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The Lake County Historical Society was founded in 1938 by Laurence H. Norton and a group of prominent Lake County citizens. Norton’s concept was to create a Lake County chapter of the Western Reserve Historical Society in order to care for the James A. Garfield presidential home site. The Society began collecting historical records and artifacts of Lake County while it operated the presidential home. By 1953, LCHS incorporated as its own entity and continued to operate the site until 1983 when the National Park Service took over operation.
At that time, the Society moved its operation from Mentor to Kirtland Hills on to a site owned by the Holden Arboretum. The site was a former turn of the century summer home belonging to the Arthur D.Baldwin family called Shadybrook. During the next 25 years, the Society operated the Lake County History Center at Shadybrook, incorporating an historic village and making the Center the home of the popular Little Mountain Heritage Festival.
In 2007, the Society worked with the Riverside Local School District, who had arranged a sale of 54 plus acres including the historic building, to the District from Painesville Township. The District owned the Home as part of a purchase of land from the County. The sale was completed and the Society owned its first home, a 30,000 square foot building and several out buildings on eight acres of land. Currently, the Society is in the process of refurbishing the building to create a Victorian showcase area, Education/Exhibit Wing, Library/Research Wing, office space, community meeting rooms, and reception hall .
History of the Former Poor HouseThe new Lake County History Center occupies a building constructed in 1876 by the Lake County Commissioners. The building replaced the former “Lake County Infirmary,” earlier known as the County Poor House, that had occupied the property since 1852 when the County bought a farm house and 110 acres from the Pettingel family. Benjamin F. Morse was hired to design the new structure and Col. Arthur McAllister of Cleveland was named as builder. McAllister had built a reputation through construction of homes on Millionaires Row and the Soldiers and Sailors monument on Public Square in Cleveland.
The two-story T-shaped Italian ate structure remains an excellent example of an 1800’s institutional building retaining its architectural integrity and historic significance. The building was designed with four rooms at the front of the building designated as superintendent’s quarters on the first and second floor, followed by two wings extending from each side of the center to house residents, men and women in separate wings. The rear extension held the kitchen, dining hall and laundry area. The basement level was used for storage and workshop areas as well as a number of cells for housing the mentally ill. In 1897, a cottage hospital was added that served the entire county until a modern hospital was built in Painesville in 1924. Residents were supported by county tax dollars, individual donations and a large working farm on the grounds.
The Lake County Home remained one of the few operating facilities in the state until 2004. With only 9 residents remaining, a task force determined the facility needed to be closed. Residents were transferred to other facilities and the home sold to the adjoining school district, Riverside Local.
Visitors today will still be able to see much of the original home, cells, cottage hospital and outbuildings as the Society continues to refurbish the building as the Lake County History Center. The records of the County Home residents and business affairs have been recorded since 1852 and are kept in the Lake County Administration Building in Painesville. The home was sold to Painesville Township who then negotiated a purchase to the local school district, Riverside Local.