A Green Tradition

A jewel in the crown of the Old Brooklyn neighborhood is the Ben Franklin Community Garden. Established as a community garden in 1979, through an agreement between the Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation (OBCDC) and the Cleveland Board of Education, it is one of the largest and most productive garden sites in the city of Cleveland. It is a focal point of the proud South Hills neighborhood and one of the earliest examples of the development and use of eco-friendly urban space.

The Ben Franklin School and Gardens have a long history and a great tradition of  education, service and community focus. It was more than 90 years ago in 1919 that the land that would become the school and gardens was transferred to the Cleveland Board of Education. The school was built in 1923 on 10.44 acres of land with 4.77  acres being dedicated to garden use. The gardens were first used as a nursery for growing plants for the schools in the vicinity. Originally the garden had hot beds, an orchard, a grape arbor, small shrubs and bushes, and a mixture of various types of trees.

In 1924 the first horticulture classes were taught to junior high students. Part of the nursery was eventually (around 1930) used as an outdoor classroom and picnic area, as well as individual garden plots. The idea of the gardens was successful and the demand was great. In a spirit of true community, children from surrounding schools, both public and  parochial  were eligible to garden. This deeply rooted custom of the working, nurturing and learning from the earth continued on into the l970s when finances became tight and the tradition was passed from the auspices of the school to that of the OBCDC and the benefit of the larger community as a whole.

The first Garden Attendant was Bamey Killian, who held the position until 2000. He was succeeded by Tom Sargent  who held the position until his retirement after the 2010 season. We are fortunate to have had the foresight and interest of both the OBCDC and  the care and  oversight of both Barney and Tom.  In 2011 we welcomed a new Garden Coordinator, Carol Stadden.  The Garden Coordinator is a part-time position that reports to the CDC and works in coordination with the Garden Committee.

In a continuing spirit of nurturing both the land and the community, the Ben Franklin Garden Committee was organized on 11/27/2007. The purpose of the committee is to assure the future continuation of the community garden at Ben Franklin School and empower the community of gardeners to operate, improve and develop this resource to its full potential, while striving to maintain fiscal responsibility and discipline. We strive to promote an environment where local gardeners work together to grow needed food, support each other and continue a tradition that roots and supports the surrounding community.  

The Garden Committee consists of an Operating Committee, with four officers, and six sub-committees: Governance, Projects, Finance, Nominating & Elections, Preservation and Events & Infomation. In October 2008 the Garden Committee was recognized as an Old Brooklyn “Institution, ” at which time it garnered a seat on the OBCDC Board of Directors.

Under Ordinance Number 1820-04 the school and garden were designated as a Cleveland Landmark (December of 2004) by the City of Cleveland Landmarks Commission:
Franklin, Benjamin, School of Tomorrow & Garden
1905 Spring Road
Architect: Walter McCornack
Date Built: 1921-23