Most People Don't Know How These 6 Towns In Greater Cleveland Got Their Start
There’s a running gag amongst Clevelanders that our city’s founder, Moses Cleaveland, noped out of the area after he and his team of surveyors mapped it out. As much as we love to laugh about it, Cleveland history isn’t quite so mysterious to residents. We know the city was founded in 1796 — seven years before Ohio became a state — and that
Lorenzo Carter was the area’s first permanent resident. However, the history of many Greater Cleveland towns is a bit more esoteric… but it’s also, arguably, much more fascinating. Today, we’re going to take a look at a handful of Greater Cleveland communities with a fascinating story to tell. Buckle up, because this trip through time just might sweep you off your feet.
1. Shaker Heights
Today, Shaker Heights is full of charm. Its history as a streetcar suburb is evident throughout the city, but the reason for its founding is a bit less obvious... outside of the name, that is. You see,
Shaker Heights was founded by the Shakers
, also known as the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing. This religious group from England got its nickname from its passionate, movement-heavy worship services. They were pacifists, egalitarian, and had a preference for simple lifestyles, which often led them to form their own communities.
There were once a number of Shaker communities throughout the U.S., and the local Cleveland community would have felt pretty familiar to practitioners of the era. In 1822, circa 80 people settled on 1,000 acres of donated land to build a simple communal space. In the ensuing decades, hundreds more joined their ranks. Of course, nothing gold can stay... the Shakers practiced celibacy, so as their numbers dwindled, their local legacy faded into mere legend. And this isn't just a local phenomenon... today, there's only one Shaker settlement in the United States, and it boasted just three residents as of 2021.
2. Cleveland Heights
There's no shortage of
things to do in Cleveland Heights
today, though its beginnings were surprisingly modest. You might not believe this if you know that the community was once home to the likes of John D. Rockefeller and Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, but it actually was a bit late to the game (compared to most communities in Northeast Ohio, that is). While early settlers and farmers utilized the area's natural resources as early as the 1820s, its bluestone quarries weren't quite enough to push the settlement to official city status.
In 1903, Cleveland Heights was incorporated as a village. This was just eight years after
, a developer funded by Rockefeller himself, set out to create something of a luxury suburb for wealthy folk. The vision was to create a local version of the garden city movement trend — an English urban planning method that heavily relied on public green space. In 1916, five years before the community became a city, a 135-acre park system was unveiled. This only grew in 1938 when John D. Rockefeller donated his summer estate to the community.
3. Bay Village
Once upon a time, modern day Bay Village (which is perhaps best known for
) hosted a trail that was highly important to local indigenous tribes. Today, Lake Road follows that same path, allowing locals to take a journey that humans have followed for generations. Of course, Bay Village first attracted European settlers just a handful of years after Cleveland was founded.
The first settler in the area was
, who arrived around 1810. Cahoon established the very first gristmill west of the Cuyahoga River, but that wasn't all the family contributed to the area! The Cahoon family barn, built around 1882, was converted into a community center that is still standing today. When
Ida Marie Cahoon
, the last member of the founding family, passed away, she left the family home and 115 acres to the city to cement her family's local legacy. As the area grew in popularity following the Civil War, part-time and year-round residents flooded into the area to establish summer cottages or to put down permanent roots. The population steadily grew, and the community was officially incorporated as a city on January 1, 1950.
With features like
Berea Falls Scenic Overlook
, Berea is a bit of a nature lover's paradise. Surely, the first settlers thought the same when they arrived in the area back in 1809. The early settlers were modest people, but, ironically, everything changed when the Connecticut Methodists moved in around 1836. One of those new arrivals, John Baldwin,
named the town by winning a coin flip
. (He called heads, but had tails won, the community would be called Tabor today.)
Baldwin would go on to form what we know today as Baldwin-Wallace College, but that wasn't the innovation that put Berea on the map, so to speak. Instead, his Baldwin Quarry Co. and their cutting-edge grindstones made Berea sandstone world-famous. These grindstones were coveted for sharpening tools in various industries, and they only fell out of fashion when Carborundum grinding wheels replaced them in the 1940s. This was just a decade after Berea was incorporated as a city in 1930.
is ridiculously charming. However, when the first settlers arrived in 1813, they didn't even grace their lovely community with a name. It was known as
until it was incorporated as a village in 1823. Like much of the area, Connecticut natives helped the community find its identity, and it was actually named for a town in Connecticut. However, its natural resources helped the burgeoning town find its footing.
Like many communities in the area, early industry in Bedford was dependent on water power. Tinker's Creek attracted business-minded folk, which resulted in the birth of companies like the
Taylor Chair Company
, which was the oldest company in the nation still owned by the same family until it closed in 2012. In the decades after its founding, Bedford became an abolitionist-centric community and a stop on the Underground Railroad. Things really took off when an actual railroad — the Cleveland & Pittsburgh Railroad — came to the area in the 1850s. Despite all this growth and excitement, Bedford wouldn't be incorporated as a city until 1930.
Today, Westlake is arguably best known for
, the area's best outdoor shopping complex. Despite this delightfully modern stretch of town, the community also boasts a number of historical elements. This is thanks to early settlers
arriving by oxcart
in 1810 and literally paving the way for future settlers when they started clearing land in 1811. The area, which was part of Dover Township at the time, quickly became famous as the
nation's second-largest grape-producing region
The northern portion of Dover Township, Bay Village, broke off in 1901, but the land that would become Westlake remained largely rural throughout the upcoming decades. In 1912, a southern chunk of the township broke off to join North Olmsted, and the remaining town residents were left with a dilemma: there was already a Dover, Ohio in Tuscarawas County. To avoid confusion, locals named their community Westlake in 1940, and it was officially incorporated as a city in 1957.
These Cuyahoga County communities all have a story to tell! If walls could talk, these areas could tell dozens of stories about Ohio’s early days of statehood. While that unfortunately is a mere musing, the history of these Greater Cleveland towns is undeniable and rich.
Love Cleveland history? Check out some
moments from Cleveland’s past that are almost unbelievable.
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