SWANTON — Steve Coleman, the new owner of Griffin Hines Farm, said he knows rumors have been swirling about the legendary blues club near Swanton since his father, Henry Griffin, died more than a year ago.
“I believe everybody has been asking the same question: ‘Will the place continue?’ And the answer is yes,” he said.
PHOTO GALLERY: Hines Farm got the blues
VIDEO: More about the Griffin Hines Farm blues club, length 9 min.
Not only is Mr. Coleman, 36, carrying the weight of his father’s legacy, he is trying to preserve an iconic piece of local black history.
“My father is the first thing you see on the new Web site,” he said. The heading on the site griffinhinesfarm.com reads: “The Blues are Back in Town.”
From the late 1930s until the early 1970s, the sprawling 32-acre farm, with an open-air juke joint and enclosed night club, regularly attracted hundreds and sometimes thousands of African-Americans with blues and rhythm and blues bands.
“The Hines Farm Blues Club is really a jewel for not only northwest Ohio, but also for the entire state of Ohio and for the country. It was one of America’s premier blues and rhythm-and-blues clubs in the country in the 1950s and 1960s,” said Matthew Donahue, a professor of pop culture at Bowling Green State University and author of “I’ll Take You There ... An Oral and Photographic History of the Hines Farm Blues Club.”
The biggest names in blues — B.B. King, Bobby Blue Bland, and John Lee Hooker — were featured regularly at Hines Farm. It also gave many local artists a chance to show what they could do, including Big Jack Reynolds, Art and Roman Griswold, and Bobby Smith.
In the 1940s and 50s the farm was also a recreational destination for black families with activities including: motorcycle racing, archery, ice skating, horse racing, miniature golf, and exhibition baseball games featuring teams in the Negro Baseball League.
The original owners, Frank and Sarah Hines, died in the 1970s and Henry Griffin, who grew up near Hines Farm, bought the property in 1978 and patiently worked to restore it over the years.
He continued to host occasional blues concerts in the club, and a yearly blues festival in an adjacent outdoor venue called the Pavilion until his death in January, 2013.
“It is such a historical place in black history and when it was going the past couple years Henry had it going good. You go to Chicago to see some of the top blues players and Henry had those same guys here,” said John Rockwood, a local blues musician and co-owner of Blue Suit Records.
When Mr. Griffin took over the property it had suffered from years of neglect, and ironically when his son received keys to the property in October, after 10 months in probate court, the venue had once again fallen into disrepair.
“It really was a sight to see when I pulled up to this place. The grass was about three or four feet high. When we walked in the first time it was unbelievable,” Mr. Coleman said.
Pieces of the ceiling were on the floor and on table tops, he said, water pipes had burst and fallen through ceiling tiles, the heating system was gone, and the wood-paneled-walls and wood floors were damaged from water and mold.
“I'll tell you this whole place fell apart,” the son said.
Over the past five months Mr. Coleman, his wife, and his mother have spent more than $60,000 fixing the roof and plumbing and hours of elbow grease restoring the club that serves as a bar and restaurant.
“People who saw it told us that we would never bring it back. It was that bad,” said his mother, Madelyn Coleman.
Mr. Coleman said his father drilled into him over the years the importance of keeping the property in the family and about preserving the authenticity of the club and the grounds.
“His favorite phrase was, ‘Keep it original, keep it original, never change anything,’ ” Mr. Coleman said.
“It’s not about money. It’s about keeping his portion of the tradition alive. From a child up he fell in love with this place. I fell in love with this place because of him, and there is nothing that will make me get rid of it unless I’m gone,” he said.
He hopes to reopen the club in the spring with an expanded dining room and the signature menu of ribs, catfish, and barbecue chicken.
He said the first blues show will be in May.
The news that the family is reviving Hines Farm was welcomed by the local blues community.
“We are really excited because we had heard some rumors that they might be reopening, but people had been getting mixed messages about whether it was going to happen or not,” said Cheryl Christy, president of the Black Swamp Blues Society, an organization of about 200 blues enthusiasts.
She said the number of clubs that feature blues music has dwindled in Toledo and she hopes to work with the new owner to bring back the Blues Festival at Hines Farm this summer.
“It’s gonna give us another venue to go to that is steeped in history. Going to Hines Farm and having a show at Hines Farm means something to people,” Ms. Christy said.
“The place is sorely missed and I want to see it come back. It’s important not just as a blues club or a rib joint. It’s a legendary place for both whites and blacks and it needs to be saved,” Mr. Rockwood said.
“It would be a shame for the club to not continue as it is such a unique landmark in reference to Ohio’s cultural history and legacy,” Mr. Donahue said.
Contact Marlene Harris-Taylor Marlene Harris-Taylor at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6091.