MADISON TOWNSHIP — With determination, Jennifer Tackacs gripped long vines of ivy and pulled, trying to find the structure of a garden she once knew so well.
Tackacs, who worked at the Old Tavern in Unionville from 1993 to 1995, didn’t find the plants she remembered from her days of bussing tables and making salads during the day-long yard cleanup at the 216-year-old building.
“I love being here today,” she said. “It was so much fun to work at the tavern, and I love the memories from those days.”
More than 50 people helped pull weeds, transplant saplings, haul debris and trim bushes at the Old Tavern — the first such community cleanup day since the Unionville Tavern Preservation Society took ownership of the property in August.
Society president Erin Cicero said the volunteers had a lot to do in a small amount of time.
“We are clearing out 10 years or more of brush and overgrowth today,” she said. “The goal is to get rid of the brush and overgrown bushes that are too close to the building so we can get into the tavern when it comes time for the renovation phase.”
The society is focused on stabilizing the structure, including the roof and porch, before winter.
Madison High School Key Club members worked to transplant maple tree saplings from the grounds. The saplings will be sold next year as a fundraiser for the society, Cicero said.
“We have a 100-year-old maple tree that unfortunately has to be removed,” she said. “The students have been amazing in helping us transplant the tree’s saplings from all over the grounds.”
Volunteers from the Lake County and Ashtabula County Master Gardeners clubs helped identify plants and weeds; coached the high school students in gardening and transplanting; and marked historical plants for further research.
Lake County Master Gardener Pat Gerred said the gardens at the tavern will be a surprise and delight for years to come.
“The gardens here are absolutely inspiring,” Gerred said. “We won’t know what we have until some of the brush is removed, but we know some of these plants go back to the 1800’s. With the brush gone, in the spring we will see bulbs popping up, so each season will be a real surprise.”
Madison High School students grabbed shovels and shears to clear out overbrush and underbrush as they cut through years of vines and roots to maintain the legacy of the tavern’s fated tree.
Samantha Parmertor, 15, said she can see how beautiful the tavern once was.
“Everyone remembers how beautiful the tavern was, and today is a great opportunity to make it pretty again,” she said.
Taylor Starke, 15, was too little to remember her only connection to the tavern — her first communion reception was held at the restaurant years ago.
Macie Miechowicz, 15, said her grandmother and great-grandmother both worked at the tavern.
“It’s great to have a family connection to this place,” she said.
Angel Randall, 15, said she wants to see the inside of the historic building.
“I heard it was haunted,” she said. “But also that it’s really beautiful inside. Working here today kind of gets us closer to being able to see the inside. I know that would mean a lot to a lot of people.”
Cicero said the cleanup day is a big step toward a big dream.
“The vision for the tavern has always been a vision of community involvement,” she said. “People have been asking for years about how to help. Today gives the community that opportunity. Today takes that step toward the tavern being a place and a mission for the community.”