By Jordan Cohen
The house was built in 1831 and is a national registered historic place.
MINERAL RIDGE — Directors of the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District generally focus on providing water to Youngstown and Niles, but now they’re concerned about a historic building — the Strock Stone House in Austintown.
The house, built in 1831 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is owned by the MVSD, which has leased it to Austintown Township trustees since 1991 for $1 a year, with the lease to run 99 years. Under the agreement, the township is responsible for all repairs and maintenance.
Chief Engineer Tom Holloway said a boiler system that provides heat for the Strock house is in need of repairs and the township does not have the money to fix it.
“I’m concerned about it falling into disrepair,” Holloway said. “It’s an old boiler and if it can’t be fixed, the house may require a new heating system.”
Holloway said he is considering applying for a grant through the national parks system that could cover repair costs.
Board President Matt Blair suggested another option if no other funding is available.
“We may have to consider retaking possession,” Blair said. “I’m instructing our legal counsel to investigate this issue.”
The comment did not come as a surprise to trustee Vice Chairman Warren “Bo” Pritchard, who agreed the township lacks the funds to refurbish the site.
Pritchard disclosed that last March, trustees discussed terminating the lease and asking the MVSD to take back possession.
“It’s been a real quandary for us,” Pritchard said. “We think the boiler alone could cost between $3,500 and $10,000, and we still have to fix the roof, chimney caps and the barn behind the house.”
Last month, trustees came up with an alternate solution. The township administrator sent the MVSD a letter suggesting termination of the lease and purchase of the property by the township.
“The board is concerned the lack of ownership may disqualify the township from receiving any future grants concerning this property,” the letter said, adding that ownership would qualify the township for historic building grants.
Strock Stone House is located on 200 acres at 7171 Mahoning Ave. not far from the Meander Reservoir and is open to the public only on the first Sunday of each month. It is operated by the Austintown Historical Society, whose financial resources are limited, said President Joyce Pogany.
“I’d say we’ve put $20,000 into the house for repairs, furniture and signs in the 15 years we’ve had it, and nearly all of it has come from the society, Pogany said. “If we’re lucky, we get just $12 to $15 donations monthly from the tours of the house.”
The house has a storied history. After its construction by William Strock in 1831, it stayed in his family for nearly 60 years. In the 1850s, the stone house served as a way station for the Underground Railroad — the name given to safe houses where slaves running for their freedom could find temporary shelter.
“The wife would leave a quilt out with an arrow pointing to the cellar where the slaves would be safe,” Pogany said. “The cellar is an important part of our tours of the Strock house.”
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the family of a Mahoning County judge owned the property until it was taken over when the MVSD was formed in the early 1930s. For years, it served as the residence of the district’s chief engineer.
Mark Memmer, MVSD board member, said he appreciates Austintown’s predicament but feels the district’s grant application may be the best option.
“It’s is an important piece of history, and [the society] is doing a really nice job with it, but private donations aren’t enough,” Memmer said.
Pogany admitted that financial help is needed but said she hopes the building can remain with the historical society.
“I don’t want to give it back,” she said.