Filed Under Parks

Griffithsburg

The scenic Quarry Park Picnic Area in South Chagrin Reservation masks the history of a small quarrying town that once thrived in the region, but clues to its hidden past can still be found if one knows where to explore.

The Quarry Rock Picnic Area in South Chagrin Reservation invites visitors to envision an era when small bands of pioneer men, women, and children forged a new life in the Western Reserve. Situated along the bank of the Chagrin River's Aurora Branch, the peaceful retreat masks a history of industry and commerce. The land that was once home to the town of Griffithsburg has been reclaimed by time and nature. While traces of the ghosted town have all but disappeared, clues to a hidden past lay quietly beneath the cover of hemlock and oak trees.

The lost town of Griffithsburg was born from the imagination of land speculators seeking to capitalize on opportunities offered by the Chagrin River. With the Aurora Branch dropping sixty feet from its upland headwaters in a series of rapids, the river offered drainage for agriculture and a potential source of waterpower. Previously known as Pleasant Hill, the area's first settlers of European descent dated back to around 1820 and were attracted by the region's potential as farmland. Between 1833 and 1834, General James Griffith along with a small group of investors from Portage County purchased 100 acres of land along the Aurora Branch of the river with ambitions to build a cotton mill. Although these plans were quickly discarded, Griffith moved forward in building his village in the woods. A business district was nestled within the sandstone cliffs and the Chagrin River, located down the hill from Solon Road. Homes were constructed near what is now Liberty Road along the river.

It was a time of land speculation in the Western Reserve. In the broadest of strokes: the territory was reserved by the State of Connecticut, sold to a syndicate to be known as the Connecticut Land Co., unscrupulously negotiated out of Native American hands, surveyed and laid out in small lots for sale. The opening of the Ohio and Erie Canal in 1827 expanded commercial opportunities and promoted economic growth in Cuyahoga County and its surrounds. Land was readily available; many invested in real estate with plans to develop their property and sell at a profit to future settlers. In an era of water and steam power, real estate along rivers and streams proved key to the construction of mills and factories.

One of the first orders of business for General Griffith, and for any new settlement in Ohio during the 1800s, was to construct a sawmill. Looking upstream at the Quarry Rock Picnic Area, its location is now marked only by remnants of a sandstone mill foundation and the small picturesque waterfall. A man-made wooden dam once stretched across the Chagrin's Aurora Branch. Built where the river level dropped to provide additional power, water was diverted through a channel at the highest point near the mill to a waterwheel and emptied back into the river. What are now the calming sounds of water reaching the confluence of sandstone and shale were once accompanied by the rhythmic, thunderous knocking sounds of a water-powered sawmill. As surrounding trees were cut to make way for homes, farms, and businesses, the mill repurposed them into construction materials.

Despite the setback of failed plans to build the cotton mill, Griffithsburg took shape by the mid 1830s. Seeking buyers of his property, General Griffith found an investor in the somewhat famous author and sailor Archibald Robbins. Robbins moved to the tiny town and constructed a building that acted as his home and store. Griffith, exerting his political influence, secured a United States Post Office to be located in Robbins' shop. With no other nearby post offices, residents from surrounding villages found it necessary to make their way into the inaccessible town.

For a brief time, Griffithsburg flourished. Up to twenty families lived in the community, and a survey of the land reflected stores, a blacksmith shop, a school, and a factory. The influx of people to the town's center would soon be diverted, however, as Chagrin Falls opened its own post office in 1838. Soon-after in 1840, Robbins relocated his store and post office to Solon. Both Chagrin Falls and Solon would grow exponentially during the 19th century, while the town of Griffithsburg atrophied into non-existence. Griffith would remain in his town until the early 1850s, when he disappeared from Cuyahoga County tax records.

While marking the beginning-of-the-end for Griffithsburg's commercial center, the quarrying industry remained strong through the end of the century. Of the many natural resources, one that surely caught the eye of Griffith and his cohorts was the abundance and accessibility of Berea sandstone along the Chagrin River. An increased demand for the resilient stone had recently emerged as its value as a high grade building material became evident during the construction of the Ohio and Erie Canal. The fine-grained Berea grit was discovered to make excellent whetstones, millstones, and grindstones. As industry in the region boomed, and cities and towns emerged across the Midwestern landscape, demand for quarried rock from along the Chagrin River grew. By the end of the 19th century, over eighty percent of all grindstones produced in the United States came from Ohio.

Evidence of the quarrying industry can still be seen in the uniform vertical scars etched into the exposed sandstone cliffs along the Aurora Branch of the Chagrin River. Accompanied by the serenity of South Chagrin Reservation, it is easy to lose sight of the brutal and dangerous work revealed by these simple markings. There was no easy way to quarry or transport giant cubicles of stone. Commercial quarries of the early 19th century relied on the simplest of tools; drills, blasting powder, sledge hammers, iron wedges, and rods. Holes were drilled into the stone along the desired breaking point, a small amount of explosive powder was inserted into the holes and detonated, and the stone was manually wrestled away from its ancient home. Systems of pulleys and levers assisted the movement of these burdensome cubes, which would eventually be transported by horse-drawn wagons. In Northeast Ohio, it was common for quarried rock to be tooled or cut into a round shape. These cast-off quarried materials still litter the gorge of the South Chagrin Reservation.

During the second half of the 19th century, the quarrying industry progressively became dependent on access to railroads. A branch line spur of the Chagrin Falls & Southern Railroad was built into the quarry around 1877. The tracks can still be faintly seen along the entrance to the Quarry Rock Picnic Area. While the quarrying industry continued to thrive, it was eventually consolidated and monopolized in Ohio by a few dominant companies by the turn of the century. The Griffithsburg quarry would be abandoned. The Cleveland Metropolitan Park Board took over the grounds by 1930, and began the long process of reforestation. As years progressed, evidence of the Griffithsburg's era of pioneers, commerce and industry faded away.

Images

Blakeslee's Mill, ca. 1870 James Griffiths' sawmill near the intersection of Solon and River Roads was replaced with a new gristmill around 1868. Due to a lack of business, this short-lived effort to revive Griffithsburg failed before the mill machinery could be fully installed. Source: Courtesy of Chagrin Falls Historical Society
Griffithsburg Quarry A final vestige of the failed town, the quarries of Griffithsburg were abandoned by the early 1900s. Reforestation efforts undertaken by the Metropolitan Park Board during the 1930s assisted in masking what was left behind from the once thriving industry, and transforming the grounds into a public park. Source: Courtesy of Solon Historical Society
The Chagrin River The towns of Chagrin Falls, Bentleyville and Griffithsburg were all founded along the Chagrin River in the 1830s. Speculators, such as James Griffiths, were attracted to areas where the speed and volume of its waters could be utilized to develop industry and attract farmers. Pictured above is a home in what is now Bentleyville. Source: Courtesy of Chagrin Falls Historical Society
Deerlick Oil Stone Company Factory, 1909 Organized in 1886, the Deerlick Oil Stone Company used quarried material from Griffithsburg to manufacture their fine-grained whetstones. The company was internationally known for the quality of their oil stone, and was eventually bought out in 1909 by the Carborundum Company. The exploration of whetstone factory ruins in Cleveland Metropolitan Park District's South Chagrin Reservation remained a favorite destination of park visitors and Boy Scouts into the 1950s. Source: Courtesy of Chagrin Falls Historical Society
Deerlick Oil Stone Company The fine-grained Berea sandstone sold by the Deerlick Oil Stone Company was quarried from along the Chagrin River. Oil stones, which were just quality whetstones commonly lubricated with oil, were used to grind and sharpen the edges of steel tools.
Aurora Branch of the Chagrin River Along the Aurora Branch of the Chagrin River, thick layers of Berea grit can be found sitting on top of Bedford shale. The rugged landscape surely provided a scenic backdrop for Griffithsburg, but also limited accessibility to the town. Picture above is near Squaw Rock in the Cleveland Metroparks South Chagrin Reservation. Source: Courtesy of The Jesse Earl Hyde Collection, Case Western Reserve University Department of Geological Sciences
The Hoodlebug A narrow gauge railway was completed in the late 1870s to connect Chagrin Falls and Solon. The railroad was equipped with a small wood burning engine, passenger car, and flat cars. In deference to a long standing rivalry between the towns, financier William "Boss" Hutchings of Chagrin Falls named his railroad the Chagrin Falls and Southern Railroad Company. Solon residents, in turn, bestowed the nickname "The Hoodlebug Railroad" upon the train. A spur line of the railway led into Griffithsburg, providing much needed assistance in the transportation of stone from the whetstone factory and quarries to the Erie Railroad. Remnants of the tracks can still be found near the Quarry Rock Picnic Area. Source: Courtesy of Solon Historical Society
Quarry Off Solon Road Pictured is the stone quarry off of Solon Road, located in what was once Griffithsburg. The quarry was situated on the east bank of the Chagrin River Aurora Branch. The Cleveland Metropolitan Park Board acquired the land in the early 1920s. Source: Courtesy of Chagrin Falls Historical Society
Interurban On Miles Road By the turn of the 20th century, Griffithsburgh had all but disappeared. Its neighboring town of Bentleyville, which would absorb most of the ghosted town's land, had also remained small. The construction of an electric railway line through Bentleyville into Chagrin Falls during the late 1890s helped revive the small manufacturing town as a residential community. Source: Courtesy of Chagrin Falls Historical Society
Bentleyville The town of Bentleyville was Griffithsburg's closest neighbor. Addison Bentley founded the settlement in 1831 at the junction of two branches of the Chagrin River. Neither town grew into the urban center envisioned by their founders, as business and settlers were increasingly drawn to the village of Chagrin Falls during the latter half of the 1800s. The home of Addison Bentley, pictured above, was built in 1832. The colonial mansion was demolished in 1955 to make way for the construction of the Miles-Bentleyville Bridge. Source: Courtesy of Chagrin Falls Historical Society
Grist Mill, ca 1870 During the 1830s, thousands of villages were laid out by real estate speculators. Following the dissolution of the Second Bank of the United States in 1832, a glut of new banks and investment companies emerged that were more than willing to finance such enterprises. The panic of 1837, and a five year recession that followed, resulted in the failure of many of these communities. While Griffithsburg survived, growth of the village following the 1830s was limited in part due to its inaccessible location. Source: Courtesy of Chagrin Falls Historical Society

Location

Metadata

Richard Raponi, “Griffithsburg,” Cleveland Historical, accessed August 13, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/670.