Historic Interpretation: The Sheep at Mutton Hill

Mutton Hill is the name that residents of 19th century Akron gave to this 150-acre farm, known for its 1,000 sheep that were reputed to produce some of the finest wool in the world. On this one hillside are represented the forces that made Ohio the powerhouse of the 19th century - in agriculture, in social movements, in the Great War, and in industrial might.

Col. Simon Perkins, Jr., son of Akron founder Gen. Simon Perkins, at one time had more than 1,000 Merino sheep grazing on the front yard of his stately stone mansion at the corner of Copley Road and South Portage Path. Townsfolk referred to the location as Mutton Hill, and the stone walls built to pen them in exist to this day around the property.

Perkins speculated that wool could become a valuable commodity for making blankets and coats to cope with the cold Ohio winters. And he knew the rocky hillside facing the then 19-year-old town would be ideal terrain for the sheep to graze on.

In 1844 Perkins partnered with abolitionist John Brown to establish a wool business that lasted 10 years. The arrangement was: Perkins would supply the sheep, food and land; Brown would raise the sheep then gather and process the wool while living in the house he rented from Perkins which was across the street from the stone mansion. Brown’s family grew their food on a half-acre plot next to the house. That piece of ground is currently used as a community garden in which local residents now raise their own vegetables. During this time, Brown was active in the Underground Railroad and on occasion brought runaway slaves to Akron who would hide in his barn until the coast was clear to head for Canada and freedom.

In no time the quality of the wool began winning medals at agricultural fairs. In 1846, Brown moved to Springfield, Mass., with his wife and small children to tend to the wool trade. His older sons remained in Akron to tend to the sheep. Apparently, Brown was a better shepherd than businessman. While the quality of the award winning wool remained top notch, a series of bad business decisions by Brown led to legal and financial troubles and created a loss of profit for Perkins. The business collapsed by February, 1854. Perkins remained president of the Summit County Agricultural Society for nearly 40 years.

Sheep production is the nation's oldest organized livestock industry, with wool being the first international trade commodity. Ohio was a major producer of mutton and wool in the 19th century, and abolitionist John Brown - who lived with his family in the two-room house at Diagonal and Copley Roads - traveled to Europe on behalf of the Perkins-Brown partnership in the 1840's. All of the soldiers in the Civil War wore wool uniforms. 

The Summit County Historical Society (SCHS) of Akron recently rebranded the two properties as the Homes of Mutton Hill. Dave Lieberth, society board Chairman said: “In the 1850s, this was known as Mutton Hill. The people of Akron called it that because of Simon Perkins’ large flock of Merino sheep numbering 1,300 that he managed with John Brown. As we try to interpret the history today, we think that’s a pretty significant part of our history and the property’s history – this agricultural use of land. So we have chosen to rebrand the properties as ‘The Historic Homes of Mutton Hill,’ meaning the Perkin Mansion, the John Brown House…some of the related properties in our neighborhood are part of Mutton Hill too. The Stadelman mansion on the corner which is now the [Akron] Women’s City Club, and the Wojno-Forney household. We hope people will respond to the rebranding and recognize that there is a historic component to these properties today.”

"The Perkins Estate was first a farm," said Leianne Neff Heppner, President and CEO of the Summit County Historical Society. "We want to interpret that story of the importance of agriculture in Akron and Summit County's growth and development before it became a manufacturing center."

The Society is collaborating with The Spicy Lamb Farm, a Cuyahoga Valley National Park Countryside Conservancy farm in Peninsula, to bring a flock of sheep to the mansion grounds. 

Urban Shepherds will be providing training and hopes to promote urban sheep grazing as a cost-saving and environmental alternative to mowing, promoting urban farming and increasing sheep production, while educating youth and recruiting future shepherds."