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This summer, visitors to the John Brown Home and Perkins Stone Mansion in Akron will not hear the roar of lawnmowers, but will see a half dozen or so sheep silently munching away on the lawns and shrubs.
These fleecy allies, from The Spicey Lamb Farm in Peninsula, have been recruited to keep the landscaping neat in an effort to promote ecological ways to mow and trim the yard. They can be seen at Perkins Stone Mansion through August, said Laura DeYoung Minnig, owner of The Spicey Lamb. The flock of Dorset sheep seen July 15 during a media preview included a ewe and five lambs (sheep less than a year old), with two ewes total and four weathers (neutered males), Minnig said. This will be the first time in a century that sheep have grazed on the grounds of Perkins Stone Mansion, the home of Col. Simon Perkins, the son of Gen. Simon Perkins, Akron's founder, but shepherding was once a large part of the Perkins' family's enterprise; indeed, according to information provided by the Summit County Historical Society, the estate had the nickname of "Mutton Hill." The 150-acre farm was known for its 1,300 sheep that were reputed to produce some of the finest wool in the world.
"Sheep were a big part of Akron's history," says Society chairman Dave Lieberth. "The introduction of a flock of sheep gives us new ways to interpret our history. John Brown was the most consequential man ever to live in Summit County, employed by Perkins to tend the flock of 1,300 Merino sheep that was known as one of the finest flocks in Ohio. Brown lived with his family in the two-room house at Diagonal and Copley Roads, and traveled to Europe to promote the wool business."
Minnig said that the Dorset, an all-purpose breed of sheep, are derived from Merino sheep.
"I'm excited to see sheep brought back into the city, which we hope will promote urban sheep grazing as a cost-saving and environmental alternative to mowing," said Minnig, who also is executive director of Urban Shepherds. "We are working to make this an initiative that will promote urban farming and increase sheep production, while educating youth and recruiting future shepherds."
One lawnmower creates 16 times the emissions of a flock, Minnig said. "They are a great alternative to mowing the lawn," she said. "You just rotate the sheep around [to various parts of the yard]."
For details, visit http://urbanshepherds.org/ online.
Perkins Stone Mansion is at 550 Copley Road in Akron. Through August the grounds of the Perkins Mansion will be open, free to the public Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays while the project continues.
Four generations of the Perkins family lived at the Stone Mansion estate, according to information provided by the Summit County Historical Society. Simon Perkins built a reputation for fine wool, later becoming an Ohio senator who founded Summit County. Perkins' son George Tod Perkins, who also lived at the mansion, became the second president of BF Goodrich Company.
Sheep production is the nation's oldest organized industry, with wool being the first international trade commodity, Lieberth said. Ohio was a major producer of mutton and wool in the 19th century. Perkins operated a woolen mill in what is now downtown Akron in the 1850s. All of the soldiers in the Civil War wore wool uniforms.
The Brown House property is an essential link in John Brown's personal history as an abolitionist and militant guerilla in the fight to end African slavery in America.
To learn more about the Summit County Historical Society, call 330-535-1120 or visit www.summithistory.org online.