Filed Under Agriculture

Huntington Reservation

Today, the Huntington Reservation is known mostly for its beach, leaving visitors unaware of the rich history of the land beneath their sand filled shoes. However, it is possible for one to stand on the Lake Erie shore and imagine Native Americans holding powwows inside mammoth sycamore trees, or bison strolling along the Indian path that would later become Lake Road. Or perhaps one can imagine standing in the orchards and vineyards of Bay Village's earliest pioneers, or hearing the echoes of industrialist John Huntington's steam engine pumping water from Lake Erie to irrigate his hobby farm and bring drinking water into his stately summer home.

This 100-acre chunk of Lake Erie shoreline in Bay Village truly has a deep and influential history that extends far back beyond its purchase by the Cleveland Metroparks in 1925 for $500,000. For thousands of years prior to European arrival in the New World, it was part of an attractive hunting ground for Native Americans. The area became largely empty in the century prior to the Revolutionary War, however, after inter-tribal wars over control of the lucrative trade in beaver pelts forced many natives to leave. Claiming the area south of Lake Erie through creative cartography, Connecticut surveyors, most famously Moses Cleaveland, began parceling land along the south shore of Lake Erie in 1796. The land that became Bay Village was surveyed and laid out in 1806, by which point all Indian claims in the area had been extinguished. Two land speculators soon purchased the empty township and named it after their home town of Dover, Connecticut. The Lake Erie microclimate provided excellent growing conditions for orchards and vineyards for early settlers once the land near the shore was cleared of massive 17-foot circumference sycamore trees. Pioneers began settling and farming fruit in Dover Township around 1810.

In 1880, the most desirable 100 acres of the Dover Township shoreline became a summer retreat and hobby farm for John Huntington (1832-1893), a wealthy Cleveland industrialist with ties to John Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company. In addition to building a fine house on the land, Huntington, an inventor and avid tinkerer, constructed a water tower and maintained a steam pump system to irrigate his orchards and gardens. He built several other structures on his property, a few of which remain standing today.

The Cleveland Metroparks purchased Huntington's estate in 1925, allowing the public to visit and contemplate the past historical eras in which this spot of lakeshore once played a part, or to just enjoy a cool Lake Erie breeze on a hot summer day.

Audio

"A Hobby Farmer" Wendy Weirich, a naturalist with the Cleveland Metroparks, describes John Huntington's rise to prominence and talks about his role as a "hobby farmer" on his North Dover estate. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
"Tinkering" at Home and in the City Wendy Weirich, a naturalist with the Cleveland Metroparks, talks about the water system that John Huntington built on his summer estate and also describes some of the projects he worked on while serving on the Cleveland City Council. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Lakeshore Electric Railway Wendy Weirich, a naturalist with the Cleveland Metroparks, talks about the Lakeshore Electric Railway, which ran between Cleveland and Toledo between 1901-1938. Tall railroad trestles, located at the point where the Lakeshore Electric Railway crossed Porter Creek, still stand in the Huntington Reservation. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Giant Sycamores Wendy Weirich, a naturalist with the Cleveland Metroparks, talks about the huge sycamore trees that once stood on the land that later became the Huntington Reservation. These trees often provided shelter for Native Americans and other early settlers. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

Beach Postcard Of the 22,000 acres of parkland owned by the Cleveland Metroparks, some of the most highly prized are the 100 acres of the Huntington Reservation. With a vision of ringing the grimy industrial city with an "emerald necklace," the Cleveland Metroparks came into existence in 1917. However, by 1920 the Metroparks held only a paltry 109 acres in Rocky River and Big Creek. This was to change. During the 1920s, the Metroparks spent 3.9 million dollars on an additional 9000 acres. The prize acquisition occurred in 1925, when 100 acres of Lake Erie shoreline, the John Huntington Bay Village estate, was purchased for $500,000. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
John Huntington By 1857, English immigrant John Huntington was working in Cleveland as a slate roofer with no indication that he would eventually become one of the most respected and wealthy businessmen in the city. In the 1860s, Huntington solidified his place in the emerging (and highly lucrative) oil refining industry by patenting improvements to heating furnaces, wooden barrel production, and other oil refining methods. John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company bought out the oil refining business Huntington worked at in 1870. Huntington remained involved in the oil industry, and he also went on to own a fleet of lake shipping vessels, became an executive at the Cleveland Stone Company, and served 13 years on the Cleveland City Council. Image courtesy of the Western Reserve Historical Society
Huntington's Cottage By the 1880s, Cleveland was front and center of the American Industrial Revolution, and it was a dusty, grimy, loud, and chaotic city. Huntington, imitating John D. Rockefeller who bought an escape estate (Forest Hills) in what is now Cleveland Heights, sought refuge in the country. To this end, he purchased 100 acres of orchards and vineyards in Dover Township (now Bay Village) where he would spend his summers and spare time acting as a gentleman farmer. Here he built a "cottage" (called so because of the absence of a basement), maintained his own water system, grew native and exotic plants, and bred horses and livestock in a sizable barn. The house seen here was destroyed by fire in the 1920s. Image courtesy of the Western Reserve Historical Society
Lakeshore Electric RR Trestles The Lake Shore Electric Railway, an interurban electric trolley, ran between Cleveland and Detroit from 1901-1938. These concrete pillars carried the railroad over Porter Creek in the Huntington Reservation. The tracks are gone, but the pillars remain, trailing mysteriously through the deep woods.
Water Tower, 1935 Most of the numerous buildings on John Huntington's estate either do no longer exist or have been converted for other uses. Under mysterious circumstances, Huntington's massive cottage burned to the ground in the 1920s. His barns and stables were converted to a playhouse for summer productions. The cozy 2-story home of his caretaker now houses galleries, classrooms, a library, pottery studios and administration offices for BAYarts. Yet Huntington's water system still exists. A red brick pump house (with a sculpted capital "H") is still intact on the shore. Also, the most recognized landmark on the Huntington Reservation, the water tower (not a lighthouse), designed by Huntington to look like an oil derrick, still towers over the property. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
CMA Plaque What does a ridiculously wealthy and successful Cleveland businessman do with his money and power? Thankfully for the Cleveland area, oil baron John Huntington turned to civic duty and philanthropy. During his 13-year tenure on the Cleveland City Council, he was responsible for the creation of the city sewer system, a full time fire department, streamlining the water system, deepening the Cuyahoga, and constructing the Superior Avenue Viaduct. His will created the John Huntington Art & Polytechnic Trust (now called the John Huntington Fund for Education), which currently grants thousands of dollars in scholarships to local students. The most recognizable use of his trust, however, was the generous gift given for the creation of the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1916. This plaque stands at the south entrance to the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Porter Creek, 2011 The goal of the Cleveland Metroparks is to maintain a balance of 20% recreational and 80% nature preserve in all of its facilities. The Huntington Reservation, with its beach and parking facilities, has a 30-70 ratio. However, creating handicap beach access, establishing environmentally friendly parking, and replacing the WPA-era beach house will "green" the facilities. Extensive restoration of the landscape is also being planned. Evasive plant and animal species are to be eliminated along the beach bluffs, through the woods, and in Porter Creek. The re-creation of a beach-maple forest, rehabilitation of the Porter Creek floodplain, and reintroduction of Erie beach grasses along the lakefront will begin to take the 100-acre reservation back to its origins.

Location

Metadata

“Huntington Reservation,” Cleveland Historical, accessed October 4, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/244.