A Brief History of Cleveland Heights

A Brief History of Cleveland Heights

Like all cities, Cleveland Heights has centuries of vibrant history. Long before Patrick Calhoun (with a substantial loan from John D. Rockefeller, Sr.) created one of Cleveland’s first “garden suburbs,” our community was home to native American tribes such as the Erie and Seneca. In the late-18th and early-19th centuries, pioneers established settlements in the area of Mayfield and Superior Roads. Cyrus and Darius Ford raised silkworms and aided runaway slaves. Peter Rush and his son Mathias put through Noble and Yellowstone Roads. The Shakers ran a broom factory near Lee Road, a grist mill at Coventry Road and Fairmount Boulevard, and stone quarries around North Park Boulevard and Grandview Roads.

By the mid-1800s, the area that was to become Cleveland Heights was a thriving farm community whose lands were originally part of East Cleveland, Euclid, Newburgh, and Warrensville townships. Large lots were owned and worked by families whose names are immortalized in the streets we travel regularly: Silsby, Lee, Taylor, Quilliams, Antisdale, and many others. After the Civil War, Orville Dean opened his dairy. John Peter Preyer, an early occupant of our suburb’s oldest surviving house (14299 Superior Road, ca. 1825), operated vineyards in the Superior/Mayfield area and employed Italian immigrants from the newly established “Little Italy.” Dr. Nathan Ambler ran a healing “spa” in what is now the Harcourt/Chestnut Hills area. And Doctor Jason Streator operated a horse-racing track at the corner of what is now Euclid Heights Boulevard and Edgehill Road.

In 1890 or 1891, however, a New York cotton and railroad magnate, with a few hours to spare before returning home, visited the new Garfield Monument in Lake View Cemetery (see the article on Lake View Cemetery¬† in “Historic Places”). Ascending the hill, he was struck by the vision of a recreated English village to which wealthy Clevelanders could escape from the relentless encroachment of an expanding Cleveland. Millionaires’ Row and other wealthy neighborhoods in the central city had already peaked, and he recognized the demand that would exist for just such a residential retreat. Thus Patrick Calhoun, grandson of Vice President John C. Calhoun, created the Euclid Heights subdivision which was north of Cedar Road and west of Coventry Road. This early first vestige of Cleveland Heights featured winding bucolic streets reminiscent of the English countryside: Derbyshire, Berkshire, Lancashire, Hampshire, etc. Other early developments included Mayfield Heights (east of Coventry) and Ambler Heights (between Cedar Road and North Park Boulevard). Following slightly later were Euclid Golf, (at the western end of Fairmount Boulevard) and “Shaker Heights” (bounded roughly by North Park Boulevard, Coventry Road, Fairfax Road, and Ashton Road).

Spurred by Calhoun’s vision, as well as John D. Rockefeller’s money and the migration of dozens of “leading” Cleveland families, Cleveland Heights was established as a village in 1903. At that time, the village had a population of 1500. In 1921 Cleveland Heights was incorporated as a city. Like neighboring Shaker Heights, Cleveland Heights was initially a “streetcar suburb” whose growth followed the major rail routes along Cedar and Mayfied Roads, and Euclid Heights and Fairmount Boulevards. The rails also dictated the location of Cleveland Heights’ first shopping districts at Fairmount and Cedar, and along Coventry Road from Euclid Heights to Mayfield.

Soon after incorporation, Cleveland Heights established a volunteer fire department and a public school system, which began in the old East Cleveland District School on Superior Road and Euclid Heights Boulevard. (Built in 1882, this building is the anticipated future home of the Cleveland Heights Historical Society). The village’s first (four-room, brick) high school opened in 1903 on Lee Road east of Euclid Heights Boulevard, and the first public library (inside Coventry School) in 1911. In 1915, a police department was established, with Lorenzo Brockway as chief. A Georgian Revival city hall was built in 1923. It was demolished in 1986 when a new facility was built at Severance Town Center. For 32 years (from 1914-1946) Frank Cain served as mayor. The houses in which he lived still stand at 1769 Radnor and 1590 Compton Roads.

In 1916, the city passed a bond issue to purchase parkland. Today Cleveland Heights has 135 acres of parks, including Forest Hill (donated by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., in 1938), Cain Park (created by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s), Cumberland Park (developed in 1916 under the supervision of world-famous landscape architect A.D. Taylor), and Denison Park. Cleveland Heights is also home to part of Shaker Lakes and Caledonia Parks.

In 1914 and 1915, the unsold lots in the Euclid Heights development (most of which were at the eastern end) defaulted to the Cleveland Trust Company and were sold at a sheriff sale. These properties had been slated for additional occupation by migrating Cleveland “gentry,” but instead, they were sold in smaller, subdivided portions. This explains why most of the city’s largest residences (those developed in the 1890s and early 1900s) are located near its western border. Financial problems (a.k.a., the Depression) are also behind the inability of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., to realize his dream of building approximately 600 Norman-style homes in the 1-square mile area of East Cleveland and Cleveland Heights bounded roughly by Lee, Mayfield, North Taylor, and Brewster Roads. Instead 81 Rockefeller homes exist in the area, interspersed with colonials from the 1930s and 1940s, and modern, attractive ranch-style dwellings built primarily in the 1950s.

Reference sources for this article include “In Our Day,” published by the Cleveland Heights Community Congress, “The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History,” published by Indiana University Press, 1987, and the “Cleveland Heights Landmark Register,” produced by the Department of Planning and Development, City of Cleveland Heights.