Filed Under Suburbs

The Shaker Lakes Trolley

"The Earlier 'Rapid' Trip Downtown"

Many residents of Shaker Heights know that the Van Sweringen brothers built the Shaker Rapid Transit in the early twentieth century to provide Shaker residents with quick and efficient public transportation service between their suburb and downtown Cleveland. Probably considerably fewer, however, know that more than a decade before the Shaker Rapid ran its first trains from Shaker to downtown Cleveland on April 20, 1920, the Van Sweringens had already created a public transportation system for Shaker Heights. That public transportation system, which also transported Shaker residents to and from downtown Cleveland, was the Shaker Lakes trolley line.

The story of the Shaker Lakes trolley line is the story of how the Van Sweringen brothers, unlike other Cleveland area developers of the early twentieth century, were able to successfully develop the 1300 acres of land in East Cleveland, Cleveland Heights, and Shaker Heights that was formerly the site of a colony of the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearance, more commonly known as the Shakers. In 1889, the Shakers dissolved this colony and the land was sold. During the period 1892-1906, several local and out-of-state groups attempted to develop the land for single-family residential subdivisions. All failed, except the Van Sweringen brothers who succeeded largely because they were able to build a transportation system along Fairmount Boulevard that persuaded wealthy Clevelanders to move from Cleveland to Shaker Heights.

The story of the Van Sweringens' first transportation system begins In 1906, when the brothers, following the development model earlier employed by Patrick Calhoun in the latter's development of Euclid Heights, persuaded the Cleveland Electric Railway Company to extend its Euclid Heights trolley line along Fairmount Boulevard from Cedar Road to Lee Road, a distance of approximately two miles. In this venture, the Van Sweringens also employed the F.A. Pease Engineering Company to design an extension of Fairmount Boulevard. Three years earlier, in 1903, the Pease firm had designed the conversion of Fairmount Boulevard in Euclid Heights from a single lane dirt road into a grassy divided highway, making it, according to several sources, the first such highway in the United States.

By 1907, the Van Sweringens had completed construction of the Fairmount Boulevard extension and the Cleveland Electric Railway had laid trolley tracks on the Boulevard all the way to Lee Road. Just one year later, the Shaker Heights Land Improvement Company, which was controlled by the Van Swerigens, was already building and selling upper class housing on Fairmount Boulevard.

The Shaker Heights trolley line was the the fastest public transportation route from Shaker Heights to downtown Cleveland from 1907 until 1920. This was a critical period for the development of Shaker Heights. During this time, the garden suburb grew from a population of less than 200 to one of approximately 1,500 residents--a more than 700 percent increase in population.

For residents who boarded the trolley at its terminus at Fairmount Boulevard and Lee Road, the trolley trip to downtown Cleveland took an average of 45 minutes. When the Shaker Rapid opened in 1920, the trip to downtown Cleveland was significantly reduced. When the line was completed, travel time was only about fifteen minutes. While the Shaker Rapid supplanted the Shaker Lakes Line as the quickest public transportation route to downtown Cleveland, Shaker Heights would not have developed when it did and as it did were it not the vision of the Van Sweringens and the Shaker Lakes trolley line.

Audio

A Shaker Lane Clara Taplan Rankin describes a line of trees in the back of her family's Fairmount Boulevard property - a vestige of a Shaker-built lane. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
"We Walked" Clara Taplan Rankin remembers Sunday afternoon walks with her family in the 1920s to visit friends and relatives. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
The Chauffeur's Quarters Clara Taplan Rankin relates a story about her family's chauffeur, who lived in the garage behind her Fairmount Boulevard home. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Italian Women and the Ice Man Clara Taplan Rankin tells about Italian women who asked to pick dandelion greens from her family's garden and of the ice man who came regularly. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

Expanding Public Transportation In this 1919 map of Shaker Heights prepared for the Van Sweringens by the F. A. Pease Engineering Co., the relationship between the construction of the two lines of the new Shaker Rapid Transit and the proposed expansion of residential development in the Shaker Lakes Park area is clearly observable. Source: Shaker Historical Society
A New and Faster Way Downtown In this 1913 map prepared for the Van Sweringens by the F. A. Pease Engineering Company, the "Old Way" of traveling to downtown Cleveland along the Shaker Lakes Line is compared to the "New Way" along the Shaker Rapid Transit Line. The new Shaker Rapid line did not begin running trains to and from downtown Cleveland until 1920. Source: Shaker Historical Society
New Housing on Fairmount Boulevard In this advertisement which appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on April 28, 1908, the Shaker Heights Improvement Co., a Van Sweringen corporation, offered upscale housing for sale on Fairmount Boulevard. The residential development of Fairmount Boulevard and the introduction of the Shaker Lakes trolley line into the area was critical to the success of the Van Sweringens' vision of creating a garden suburb in the Heights.  Source: Cleveland Public Library, Newspaper archives
Lee Road at Fairmount Road, 1904 This photograph presents the view that a traveler proceeding south on Lee Road would have had of the intersection of Fairmount Boulevard and Lee Road in 1904. Just three years later, the Van Sweringens had developed this section of Fairmount Boulevard into a divided highway and had arranged for trolley line service along Fairmount Boulevard all the way to this intersection at Lee Road. Source: Shaker Historical Society
Frederick Alwood Pease (1873-1955) F. A. Pease was the engineer who, in 1903, redesigned Fairmount Road into Fairmount Boulevard, the first divided highway in the United States. Pease began working for the Van Sweringen brothers in 1904 when the two young real estate developers began to envision a garden suburb on the land upon which the Shaker colony was formerly located. In 1906, the Pease Engineering firm designed the extension of Fairmount Boulevard to Lee Road. Source: Shaker Historical Society
Patrick Calhoun (1856-1943) Patrick Calhoun, a grandson of United States Vice-President John C. Calhoun, was the pioneer developer of Euclid Heights, now a part of the City of Cleveland Heights. When the Van Sweringen brothers in 1906 arranged for the Cleveland Electric Railway Co. to provide trolley line service to Shaker Heights along Fairmount Boulevard, they followed the same transportation model that Calhoun had successfully employed in his 1890s residential development of Euclid Heights. Source: Cleveland Heights Historical Society
Shaker Lakes Line In this 1913 photo, the Shaker Lakes trolley line is shown traveling along an undeveloped stretch of Fairmount Boulevard. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

Location

Metadata

Jim Dubelko, “The Shaker Lakes Trolley,” Cleveland Historical, accessed November 29, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/418.