Warren County park planned for area that once was historic school and central commons

A new park planned on the lawn in front of a historic Lebanon school could extend the city’s downtown, while returning the property to a time when it served as the city’s central commons.

“The grounds have been used as a commons for years,” said Michael Coyan, a local historian. “It’s sort of a revival.”

Coyan was part of a committee, including Lebanon school and city officials, involved in planning the park, to be built in front of what is now Berry Intermediate School, and next to the $18 million, six-acre North Broadway Commons.

The city plans to build the park, on school property, for about $430,000, in part with impact fees paid by developer Jim Cohen as part of the agreement permitting development of a brew pub, two restaurants and more than 120 apartments or condominiums where the city garage previously stood.

The park and a “gateway feature” for the downtown historic district are in the city’s newest downtown master plan.

RELATED: $25M in development planned on main Lebanon street

“The next step in the process will be for both the City Council and School Board to enter into a formal agreement to support the construction of the park, and to move into the detailed design phase of the project,” Lebanon City Manager Scott Brunka said in email responses to questions.

The park and neighboring development are expected to “enhance the walkability and livability along this corridor,” Brunka added.

Coyan, who lives nearby, said the park plan would be modeled after a drawing given to him by Helen Hartz, a biology and botany teacher in Lebanon.

RELATED: School park details remain on  $18M Lebanon development 

“It was originally planted as an arboretum,” Coyan said, recalling persimmon and Japanese cherries among the trees on the lawns still towered over by 200-year-old sycamores.

“I’ve got pictures of women in dresses playing croquet under those trees, way before it was a school,” Coyan said.

Nearby, Lebanon founder Ichabod Corwin, built the first cabin and then a large home, later occupied by his son, Robert G. Corwin, a lawyer in Dayton, according to Coyan.

RELATED: Lebanon to set up tax abatement for $18M development

Corwin sold it to a doctor who sold a cancer “cure” and lodged patients in the house.

“It wasn’t too long before the Ohio Medical Board realized he was a quack,” Coyan said.

It was later reopened as Maple Lane Hotel for Daytonians wanting to get away from the big city.

It sat empty for years until Berry School was built on the property in 1929, under the guidance of Samuel Hannaford & Sons, also designers of Cincinnati Music Hall, Memorial Hall and City Hall, according to Coyan.

After the school was built, “mini-festivals” featuring the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, were held on the lawn until the Riverbend music venue was built near the Ohio River, Coyan added.

“It’s always been such a beautiful way to come into the central business district,” Coyan said.

RELATED: Amphitheater proposed for historic Lebanon school grounds 

Among the Lebanon luminaries who could be recognized at the park include General Ormsby Mitchell, who built the first observatory on Mt. Ida in Cincinnati.

After it was dedicated by President John Adams, owner Nicholas Longworth renamed the promontory Mt. Adams.

“That’s how it got its name,” Coyan explained.

In addition to areas set aside for past heroes such as Mitchell and Corwin, land could be left for leaders of generations to come.

“It’s a living space that can be added to over the years,” Coyan said.

About the Author