Destination Fleming Falls: 1913

In recent years, going to visit Fleming Falls meant you had to find a church camp north of Mansfield; but before that—through the last 200 years—the place would have been known instead as a popular tourist resort, or perhaps a Boy Scout camp; or, long ago, as a hub of industry centered around a water-powered grist mill.

The grounds got their name from John Fleming, who recognized the waterfall as an endless source of power. He built a grist mill in 1817 right on the rim of the cataract. There is still hard evidence of his mill site today, in the form of big square notches carved out of the raw sandstone ledge at the top of the falls where the massive beams that held a waterwheel were anchored into stone.

Fleming’s Mill washed away before 1880 in a great summer deluge when the little stream, a tributary of the Black Fork River, flash-flooded through the gorge.

Site of Student Socials 

From the very start, Fleming’s scenic gorge was an attraction for tourists and lovers of the outdoors. In John Sherman’s autobiography, written at the end of his life, the famous Senator from Ohio reminisced about his early days as a young man in Mansfield (1839-1844), and his memories of ‘Fleming’s Ravine.”

“The social life in Mansfield, while I was a student, was very pleasant and instructive,” Sherman noted. “We had social meetings, dances, and an occasional ball during the winter. But in summer, riding in carriages and on horseback was the recreation of the day.

“Fleming’s Ravine, about five miles from Mansfield, was the general gathering place for young and old. A small stream had cut a deep ravine with rocky banks on either side. An old mill with its overshot wheel spanned the ravine and filled it with noisy rattle. The adjacent woods, where the fire was lit and the coffee made, and the farm lands stretching beyond, made a picturesque scene often described and always admired. 

“Here we had dances, frolics, speeches and fun, with healthy exercise in the open air.

“The destruction of the mill by a flood, the cutting away of the woods and other causes, have changed this, so that the gathering place of the young is a thing of the past.”

For the greatest part of the hundred years that Fleming Falls was a tourist attraction, it was accessible only by horse-drawn vehicles.
In 1903 a journalist wrote:
The approach into Fleming’s Falls after leaving the main road, is rough and steep. But pleasure seekers and visitors to historic places care little for the jostle of a journey, thinking only of the end to be reached.

Tourist Days

At the beginning of the 1900s, there were streetcar tracks laid between Mansfield and Cleveland for an interurban line known as the Cleveland Southwestern. It roughly paralleled the course of State Route 42, and since the operators recognized the popularity of Fleming Falls, they established a streetcar stop just a short walking distance away from the ravine.

The interurban line to Cleveland made a stop just a few dozen yards from the entrance to the Fleming Falls resort, as seen in this map from 1915.

With this increased access, the Falls flourished as a tourist destination. A 12-room guest hotel was built so vacationers could enjoy longer visits. There were rustic bridges and log cabins, and even a dancing pavilion. 

When Fleming Falls started hosting greater numbers of tourists after 1900, accommodations included a 12-room hotel with an 85-foot front porch, and a series of rustic log cabins.

Traffic blossomed so heavily during the first two decades of the 20th Century, that during some holiday weekends the resort would fill up with revelers and midway games like an amusement park. They even imported a seasonal merry-go-round.

For postcard collectors who are interested in Fleming Falls there are dozens of published views, and countless real-photo images from the era of 1900-1920.

Fleming Falls drew tourists for a hundred years from the 1820s until the 1920s.

The women in this photo are sitting with their legs in one of the large squared holes, carved in the rim of the Falls, that was created to hold the massive support beams for a waterwheel of the grist mill originally at the site.

This advertisement from 1917 gives example of the carnival atmosphere of the Fleming Falls resort era in full swing.
Below: The Farmers Progression Club from Shelby hosts their Corn Show at the Fleming Falls park in 1912.

Even a faded photo from the 1890s is easily identifiable when it’s Fleming Falls.

After the Resort Years 

By 1925, when the rise of the automobile had largely undercut the popularity of interurban travel, tourist trade at Fleming Falls came to an end and the resort was purchased for use by the Boy Scouts.

The Fleming Falls resort morphed into a Boy Scout Camp in the 1920s when the property wound up in the hands of a Mansfield bank, and a friendly banker turned it over to the scouts. The camp subsequently bore the name of a bank executive.

The swimming hole enjoyed by Boy Scouts from 1925-1940 was created by building a dam across the stream that runs through the Falls ravine. Today there are remnants of the dam in evidence but the stream has reverted to its natural stone banks.

It took the Scouts only 15 years to outgrow their Fleming Falls camp. When they moved out to a new facility, the camp was appropriated by the United Lutheran Church in America.

In 1941, the Falls area was renamed Camp Mowana, and so it remained until 2019.

In 1941 the Fleming Falls resort area was renamed Camp Mowana, when the Lutheran Synod in America took ownership for use as a church camp and retreat.

Postcards sent home from kids in the 1940s.

What began shortly after 1900 as a hotel for the Fleming Falls resort, was known at the Camp Mowana facility as Oneida Lodge .
The look of the building hasn’t changed a great deal since it originated. The generous front porch, with rails of unhewn timber, is very typical of the Arts & Crafts archetectural style popular at the turn of the last century when it was built.

Fleming Falls itself has weathered only in small ways since photographers first began capturing images of it. This postcard is from the 1960s. .

Never been to Fleming Falls? Take a couple minutes to enjoy the sounds of water hurtling over the sandstone cliff after a spring storm, and enjoy some afternoon light filtering into the gorge.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s