Pulitzer-Prize winning author and conservationist Louis Bromfield traveled extensively around the world and lived abroad many years in places like France, but he found plenty to interest and amuse him deep in the heart of "Mohican Country" in northeastern Ohio when he finally settled down and built a home there as the world prepared to wage World War II in the late-1930s and 1940s.
Bromfield built his home in the hills of Pleasant Valley, living, writing and farming there until his death in 1956.
Bromfield grew up in the idyllic area and found that he could, indeed, come home again when he returned to purchase an old farm near his birthplace after years of traveling and living abroad.
Bromfield bought a farm in the area from Clement Herring in 1939, adding land from adjacent farms to his holdings in1940 and 1941 until he owned 595 acres, and later additions meant Malabar Farm eventually spread over 1000 acres of land.
Bromfield and his family originally lived in the old Fleming House on one of the farms while the author teamed up with architect Louis Lamoreux from nearby Mansfield to design and build a Greek Revival-style home, using the Fleming house as the center of a larger house and farm where Bromfield would write and work on often experimental conservation projects.
Bromfield had big ideas for the home he affectionately called "The Big House" that he and Lamoreux designed to appear like a much older house with multiple additions over the years.
The Big House started off as a much smaller vintage farm before Bromfield and Lamoreux transformed it into a 32-foom home, finishing it 18 months later by incorporating a blend of Western Reserve architectural styles. Bromfield furnished the home with many of his furniture and decor finds from around the world.
Many of Bromfield's written works, largely written at Malabar, eventually made their way onto the stage or screen, and Malabar, 11 miles south of Mansfield and up Little Mountain Road, attracted scores of actors, literary luminaries, politicians and fellow conservationists to Ohio to visit Bromfield.
As many as 20,000 people visited the farm each year, and Bromfield hosted Sunday tours that attracted as many as 100 to 200 people at a time. Bromfield particularly enjoyed taking guests up a narrow winding road a lookout atop to Mt. Jeez (once called Poverty's Knob) where he hosted talks about conservation and the natural beauty of the area while visitors enjoyed a panoramic view of the area and the farm.
Movie stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall arrived at Bromfield's invitation for their 1945 wedding and honeymoon, although the crush of crowds forced the couple to move their wedding inside of the Big House instead of their original plan to have the ceremony outside.
Classic film fans will also enjoy seeing some of Bromfield's extensive collection of film star photos and souvenirs from many of the productions based on his writing. They will also learn about how the filming of opening scene from the 1994 film, "The Shawshank Redemption" took place at a nearby cabin.
Malabar served as a national model for sustainable agriculture, composing with manure from Bromfield's livestock and arranging fields to more closely follow the natural contours of the land to abate erosion as well as leaving large areas of the farm for foraging and pasture land.
Visitors can still see evidence of Bromfield's interest in conservation and recycling at work in the farm with its large number of green initiatives. Check out Malabar's Web site for an extensive list of recycled and repurposed items, sustainable methods and products used at the farm today.
Bromfield's family sold the land to a conservation foundation in 1958, a couple of years after his death in 1956. The foundation struggled with continuing to run the farm, and the state of Ohio acquired it as a state park in 1976.
Still, many of the classic features of the farm and its land remain at Malabar today.
In 1993, a fire destroyed the main barn, and 150 volunteers helped build a new structure that closely resembled the original barn but built to meet modern building codes.
Farm hosts about 35,000 visitors a year today.
You can take tours of the Big House daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day and during more limited hours the rest of the year.
Want to learn more about Malabar, the park's history as Malabar Farm and as the home of the Pulitzer-Prize winning author Louis Bromfield? Check out Louis Bromfield and His Malabar Farm by Joe James.
Thanks to Xanterra Parks and Resorts and Mohican State Park Lodge, which provided lodging, meals and on-site activities for my review, with no further compensation. I was free to express my own opinion about my stay and experiences, and the opinions expressed here are mine.
© Dominique King 2016 All rights reserved