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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.