working on the historic resource files, so that why I was interested in doing this because I thought if I could... If I saw people I needed to ask questions of, I could learn something about that from by doing this. But I've also done train stuff, nature stuff with school kids, the Christmas train. Most... The visitors centers, canal lock demonstrations, a lot of these things I've done.
Nate Loman [00:26:57] And maybe talk a little bit about some of those things because I don't know if my quick math, you've been involved in the parks for 30-some years, right? So, I guess what kind of things have you done and what sort of changes over time have you seen?
Birdie Smith [00:27:15] Well, at first there weren't no visitor centers. Well, they did fix up... They got Happy Days. That Happy Days Visitor Center has an interesting history just itself because it was originally an estate and it was... Some some wealthy person from Akron had the Kendall—it's the Kendall Ledges Park—and he owned a lot of property in there. Well, when he died, it eventually became property of the state, and Akron Metropolitan Parks were using the Kendall Visitor Center as a summer camp for kids. And so the CCC actually built those buildings and they're historic too because the CCC... At that time when this was being built, the chestnut trees going through this blight which killed the chestnut trees... So that building, Virginia Kendall building, is one of the largest buildings, chestnut buildings, because they were using the dying chestnut trees. And it just... It has a wonderful history just by itself. The stone in the park... Every place, Kendall and wherever there are stone foundations, the stone was cut from stone in the Valley. It was... The whole thing is geologically an important place. I don't think a lot of people realize that [inaudible] goes clear up to Lake Erie and the hills that go climb up from the river up Cedar Hill in Cleveland or Cleveland Heights is the beginning of the Appalachian Plateau, the start of the Appalachian Mountains, and a lot of people don't understand the geologic history of a lot of this. So natural history is so important for the Valley. It was a good thing it was preserved. That's why I told you that the Tinkers Creek Valley was a good place for school classes because... You can tell I'm interested in geology but also other natural history, I mean, trees and flowers and birds. I've led bird works for the Metropolitan Parks, Spring bird walks. I did that for a long time in the Bedford Reservation. So just being outdoors and natural history is just... And so I think that's a good thing that we have all these parks because so many city kids don't have the opportunity to see a tree! When when I was at Holden and even sometimes in the park on that nature walk but especially at Holden, kids would come from that city and they'd be afraid in the woods. And they'd say, Are we gonna see bears? Are we lost? And I'd, well, you just stick with the trail and stick with me. We're not lost. Well, it was reassuring for the kids, but it was... I thought the jungle those kids came from, I'd be afraid too.
Nate Loman [00:31:24] But what sort of... Are there any stories or struggles that you've been part of through all this? You know, what kind of... Any roadblocks or hurdles that you've seen to the expansion of the parks? You spoke of the reluctance earlier of people maybe around Peninsula and property acquisition and things, but are there anything else that you're privy to?
Birdie Smith [00:31:50] Not really. Since I was always a volunteer, those were not actually my worries. Sometimes I was just aware of things going on, but it wasn't a problem of mine. I think part... Some of the problems were just finding at the beginning places to take the school busses and places to show the kids where we could explain the social history and natural history because the social history, because of the canal, was just as important for these tours in the Valley. The social history was just as important. But as far as roadblocks and... I don't remember having any real big problems with anything because they were so happy to have volunteers that they took all the burden off our shoulders. I really didn't have a lot.
Nate Loman [00:33:06] Well, talk a second maybe about that social history you spoke of. You just spoke of the importance of the social history of the area. What about it?
Birdie Smith [00:33:16] Well, because of the canal being so important for the history of the Ohio. Before the canal, Ohio was a bankrupt state. Ohio became a state in 1803, but there was nothing. People were coming from the east when Moses Cleaveland sent his surveying party to Cleveland. The land was measured out and, excuse me... I'll solve that problem for the next time. [laughs]
Nate Loman [00:34:12] [inaudible]
Birdie Smith [00:34:17] Ohio was a bankrupt state, really, and there was no... People were coming. They were clearing land and growing crops and what were they going to do with the stuff after they got it? There was no transportation. There were no roads that came here from Connecticut. On just old Indian trails with nothing but their wagon and maybe a cow and a horse and a pig, a couple of animals, anyway. And maybe some chickens. And when I did Towpath or walks with the kids, I'd say, you know, it's 600 miles back to Connecticut. Could you walk 600 miles? There was no other way to get here but walking. And they... After the canal was built and even a little bit before, people did try to use Lake Erie and they could go a little ways on Lake Erie, but there was no place for them to go, really. They'd stop at the rivers and try to make their way in through rivers into the center of the state. But they got... When they got to the Cuyahoga River, that went quite a ways down, and so there were a lot of farms. Well, those people had all this stuff over and they couldn't do with it. They tried walking animals back to New York or Connecticut or someplace. By the time they got there, the animals were so skinny and tired and everything, nobody would buy them. So they really needed some transportation. So. Because the Cuyahoga River was at least an opening to Lake Erie and there was a way to get water from the Cuyahoga River, that's one of the reasons why the canal happens to be there. To make a canal, they had to make sure they had a water supply for the canal for the whole distance. The canal goes from Cleveland to Portsmouth on the Ohio River. So at Portsmouth, they could transfer. If they went, if they had a canal, they could transfer their cargoes to the Ohio River, to the Mississippi River, to the Gulf of Mexico, which was a good transportation route. And the same way with the other way, they could go across Lake Erie. New York had already built their canal. And the governor of New York was happy to have a canal in Ohio because of the dollar signs he could see. If they had cargo from Ohio on the Erie Canal, they could get all the way to the Hudson River in New York. So they had ocean access too. So it was a wonderful project. Well, after the canal was opened... They started the canal in 1825. In two years, just with hand digging, pick and shovel stuff, they had the canal dug between Cleveland and Akron. The first canal boat went on the Fourth of July. They had a big celebration on the Fourth of July just for the first shovelful. And then they had another celebration when the first canal boat got from Cleveland to Akron. Well, in seven years they had this whole canal dug all the way to the Ohio River, which was pretty good. Well, all these... I mean, considering it was digging, hand digging... All the little canal towns, little towns sprung up along the canal. And so it was a very important trading access for the middle of Ohio. Ohio became a wealthy state because of the canal. So, that's, I guess the best part of the social history. Well, in 1880, the first train went down through the Valley. And that's what started to put the canal out of business because a canal boat could haul... A train car could haul more than a canal boat and they didn't get stuck by ice in the winter. And so it was... The train just really kind of put the canal out of business. And it was too bad because the canal could have been useful in a way. In fact, for a while afterwards, there was even a pleasure trip, the pleasure boats. It was just a summer fun trip on the canal. If you ever heard of Hale Farm, that was, that wasn't too far and Jonathan Hale had wagon that he'd go over to the train or the canal and get passengers for his Hale Farm. Hale Farm was built at the time the canal... There's another building up in Independence. You know where Alexander Road comes down Frazee? A If you've been up Canal Road, so just before Sagamore Road comes down, there's another old brick house that's as old as Hale Farm that was built. And that, right across the canal from that, right by the canal from that, there was a place where they could do boat repairs. There was a wide... They made wide places in the canal for... Places for canal boats to pull off if they needed repairs or anything. Well, there was this boat basin just across from Frazee House. And that's one thing that Frazee could entertain guests from canal boats. They had a little place too, the kitchen in the back to eat, but that was some more social history. But the Frazee House as well as well as Hale Farm, the bricks in those houses were built from clay on the property. They made their own bricks. So it's a lot of social history that connected with the Valley before, even before the canal. But the canal was really what opened up the state. So...
Nate Loman [00:41:41] We've been sort of hearing a narrative about the history of it. What do you see for the future of the Canalway and...
Birdie Smith [00:41:56] The future of the Canalway... Well, right now it looks like it's a tourist thing, and which is fine because that helps... It helps the little towns that were canal towns south of here that go through Clinton, Canal Fulton. Massillon is a big city, but Clinton was a little canal town. Canal Fulton was a little... And they're historic towns, and now this Towpath Trail goes through these towns. In fact, Canal Fulton has a canal boat. They built a boat and you can take a canal boat ride in Canal Fulton in the summer. They actually have... Well, they, this their, gee, I don't know the fourth canal boat maybe that they're using now. They've had to rebuild boats because over the years they decay. But now the one they have now is concrete [laughs], so that's another interesting thing. It's preserved. They're not going to have to build a new canal boat for a while in Canal Fulton.
Nate Loman [00:43:20] A concrete canal boat, huh?
Birdie Smith [00:43:21] Now it looks like the other one. Yeah, it looks like the old canal boat, and that's another... They do school trips. That's another good school thing if you have a chance to do a field trip like that, if you're doing Ohio history, because that's the closest place to take a canal boat ride. But it's mostly... I don't know if it's open during school times. You might get it in the fall. And I think they're... Oh, you'd have to make inquiries about their hours. I don't know for sure, but it's a nice canal boat ride.
Nate Loman [00:44:01] What do you think about... Earlier in this discussion, we talked about how, you know, other communities now are sort of tapping into the Canalway corridor. What are your thoughts about that connectedness of things?
Birdie Smith [00:44:19] Well, because those communities, Brecksville, Independence... There were always roads that came down to the canal from those communities up there, so they had access to the canal and the farmers all around could bring things to the canal boats. And a lot of those roads are still in use. Hathaway Road, Stone Road doesn't go up anymore across the canal. It just goes east from the canal but it doesn't go west. But Pleasant Valley Road...
Nate Loman [00:45:08] So do you think these things are... This connectedness is a good thing for the park? What is your opinion of that?
Birdie Smith [00:45:16] I'm sorry?
Nate Loman [00:45:17] Do you think it's a good thing for the park? This connectedness?
Birdie Smith [00:45:19] Sure, because it gives people access to the park, and easy access to the park. So it's just like it was an easy access for the canal. It's good for the park too to have. The Canal Visitors Center is on a road that was one of those roads, and they even fixed the bridge. The county fixed the bridge across the canal and the river there. So it could be... The road could be used. It goes up to Independence. Some of the roads... The county has abandoned the bridges, but there's still several roads that are open to the canal. And that's good. I don't know how much it makes it where the people are aware of the history, which is important because... Are you worried about the blinking? Because the lights are doing funny things. I have a flashlight in my purse [laughs].
Nate Loman [00:46:37] Because of that we'll be alright.
Birdie Smith [00:46:39] Because...
Nate Loman [00:46:39] Always the volunteer, huh?
Birdie Smith [00:46:40] Yeah! [laughs]
Nate Loman [00:46:41] Ready in any circumstance.
Birdie Smith [00:46:44] Oh, it's not only... It's not just canal history. Natural history too is so important. And now that people have access to the river and the canal... Through the park it isn't private property. They can go. There are still patches of private property that people should avoid, but... Because I just... Because I'm a natural, naturalist and now into history, it's sort of, I think I'm a little prejudiced, but it is really important for the area, for people to have things like this. Whoever, whenever they started the Akron and Cleveland Metropolitan Parks, it was... We're so lucky to get those things because so many cities don't have a place like that to get out of the city and even to realize that there's something besides the city. When I think about the little kids who were scared about getting into the woods, you can see why things like this are important.
Nate Loman [00:48:10] Yeah. So kind of wrapping up here, I guess, do you have any last, you know, sort of closing thoughts or anecdotes you'd like to share with us?
Birdie Smith [00:48:21] I don't know whether I should mention one of our big, most important, and most knowlegable people in the park just passed away. I don't know if you read Joe Jesensky in the paper. Did you see the Beacon Journal?
Nate Loman [00:48:40] I did not see that, no.
Birdie Smith [00:48:42] There was an article about it. He once... He wrote... When he was... He came from Hungary when he was a child, and he was artistically talented. He was a fine artist, and he worked for a lithographer, but he lived with his family, lived in Cleveland, but he came out to the Bedford Reservation—it was not a reservation then, it was just Tinker's Creek—and he and some of the young fellows that he worked with at that lithographic company wouldn't come out and explore. Well, Joe drew sketches of this valley and eventually wrote a book, Tinkers Creek Sketchbook. He also wrote Joe's Place, which is from the valley from Akron up north, which is available at bookstores. I'm not promoting this, but it's great for a history of the Valley and Tinkers Creek. If you're interested, these books are available.
Nate Loman [00:49:59] It's a book he wrote?
Birdie Smith [00:50:02] Joe wrote this.
Nate Loman [00:50:02] Are what was his name?
Birdie Smith [00:50:03] His name is... He wrote... The last one he wrote was Joe's Place, and he wrote it with Chuck Ayers and Russ Masara and some other people from the Akron U. that were interested in preserving history in the Valley, but the sketches are Joe's. He just died last week. He was 101, and he was... He knew more about the Valley and Tinkers Creek than anybody, just anybody. And he was interested in the archaeology. Well, I'm not trying really to promote Joe but that... Since he was so important in preserving information about all of these things, I think he's worth talking about.
Nate Loman [00:51:02] Well, this would be a good memorial for him.
Birdie Smith [00:51:09] Yes, well, now I don't...
Nate Loman [00:51:10] This interview is there for posterity about Joe.
Birdie Smith [00:51:14] Yes.
Nate Loman [00:51:15] Well, anything else?
Birdie Smith [00:51:18] Not unless you think that's something I should...
Nate Loman [00:51:21] Andreas, do you have anything to add or ask?
Andreas Johanssen [00:51:24] I think we could go on for another five hours but...
Birdie Smith [00:51:29] Yes, we could go on for a long time. There's a lot.
Nate Loman [00:51:31] Maybe we should follow up in a little bit, and then focus on some [inaudible] at another date, but I just got some names of things. We're going to go go back through them and double check and so, I think I'm good.
Andreas Johanssen [00:51:44] Okay. Well... Thanks very much.
Birdie Smith [00:51:47] So we're finished?
Andreas Johanssen [00:51:47] Yeah. We're finished.
Birdie Smith [00:51:51] And nobody swore, so I can sign that paper.
Nate Loman [00:51:57] Right! Yep.
Birdie Smith [00:52:03] I'm not quite sure... I guess I should ask if I did what I was supposed to do.
Nate Loman [00:52:13] This is fine. Yes. This should be perfect. Perfect.
Birdie Smith [00:52:15] Well, the reason is if I did, then I'll kind of know what to ask other people. I mean, I'm... This is a learning process for me. I want to know, if I have the opportunity to ask other people about this, it'll sort of give me a clue about what to do.
Nate Loman [00:52:36] Right. And we'll give you the contact information. You'll get a copy of this as well when we send, because we're going to send you a recording of this interview. And so you'll have that on tape so you can listen to it and go over it again. But Dr. Tebeau, who's out here today. Is he's still here?
Andreas Johanssen [00:52:53] I think so.
Nate Loman [00:52:55] He's the one who leads this project and they're collecting all this oral history. We as a group are interviewing seventy-five people this week.
Birdie Smith [00:53:04] Oh, and he told me there were 72.
Nate Loman [00:53:06] Yeah, 72-75, so some people have canceled maybe. And so we're trying to collect a lot of it. But he is a great resource. And he would be able to tell you more, I think, about questions and other people or if you want to volunteer and help them finding people, because we as oral historians, all the names here that you mentioned, you know, then we're going to go back and we're like, okay, let's see if we can find them.
Birdie Smith [00:53:32] Oh, Janet. Janet volunteers for the park. Janet Hutchinson, she just got a big award. I think... I did mention her?
Nate Loman [00:53:44] Yep. Yep.
Birdie Smith [00:53:45] She was one of the people who went to Washington and she just had a big award from the park...
Andreas Johanssen [00:53:54] And she may already be on the list of people who are getting interviewed. We didn't compile the list, so... [crosstalk]
Birdie Smith [00:53:59] Oh... [crosstalk] Well, I could ask Jennie if Janet's on the list because she would be a good source about the founding. She just wrote the legal, not legal, well, legal in a way. What they went through to get this law passed and all this to form the park. And so she just wrote up a thing about that.
Nate Loman [00:54:33] Yeah.
Birdie Smith [00:54:35] She just finished it so she knows... And she was before I was in the park. I didn't get mixed up with the park till after she did all her work. [laughs] Margot Jackson.
Nate Loman [00:54:52] Margot?
Birdie Smith [00:54:52] But Margot is dead, Margot and Jim Jackson both are passed away.
Nate Loman [00:54:56] Okay.
Birdie Smith [00:54:57] So they won't be any help to you except they... Jim worked for the Beacon Journal and he wrote for the Beacon Journal. And Margot also wrote some articles for the Beacon Journal. I have some of those in my historic resource files in the park. So since they are both passed away, you could probably find stuff in the library here and maybe Kent and Akron U. Would be good sources of information.
Nate Loman [00:55:44] Well, first of all, I'd personally like to thank you for your dedication to the park.
Birdie Smith [00:55:48] Well, thank you.
Nate Loman [00:55:51] We're benefiting from that currently.
Birdie Smith [00:55:53] Well...
Nate Loman [00:55:53] I spend a lot of time in the park so...
Birdie Smith [00:55:54] Oh, good. Well, someday I want your school classes...
Nate Loman [00:55:58] Maybe in the fall.
Nate Loman [00:56:02] Right. All right. We need you to get out your pen and just sign here. So your name and signature and the date.
Birdie Smith [00:56:08] Do I have to put my official name or should I put Birdie?
Nate Loman [00:56:11] Birdie Smith is fine.
Rivers Roads and Rails 2008
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"Birdie Smith Interview, 24 June, 2008" (2008). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 517052.