COLUMBIANA, Ohio – Long-neglected Firestone Park in Columbiana is quietly being transformed into a pristine and manicured green space, and the next gem of this ever-improving city.
The $5.5 million renovation project, now in phase 2, began in 2017 and is starting to show results. It is expected to be complete in 2022.
When finished, Firestone Park will be another attraction in the leafy city that is already known for a downtown that boasts unusual shops and antique stores, Main Street Theater and Birdfish Brewing Co.; and the new Firestone Farms development, with its golf course and TownCenter shops.
Columbiana was named “The Nicest Place in America” by Reader’s Digest in 2019, and city manager Lance Willard says the city intends to keep it that way.
Mirror Lake, once an algae-choked pond with unkempt grass around its edges, has already been reborn in eye-popping fashion. Completed in 2018 as part of the $3.1 million first phase of the project, the lake is the first centerpiece to emerge in the park.
Its edges are sculpted with stonework, landscaping and a cascading water feature. The water is treated and maintained to keep it an emerald green. A fountain in the center of the lake is its crowning touch.
The result is a bucolic scene where nature is thoughtfully enhanced by man – a combination typically reserved for the largest cities and finest developments.
The blueprint for the lake renovation is being repeated throughout the park.
“What you are seeing here is world class,” says Willard. “It’s something you would expect to see in Washington, D.C. It involves a lot of planning, engineering and forethought.”
A newly built system of paved walkways encircles the lake and its adjacent pavilion, as well as the tennis and pickleball courts, which have also been beautifully restored.
The ADA-compliant walkways – which did not exist before this year – wind through the entire park, leading visitors past restored features and new ones still under construction.
The park’s best-known feature is its public swimming pool. Built as a Works Progress Administration project in the late 1930s, it is receiving a new façade and roof. The pool will open May 29.
Another new feature is The Legacy Trail, which begins opposite the pool house entrance.
Visitors there will pass under a pergola and stroll past new stands of trees and bushes that were selected for their beauty and their connection to original plantings in the park.
When finished, the main stop on the trail will be a garden and amphitheater that will be known as Idabelle Firestone’s Gathering Place.
It’s named in honor of the composer and songwriter who became the wife of Columbiana native Harvey S. Firestone, the industrialist and founder of the tire company, and namesake of the park. Funds are still being raised before construction begins.
A lilac-lined allee, or strolling path, will link Idabelle’s Place to the cemetery across the street where the Firestone mausoleum sits.
The amphitheater, which will be used for concerts, weddings and other events, will be located at the crest of the hill over which the park is draped.
The old parking area below it is rapidly being rebuilt in a fashion befitting its surroundings.
The Legacy Trail will also lead to a new feature, now under construction, that will turn the park springs into an altar to nature.
Water from underground sources will bubble up and flow from several openings at the center of a curved wall. The surrounding area will be landscaped and completed with benches and other features where visitors can reflect and take in the beauty.
Each of the park’s four pavilions are also being renovated.
Motivation and Legacy
The transformation of the park is being funded through grants and gifts from foundations, government and citizens. The lion’s share came from a multimillion dollar grant from The Pat and Bradford Tingle Foundation.
Pat Tingle, who heads the foundation, is also spearheading implementation of the project, with the help of the Restoration and Beautification Committee of Columbiana.
She and her late husband, Bradford, are Columbiana-area natives who spent much of their professional lives in California, where he was a corporate-level manager for United Parcel Service, before they retired and returned to their beloved hometown in 2000. Both are graduates of Columbiana High School; Bradford played on the football team and Pat was homecoming queen. The football stadium, which is in Firestone Park, will be getting a facelift.
Tingle is dedicating the park’s transformation, particularly The Legacy Trail, to Bradford, who died in 2014. The Mirror Lake restoration is dedicated to their late son, David.
The park project is clearly a labor of love for Tingle – a gift to her hometown and a way to remember her loved ones.
Her earliest motivation was to restore Mirror Lake as a memorial to her son after his death.
There was also a strong desire to restore the place to how she and Bradford, and many members of her generation, remembered it.
When she returned to Columbiana in 2000, Tingle admits she was “appalled” at the condition of the park.
“It had not been taken care of,” she says, blaming the city’s financial condition in years past and also poor management. Those responsible for its neglect are now gone, she says.
“Everybody said, ‘What a shame.’ But the community didn’t demand it be taken care of,” Tingle says. “Everybody in our age group grew up in that park and had special feelings about it.”
She and the beautification committee had to “ruffle some feathers” to get the ball rolling. They contacted the Firestone family as part of their early efforts at restoration and fundraising. “They sent their representative from Chicago and he was appalled at the park’s condition,” she says.
After the Mirror Lake restoration was completed and the town loved it, Tingle decided to take on the rest of the park.
“I thought, ‘I’m blessed with this money,’ ” she says. “I am 84 years old and have no children now. Why not take what my husband and I have earned and make something that people can appreciate for years to come?”
Tingle says it’s been a lot of fun. “I’ve learned the history of my city and the Firestones,” she says. “Now that it’s taking shape, people are appreciating what they are seeing. This will become a tourism [attraction].”
Tingle’s efforts to beautify her hometown began in 2015, when she and the Restoration and Beautification Committee restored the Main Street clock tower. Her work has not gone unnoticed.
“She is truly the grand lady of Columbiana with all of her efforts to restore various areas of the city and the funding she has given,” says Rose Conrad, a trustee of the committee.
Becoming a Destination
While leading a reporter on a golf cart tour of the park last week, Tingle pointed out what once existed at certain spots and what they will become.
When it opened in the late 1930s, Firestone Park was a bucolic spot in the center of the village. But very few improvements were made over the years, and the neglect had become obvious.
The renovation project is not only correcting the situation, but turning the park into a destination.
The rapid transformation of the park is largely hidden from motorists on Park Avenue. But new handmade wooden signs mounted on brick columns at the entrances offer a clue.
The signs, made of mahogany with a gold paint inlay, were designed and built to look like the originals. They are the handiwork of Lloyd Miller, a local carpenter and wood carver.
Tingle was familiar with Miller’s work and sought him out for the project. “It took him 200 hours to make the two signs,” she said.
Another feature of the park renovation project pays tribute to its founder and his colleagues.
A new monument erected at Mirror Lake has three stone pillars – one each for Harvey S. Firestone, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, who visited Columbiana several times. It has a stone marker and plaque that bears the names of the three men and reads, “Great friends, fellow pioneers, inventors and entrepreneurs all.”
It is fitting that the monument is located at the starting point for the park’s rebirth.
“[Mirror Lake] was the first big project [at the park],” says Tingle. “You had to have seen the lake before [to appreciate how it has changed]. It looks wonderful now but it was in terrible shape.”
In planning the renovation of Firestone Park, Tingle has let history be her guide. “We’re trying to tell the story of the Firestones and the park with every piece,” she says.
Tingle is also seeing to it that the improvements will not be allowed to deteriorate. The lake, the landscaping and the other features all require regular attention, and Tingle has provided funding for 10 years of maintenance.
One singular and historic aspect of the park has always been the three-foot wide brick-paved rain gutters that line the sides of the sloping roads.
The gutters had fallen into disrepair and become dangerous. The gentle dip through the center had deepened to such an extent that the gutters became “a tripping hazard,” says city manager Willard. In some places, they’re even treacherous for cars.
The initial plan was to remove them but that stirred an outcry from residents who had grown fond of the odd feature and demanded they remain.
The restored brick gutters are much safer and recapture their original beauty.
Construction and Costs
The Firestone Park restoration project is being handled by three companies.
HRG, a Pennsylvania-based design and civil engineering firm, created the master plan and also did the lake project.
Terra Design Studio of Pittsburgh is renovating and restoring the four pavilions and will also build the amphitheater.
The construction contractor is Enviroscapes of Louisville, Ohio.
Phase 2, which comprises the tennis and pickleball courts and also the amphitheater, began last year and continued throughout the COVID-19 shutdown.
In addition to the gift from The Tingle Foundation, funding has come from several sources.
One major contributor is the Firestone family, which donated $230,000 for the walkways in the park.
The Columbiana Community Foundation gave grants totaling $60,000. An outreach to local businesses brought in $40,000.
A direct-mail campaign earlier this year, first to selected individuals and then to the public, has collected $50,000 so far. Individual donations to date total about $10,000.
The Restoration and Beautification Committee is also planning to build a dog park at Firestone Park, and has raised $24,000 toward its $80,000 goal. A GoFundMe account has been set up and is still accepting donations.
A disc golf course will also be part of the park renovation.
Pictured at top: Pat Tingle, who is leading the restoration of Firestone Park, stands near the monument to Harvey Firestone, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. The restored Mirror Lake is in the background.