In 1896, a baby was born in Mansfield — a boy who would one day grow up to travel the world, become a writer, and win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1927, at just 30 years of age. He would then return to his hometown, purchase three adjacent rundown farms, and transform them into the conservation showplace called Malabar Farm, today known as Malabar Farm State Park. His name was Louis Bromfield.
Fifty-five years later, another baby boy was born in Mansfield who also grew up to be a writer. This one didn’t travel the world, nor did he win the Pulitzer Prize — at least not yet. But what he would do, like Bromfield, is fall in love with the beauty of the natural world, and particularly that area surrounding Malabar. OK, I’m sure you guessed: That second boy is me.
In his 1945 book titled Pleasant Valley, Bromfield wrote of the area:
It is a pleasant land all about you, valleys where the bottom land is rich, bordered by hills covered with wild and luxuriant forest, the whole filigreed with the silver of the streams called Switzer’s Run, Possum Run, and the Clear Fork; and far down lies the blue shield of Pleasant Hill Lake bordered by the deep red of sandstone bluffs and the blue black of hemlock trees.
Today, the area is labeled Mohican country by the tourism folks. It still appears much as it did during Bromfield’s time, and it’s my favorite part of the Buckeye State. It’s a fantastic place for a weekend getaway, relatively easy to access in southeast Richland County. Here are my suggestions for where to stay, where to dine, and what to do to experience a sense of why Bromfield so loved Malabar:
Where to stay: Other than a campground and single cabin — the Maple Syrup Cabin — Malabar Farm State Park has no overnight lodging facilities, so staying at nearby Mohican State Park is convenient. Mohican offers rooms and a restaurant at the lodge overlooking Pleasant Hill Lake, or cabins and campgrounds beside the Clear Fork of the Mohican River, a State Scenic River.
What to see: At Malabar, be sure to take the Big House tour to see Bromfield’s writing office, containing the custom-made desk he seldom used. He complained that the desk was too high for him, so instead he wrote at a small, folding card table. Bromfield was well connected with Hollywood, and you’ll hear the story of film legends Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall marrying at the farm and spending their honeymoon in the second-floor bedroom.
What to eat: Plan to have lunch or supper at Malabar Farm Restaurant just down the road from the entrance to the park. My wife and I consider it our favorite Ohio eatery. Gourmet meals are served on white tablecloths, but the atmosphere is casual, so blue jeans and hiking boots are more than acceptable. And no trip to Malabar is complete without making the short drive to the summit of Mount Jeez for a sweeping, panoramic view of the farm and Pleasant Valley. The scene is particularly stunning during the first blush of spring or the peak of autumn color.
What to do: Once back at Mohican, if you’d like to stretch your legs and do some hiking, park your vehicle at the covered bridge and take either of the two trails that parallel the Clear Fork River through the Clear Fork Gorge. Heavily forested, the sandstone gorge measures 1,000 feet across by 300 feet deep, and is recognized by the National Park Service as a Registered National Natural Landmark. Heading northwest, both trails eventually lead to the top of Pleasant Hill Lake Dam, providing spectacular views of the lake and spillway.
During summer, watersports are available on the lake, and several canoe liveries along the Black Fork of the Mohican River are located within a mile of Mohican’s main entrance. Think about scheduling your visit to coincide with Mohican Wildlife Weekend, held annually in late April, which offers many free outdoor activities at a number of area venues.
Oh, and one last thing. If you happen to have any influence with anyone serving on this year’s Pulitzer Prize committee, would you mind putting in a good word for me? It seems I’m rapidly running out of time.