As first reported by the “Delaware Gazette,” the Greenwood Lake property at 340 Lake Street is for sale after having been used by the Salvation Army as a campground for decades. The 47.48-acre property is now listed with the Robert Weiler Company in Columbus for $2.55 million or $53,707 per acre.
The then run-down 113-acre Greenwood Farm was purchased in 1834 by French immigrant John G. Vergon who restored and expanded it. When he fell ill, his 26-year-old son Frederick P. Vergon (1829-1919) took over the farm.
Self-educated and entrepreneurially minded, he bred short-horn cattle, installed an apple orchard and a vineyard, and constructed an ice-storage building where he kept his produce fresh, giving him a marketing advantage. He also made agricultural presentations at colleges and conferences and universities (including OWU) and wrote for horticultural publications.
In 1873, he converted a wild ravine into a lovely 25-acre pond, which he named Greenwood Lake, and stocked it with bass and other fish. He also planted close to 1,000 trees around the lake and the surrounding 18-acre grove, which soon became a well-known and popular summer resort and pleasure ground even though no beer was served.
The 1880 “History of Delaware County and Ohio” states, “No lover of nature, of beautiful scenery, and all that is calculated to please the eye, should fail to visit Greenwood Lake” (p. 624). For several decades, Greenwood Lake was a summer destination for thousands of people, but with the arrival of the automobile its popularity waned. Vergon celebrated his 80th birthday in 1909 in grand style.
Some 800 guests arrived, and President Warren G. Harding, a friend and frequent visitor, sent his regards. Vergon died at the age of 89 and is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery.
It is not clear when the Salvation Army bought the property, but it must have been before 1976 because that fact is mentioned by Ray Buckingham in his “Delaware County Then and Now” (p. 94).
“Greenwood Lake Camp” remained in the hands of the Salvation Army for more than forty years and was primarily used as a summer camp for disadvantaged children. According to the prospectus produced by Weiler, the property today encompasses a total of 47.48 acres, including a 10.69-acre pond.
The description reads, in part, the parcel “is wooded with trails, athletic sports courts and a pool with bath house. There are currently 8 cabins, 1 lodge, 1 single family guest house, chapel and more.” In addition, the accompanying pictures indicate the presence of a park shelter, a boat house, a maintenance shed, an outdoor auditorium (amphitheater), a playground, and other structures and features. Delaware’s largest community garden is also located there, a fact that the real-estate company does not mention.
Of particular significance may be the presence of an ODNR-monitored dam, which according to Ohio law must be monitored, maintained, and safely operated at the owner’s expense. The costs involved are not listed, but there is an annual fee associated with it. No doubt there is also the problem of deferred maintenance as the majority of the buildings are of older vintage.
Greenwood Lake has a long and rich tradition of being a wooded green space, summer retreat, and nature camp. It is one of the last remaining natural areas within the municipality.
Although the acreage may not contain any unique and endangered animal and plant species (a bioblitz would help), there is evidence of abundant wildlife, including birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. In addition, the Sugar Creek that feeds the lake is a tributary to the nearby Olentangy, a protected scenic river — another fact that Weiler fails to mention.
For historic and environmental reasons, every effort should be made to preserve Greenwood Lake as a green space zoned A-1 PMU (agricultural with a planned mixed use overlay).
Delaware’s east side is underserved as far as neighborhood parks and recreational facilities are concerned. Here is an irretrievable opportunity to create a public park where residents can walk, children can play, dogs can frolic, youngsters can fish, and people can garden.
Funding is, of course, the big question here. Not many public and private entities have $2.55 million lying around. But the price may be negotiable; corporate donors and sponsors can be found; grants may be available through the ODNR or OEPA; and crowd sourcing could be attempted; or the hard-to-sell property could be gifted to the community. The City of Delaware may not have the funds at the moment, but it owns land that perhaps could be sold and/or swapped in exchange for this unique property.
The alternative is that this piece of land may be rezoned and lost forever to development. There is the risk that it may be bought by an outside party with no interest in the community or understanding of Greenwood’s natural and historic significance.
Weiler touts the “endless potential” of the parcel, so hypothetically speaking a private company could come in, drain the pond and build an undesirable facility. Wouldn’t a public park be the preferable option?
An attractive green space in Delaware’s northeast quadrant might lead to new residential and commercial development and help rejuvenate the area.
Tom Wolber is a member of Sustainable Delaware, Ohio.