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THE PARMLY MANSION
Jehiel Parmly 1799-1873
Eleazar, Jehiel, Stephen, Stephen, John, John

Willoghby (Ohio) News Herald, May 17, 2013

Future Murky
for 'Old Main'
in Perry Township

by Simon Husted

Perry, OHIO -- Perry Township officials are contacting developers to learn if a 180-year-old mansion has the strength to remain standing or is destined for a demolition crew. The two-story brick mansion on Perry Park Road near the Perry Community Senior Center has been vacant for more than six months. Its interior is plagued with poor window insulation, rotting wood and chipped paint, but Township Trustee Phil Haskell said he is more troubled by what he sees on the mansion's exterior.

"The outside brick work is real bad," he said. "I see vertical cracks going all of the way from the ground all the way up to the eaves. How do you fix that?"

Haskell said the township doesn't yet have a quote on how much rehabilitating the building will cost, but he suspects it will be hundreds of thousands of dollars -- more than the township can afford.

Ideally, township officials want to lease the mansion to a developer to rehabilitate it and allow that developer to use it for a commercial purpose such as a bed and breakfast. Haskell said the township is considering demolition if no person or developer can offer a bid to rehabilitate the mansion. "But we also recognize that it is one of the oldest buildings in Perry and it can't be replaced," he said.

Demolition would be a big blow to Perry, said Mary Platko, co-founder, historian and museum curator for the Perry Historical Society. "I think it is the most historical building in the Perry area."

She said she knows of only a few buildings among the township, Perry Village and North Perry Village that are older than the mansion, commonly referred to as "Old Main" since the early 20th century.

The mansion was built in 1834 by dentist Jehiel "Hiel" Parmly, according to a collection of records and newspaper clippings from the Lake County Historical Society. With relatives also in the dentistry profession, Parmly worked as a transient dentist who traveled around the South and Midwest and treated President James Monroe. [Ad at left is from Fayette (N.C.) Weekly Observer, May 17, 1826.] He was regarded as the "most successful itinerant dentist in history," according to a family biography authored by Lawrence Parmly Brown.

Parmly began living year-round at the mansion with his wife, Eliza Pleasants, after he retired from dentistry in 1850. He died in 1876, at age 74, in Painesville. His wife died in 1891 in Perry Township.

The Lorimer family bought the mansion and its surrounding acreage in 1918 and founded a popular overnight summer camp called Camp Roosevelt for Boys. Bill Lorimer bought the camp from his father, W.L. "Dub" Lorimer, in 1946. Judy Lorimer, one of Bill's two daughters who managed the camp with him, said she remembers as many as 200 boys spending their summers at Camp Roosevelt. "The mansion was home to tons of boys for a lot of years," she said.

The camp's popularity took a downturn when FirstEnergy started building a nuclear power plant in North Perry. The plant went online in 1987. "We lost 70 percent of our kids the year after the plant was built," Judy Lorimer said. "People were nervous about sending their kids."

The camp changed its name to Roosevelt Country Day Camp and has moved to several different locations since then, but its offices remained at the mansion.

Bill Lorimer sold the mansion and 20.5 acres of surrounding land to Perry Township for $840,000 in June 17, 2002. The township agreed to allow him to live in the mansion as part of the sale. He died April 1, 2012, and the camp was formally closed months later. Judy Lorimer, who continues an affiliated horse stable business near Perry Township Park, said she finished removing her father's belongings from the mansion in December and hasn't been inside since.

In April, Michael Fleenor of the Cleveland Restoration Society completed a building analysis on the mansion that dates and merits the current architecture of the structure. Although the report stated that portions of the mansion were remodeled with early 20th century architecture, the report supports that the mansion is significant historically and architecturally. "It is our belief that it would be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places should it be nominated," the report states.

A designation on the national list would open federal and state tax breaks for developers who wish to restore the mansion.

In addition to the report, the Cleveland Restoration Society also suggested to township trustees seven developers with expertise in restoration. Haskell said the township is in discussions with one of them to see if, at the very least, a quote can be obtained concerning cost of rehabilitation. "There needs to be an investigation into the footers and foundation of this house," Haskell said. "I've been told there is two feet of stone down there."

Haskell said with the park and lakefront nearby, the mansion has the potential to become a destination as a bed and breakfast.

"We're hoping someone comes up with an idea that works," Haskell said. "We'd like to try to keep it, but we don't have the funds to do that."

Editor's note: This article was edited May 24 to clarify several dates and other facts.

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Lots more at the Perry Historical Society Facebook page.
Want to help? Contact Mary Platko at
mlplatco@gmail.com.