Shaker Heights, Ohio

Located on a high plateau just six miles east of downtown Cleveland is the City of Shaker Heights. It began much like Poland, Ohio, being settled by a few families from New England who arrived in the early part of the 19th Century. In 1811 Jacob Russell purchased 475 acres from the Connecticut Land Co. and moved 20 members of his family from Connecticut to Ohio. The Russell family began to build a community along a small stream called Doan Brook in the northwestern portion of Town 7, Range 11. Here is the history of those who followed Jacob Russell and why the name of the settlement along Doan Brook was changed to Shaker Village and later to Shaker Heights.
When Jacob Russell died in 1821, his son, Ralph inherited the land. At that time there were three Shaker Villages in southwest Ohio. Ralph traveled to the largest village called Union Village near Lebanon, Ohio to learn how this religious community was able to grow and prosper. He was converted to Shakerism and returned home to establish a Shaker colony on his land. Many of his family and 80 of his neighbors also converted to a life of celibacy and by 1824 there were three main groups know as the North Family, the Middle Family, and the East Family. Ralph called his colony North Union. It was one of the last Shaker Villages to be established. By 1850, when the number of Believers was at its peak nationally, North Union had about 300 residents, with three mills and a school. Then, as with all celibate communities, their numbers dwindled, and by 1889 North Union was closed and their 1,366 acres of land were sold to real estate developers for $316,000. The remaining Shakers were relocated to colonies in southwestern Ohio. Today all the North Union buildings are gone, but the legacy of the Shakers can be seen in the upper and lower “Shaker” lakes formed when the Shakers dammed Doan Brook to generate water power for their mills.
It was in 1906 that Entrepreneurs O.P. and M.J. Van Sweringen organized a business syndicate in Cleveland and began purchasing the property formerly owned by the Shakers. The Van Sweringen’s idea was to create the first “Garden City” suburbs in the United States. They built beautiful homes, planted trees along wide boulevards, donated land for schools and churches and developed a Rapid Transit System which provided convenient commuting to the Terminal Tower in downtown Cleveland. The Village of Shaker Heights was established in 1911 and incorporated as a city in 1931.
It is interesting to note that the Van Sweringen brothers at the age of 44 and 46 owned all of the railroads entering the City of Cleveland, which included the Lake Erie and Western, Chesapeake and Ohio, and Erie Railroads. It was their planning and money that built the Terminal Tower in downtown Cleveland. For a brief period in 1930 the Terminal Tower was the tallest building in the USA. M. J. died on December 12, 1935 at the age of 54. In 1936 the Van Sweringen Company filed for bankruptcy and that November O.P died from a heart attack following a minor train wreck in Hoboken, N. J. He was just 57, but in his short life, he and his brother put Shaker Heights on the map.

Editor’s Comments:
There is a Shaker Museum located across the street from the “Upper” lake where much of the history of North Union is preserved. The people of Shaker Heights like to point out that movie star and race car driver Paul Newman was born in their city. The Sweringen brothers are buried in Cleveland’s Lake View Cemetery near President Garfield’s Monument.