A Lyndonville estate opens to the public

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 16 August 2013 at 12:00 am

Robin Hill Nature Preserve features sandstone home, 250 varieties of trees

Photo by Tom Rivers

Photo by Tom Rivers – Doug Pratt has returned to the nature preserve and sandstone home built by his grandparents from 1948 to 1952 on Platten Road in Lyndonville. Pratt has created a foundation for the nature preserve.

Photo by Tom Rivers

LYNDONVILLE – When he was a kid, Jerome Pawlak remembers William Smith leading Boy Scouts through a 45-acre nature preserve in Lyndonville.

Smith would stop and take photographs along the way. He was particularly enamored with mushrooms. But he also loved birds, swans, trees and Medina sandstone.

Smith, owner of a canning factory in Lyndonville, built a nature preserve with 450 varieties of trees at his property on Platten Road. In 1948, he and his wife Mary began work on a Medina sandstone home, doing much of the work themselves with some help from family and employees at the canning factory. It took several years to build the house. It remains a cherished site in the community.

But until recently, few people set foot on the grounds. That is changing now that the Smiths’ grandson, Doug Pratt, has returned to the community. He continues to spend time in Virginia, but Pratt wants to live full-time in the house where he spent his childhood.

“I love it,” Pratt said. “I feel we have something special here and we need to share it.”

Photo courtesy of Doug Pratt – William Smith, right, was beloved in Lyndonville for his enthusiasm in showing off a 45-acre nature preserve. This photo shows him giving one of the tours. William and his wife Mary kept swans. Many Lyndonville youths from two generations ago grew up feeding the swans.

On Thursday, Pratt opened the property to the Orleans County Chamber of Commerce for a “Mix and Mingle.” Pawlak, owner of the Save-A-Lot stores in Albion and Holley, was eager to have a chance to see the property.

He remembers the Smiths as very gracious hosts, eager to show the property to people who often showed up unannounced at the door.

“They were wonderful people,” Pawlak recalled. “They were very hospitable people.”

Pawlak hadn’t been inside the house in about 40 years until Thursday. It is largely unchanged, he said.

Pawlak was a Boy Scout growing up in Lyndonville and the Smiths welcomed Scouts to use their pond for fishing derbies. Scouts helped clear walking trails. Many Lyndonville residents have fond memories of feeding the swans at Smith’s Pond.

Pratt, a 1974 graduate of Lyndonville, lived in the Midwest for six years and then the past 20 years in northern Virginia. He is planning to move back full-time to Lyndonville. In his travels he said he has never encountered a place like his grandparents’ home. William and Mary Smith created the site after their daughter Lucille died from Scarlet Fever at age 19. They named it Robin Hill.

Photo by Tom Rivers – William and Mary Smith created a nature preserve on their property with 250 varieties of trees that still survive at the site. William Smith planted a variety of trees to attract birds to the property.

Pratt worked with family to establish the Robin Hill Foundation with an educational mission. He is reaching out to colleges, offering the site for research and observation. Many of the trees and plants are rare and exotic, and they attract numerous varieties of birds.

“I’m looking for ideas,” Pratt said about uses for the property. “I want to develop more educational things here. Granddad created something unique here.”

The site has already been used for weddings. Pratt said the property may need a visitor center to help explain all the natural resources.

While Pratt spoke from his office on Thursday evening, two humming birds were a couple feet away, outside at a bird feeder. Pratt marveled at the natural wonders that are so accessible at the site.

He has worked in the hobbying industry, writing books and creating kits about model rockets and other hobbies. He was an editor for the Model Retailer magazine. Lately, he has been in demand as a narrator for audio books. He will soon narrate a lengthy book on the War of 1812 – “The Forgotten Conflict.”

Robin Hill is a perfect work area for Pratt. The building with thick stone walls and the nature preserve provide a quiet work space for audio recording. And Pratt said if he needs to feel inspired, he only has to look out the window or take a short walk through the woods.

Photo by Tom Rivers

Photo by Tom Rivers