4530 Colorado Avenue
Sheffield Village, Ohio 44054
Welcome to the virtual home of the French Creek Reservation. You should find most of the information you're looking for right here for the Pine Tree Picnic Area, or the 4-1/2 miles of trails that wind through the park. It is also home to French Creek Nature Center, and the art organization, TrueNorth Cultural Arts. While we try to make this page as attractive and enjoyable as we can, it can't compare to the experience of visiting the park itself. So whether you come alone for a walk through our 450 acres of wooded landscape, or bring the whole family for a picnic, we hope you'll visit us soon.
The French Creek Reservation features 450 acres of mostly wooded landscape with high cliffs, deep ravines and three creeks-Sugar Creek, Fish Creek, and the reservation's namesake, the French Creek. With 4-1/2 miles of the most forested trails in Lorain County, you're not likely to run out of walking room. The French Creek Nature Center offers a variety of programs and exhibits, a nature space/indoor playground and wildlife observatory, and houses the TrueNorth Cultural Arts.
Four separately marked trails connect the French Creek Nature Center at one side of the park with the Pine Tree Picnic Area at the other side. These trails take you from water's edge to the tops of ravines, offering spectacular views of the creeks below—from rolling, winding paths to level straight-aways ideal for cross-country skiers. You'll find a variety of wildflowers, plants and trees, an occasional bridge and several scenic overlooks. Along the way you can rest at one of the benches placed near the trails or just sit and enjoy the natural beauty, songbirds and soothing sound of wind in the trees.
True to its name, several groves of pines sprinkle the Pine Tree Picnic Area with their perennial green, rich smells and carpets of orange needles. The area offers two reservable picnic shelters for groups of 100 and 25, a modern playground with handicap access, drinking fountain and an indoor restroom facility. There are plenty of grills and picnic tables both in sunny, open spaces or under the shelter of the trees. The area is linked by two trails: Sugar Creek Trail (.55 miles) which winds in a loop along the edge of the Sugar Creek ravine, and Big Woods Trail (1.5 miles) which cuts through the picnic area at opposite sides and can take you all the way to the French Creek Nature Center at the other side of the reservation.
Nearly all of French Creek Reservation 426 acres is forested, making it one of the largest forested areas in the lake plain. The forest varies greatly in age, with some areas over 100 years old while others have only been reforested since Lorain County Metro Parks obtained the land in the 1960s. A walk through the reservation reveals a variety of trees, including sycamore, pin oak, walnut, maple, cottonwood, and chestnut. In the warmer months, trillium, violet and wild geranium add splashes of color to the rich green.
Many species of wildlife call these woods home, including deer, red fox, king fisher, great blue heron, garter snake, black rat snake, 2-lined salamander, red-bellied woodpecker and lots of songbirds.
The French Creek Reservation has provided archeologists with a rich source of cultural artifacts—mostly arrowheads and pottery—that go back 1000 years. The area was a prime location for Native Americans due to the close proximity of the three creeks, which provided plenty of fresh water both for themselves and for local wildlife—which at that time included elk and bear. These early inhabitants were agricultural as well, growing maize (corn) and sunflowers among other crops. They built their villages on the edges of the ravines for protection against other tribes.
Settler's began arriving in Sheffield in 1816. Among the earliest was Captain Jabez Burrell, who had staked his claim a year earlier and returned with his family from Sheffield, Massachusetts (not so coincidentally.) Jabez built a log cabin somewhere near "Big Bottom" where the riverbed broadens just west of the French Creek Reservation along East River Road. By 1820 he had constructed one of the first brick houses in Lorain County—built with bricks he fired right there on his property. The original bricks still hold up two walls of the present-day house.
After Jabez died in 1833, his son Robbins inherited the homestead and opened a branch school of Oberlin College with his brother Jabez L., called The Sheffield Manual Labor Institute. The odd name expresses the prevailing philosophy at Oberlin College—that manual work (meaning exercise) and proper diet were essential parts of a healthy life. Along with their studies, the students—both men and women—performed all of the domestic and agricultural duties at the homestead.
But the college closed its doors after only eighteen months, partly for financial reasons and partly because the State of Ohio refused to charter it unless the brothers agreed to ban African-American students from enrolling (Oberlin College had recently enrolled James Bradley, an African-American.) The brothers refused on the principal that education was a right due to everyone, regardless of race, sex or religion.
Robbins' progressive views did not stop with education. In the years leading up to the Civil War, the Burrell Homestead was one of the final stops on the Underground Railroad. From here smuggled slaves could catch a boat at Big Bottom and sail to Canada and freedom. Jabez L. (who lived in Oberlin) was very likely involved in this as well, but there is no documented proof.
Early in the twentieth century, Harry Burrell had six children who were to be the last of his line. Eleanor, Virginia and Doris were the last to live in the house. Perhaps true to the family character, none of these women lived traditional lives. Doris worked for 30 years in New York City as a writer and editor in the fashion industry, while Eleanor and Virginia stayed closer to home and worked in Cleveland. Virginia died in 1976, Doris in 1997. Eleanor lived until 2001, after which the property was turned over to Lorain County Metro Parks.
Maps & Directions
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