Eric Marotta
| Akron Beacon Journal

The empty, two-story house off Stanford Road in Northfield Center had once been the destination for thrill seekers following the legend of haunted “Helltown,” until the owner had it moved to avoid having it condemned by the county.

Now investigators are attempting to determine the cause of the fire that destroyed the home, which has sat empty since it was moved to Twinsburg Road 13 years ago.

The home, built in 1974 but never completed on its former site a few hundred feet from Brandywine Falls, was the subject of ghostly rumors posted online, and had been said to be the site of a “haunted” school bus.

Its owner, Harry Katzenmeyer, said after moving it in 2007 there was no truth to any of the rumors and added he had suffered thousands of dollars in damage over the years due to trespassers and vandals who “come in from all over at night, dressed in black.”

He could not be reached for comment regarding Tuesday morning’s fire.

Macedonia Fire Lt. Paul Celinski, assistant chief of the department, said at least two motorists driving on Interstate 271 reported seeing flames in the woods off the west side of the highway just before 2 a.m. on Tuesday. It took around 10 minutes for the department to locate the blaze at the remote, rural corner of the township.

He said it took the crew of 10 about 15 minutes to get the fire under control. By the time Northfield Village Fire Department arrived to provide automatic aid, there was nothing left to do, as the structure was completely destroyed.

“It was already into the basement by the time our guys got there,” he said. “At this time it’s ruled as under investigation.”

Celinski said the home was not connected to electric or gas utilities.

The fire is the second in the vicinity in recent years. On March 1, 2019, fire destroyed a barn and outbuilding next door on property also owned by Katzenmeyer. Celinski said the department has determined neither property had been insured.

Celinski said the cause of the 2019 fire was not determined; the record of that incident was unavailable this week as the department’s computer system has suffered a recent malfunction that is being addressed.

He said investigators plan to revisit the 2019 record and interviewed Katzenmeyer Tuesday morning.

Northfield Center Township Zoning Inspector Don Saunders said Tuesday that he had been at the property Jan. 1 and found the home had apparently been vandalized.

“I went out…to check on it and noticed the front door was kicked in and one of the windows was broken,” he said. “We have a new maintenance code now in Northfield Center and we’re going after all these abandoned houses.”

After the home was moved to Twinsburg Road in 2007, Katzenmeyer had been required to build a foundation for the building and make the home fit for habitation.

“He got a permit to put the foundation in and that’s all he ever did … he refused to do anything else,” Saunders said, adding township zoning regulations had not been strong enough to force compliance with “aesthetics.”

“Just because a house isn’t repaired and has windows broken that’s classified as aesthetics,” he explained.

Saunders said he was planning to ask the county health department this week to take action after finding the home unsecured – a condition he said the health department is empowered to correct.

Saunders noted that another home Katzenmeyer owns in the area, at 708 Rehwinkle Road in Sagamore Hills, was recently razed after the township filed a nuisance complaint in Summit County Common Pleas Court. The court’s order allowing the demolition to move forward was issued in November 2019.

Katzenmeyer’s Stanford Road property, where the Twinsburg Road home had once been located, was among hundreds in the Cuyahoga Valley targeted for acquisition in the 1970s by the U.S. Park Service during its drive to create the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area, now a national park.

According to court records, the government paid Katzenmeyer $314,000 for the Stanford Road property after settling its eminent domain claim on the land in 1999. As part of the settlement, the government allowed Katzenmeyer use of the land and ownership of the home for the remainder of his life. He previously said he had not completed the home as it had been under threat of seizure.

Helltown legends arose after homes in the former village of Boston and nearby sat vacant for years following their federal acquisition. Adding to the legend was the proximity of the Krejci Dump Superfund site on Hines Hill Road, where industrial toxic waste had been dumped for years, leading to stories of mutant creatures, including the “Peninsula Python.”

Trespassing incidents at the home’s former location on Stanford Road had become so pervasive that Katzenmeyer had been forced to install a silent alarm in the house, which resulted in “hundreds of arrests,” according to former Summit County Sheriff’s Lt. Shane Barker. Barker previously said trespassing incidents were especially common around Halloween.

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