YOUNGSTOWN -- One of the most beautiful spots on the Youngstown State University campus has sat abandoned for years, relatively unnoticed by most.
A Victorian garden in a small valley less than 100 yards from the busy intersection of University Plaza and Wick Avenue is now dominated by trees and weeds that conceal its brick walkways and gray stone walls that silence the sounds of the city.
It's hidden in a valley with oak trees towering high above, hiding it from almost every direction.
Local architecture and landscape historian Rebecca Rogers referred to the garden as one of Youngstown's most "precious, treasured items."
John Hyden, YSU'S facilities director, said it was abandoned when it was in the hands of a private owner, but after a lawsuit it is back in the hands of YSU.
Hyden called the garden a "special little spot" and a "special gem," but it's known by many names. Some historians call it the Wick Pollock Garden. Hyden calls it the Sunken Gardens; some YSU faculty members call it the Grotto.
Ivy and other plants have covered its walls. Its old stone and brick paths lie beneath thigh-high weeds. Oftentimes, stray and wild dogs seek refuge in its tall grass.
"It's vacant right now, and it's just sitting there trying to fall apart on its own. We're trying to keep it from falling apart," Hyden said.
YSU is the "clear owner of the property," Hyden said, but the university has no immediate plans to restore or maintain the garden, or the adjacent Wick Pollock Inn or carriage house. The university is working on "a lot of other projects right now," he explained, but declined to say which holds top priority. On a personal level, Hyden said, he would really like to see the garden restored and used.
The university has looked for outside developers to restore and operate the garden and the Wick Pollock property, but has been unsuccessful, Hyden said.
The president of YSU's Student Government Association, Chad Miller, was unaware the garden existed when first asked about it by Vindy.com. He has since researched it and presented the SGA with the task of revitalizing the area.
After meeting with faculty and staff members from the YSU's grounds department and herbarium, Miller has opted for a garden "reactivation." He said it will be a reactivation since the original plants are unknown, so it cannot technically be a restoration.
Following a meeting Monday, Miller said SGA voted and planned to take on the project. He said they believe they will use student volunteers for the project and hope to find more partners for the effort.
"Student Government has been overwhelmingly supportive," Miller said.
"Any support we could get right now would be great," Miller said. "We have a limited budget and can only do so much. But we're going to do what we can."
Hunter Morrison said he has been pushing a revitalization of the garden for some time as the director of YSU's Center for Urban and Regional Studies, and also as a board member of Wick Neighbors, a local redevelopment group focused on revitalizing Youngstown's North Side.
Morrison called the garden and adjacent string of trees as an "important part of Youngstown that needs to be restored."
"Architecture on that street is a phenomenon that needs to be cared for. And there's that landscape element, too," Rogers said.
"I'm glad to hear that Chad is interested in it and hopefully there are others. It's a key part of Youngstown's history," Morrison said. "It's a wonderful little space."
"It'd be nice to have it enhanced rather than just say, 'It's there," Rogers said. "It's also a component of the Wick Neighbors project."
There is some debate as to the time when the garden was originally created. Many of those involved with the research use 1930 as the garden's beginning because that date is carved into a stone arch over the entrance. The stone also bears the initials "MWP," for Mary Wick Pollock, for whom the house and garden were originally built.
Others believe the garden was created the same time as the Wick Pollock House, in 1893. Ann Gillespie, a Seattle resident who did her graduate thesis at YSU on the Wick Pollock property, said "the stonework in the garden bears such a strong resemblance to the stone on the house (added in 1897) that I would be very surprised if they weren't constructed at the same time."
Rogers said she remembers when weddings and receptions were held in the gardens; so does Donna DeBlasio, director of YSU's Center for Historic Preservation.
"[The garden] was used right into more modern times when it was still an inn," DeBlasio said.
DeBlasio said she remembered playing in the garden as a kid when she lived in nearby Smoky Hollow.
"Our parents would have killed us if they would've known," DeBlasio said with a laugh. "But it was never unsafe."
Hyden said an unknown person had cleaned up the gardens within the past few months, but he does not know who it is.. Rakes and shovels sit below the stairwell, and bags of twigs and sticks sit in front of the carriage house, remnants of that person's attempt.
Morrison also said he is putting together the pieces, trying to get the inn open, but that will depend on the market demand. He spoke of plans to return the inn to its original look and size by removing one wing. Rogers said she suggested turning the carriage house into suites available for rent.
"It's a very interesting and positive story that's coming along now," Rogers said of the potential revitalization of the property.
"If SGA or other groups want something that could become a big thing, looking for ways to better something, this could be a very good project," Morrison said. "It'll help Smoky Hollow and it'll help student life."
Miller said the next step will be for SGA to create a timeline and start securing new partners in the project.
"This could be a very useful thing," Morrison said.
For more photos of the Wick Pollock garden, click here.
By Katie Libecco