Cleveland Museum of Natural History

From Humble Shack to Venerable Institution

The Ark was a small, two-room frame house located on the northeast side of Public Square. It housed taxidermy ranging from birds to reptiles and mammals, which led to its being called the Ark in reference to the biblical story of saving the world's fauna from the great flood. The Arkites, as the group of 26 young men who frequented the Ark came to be known, were led by William Case, mayor of Cleveland from 1850 to 1851, and his brother Leonard Case Jr. Their father Leonard Case Sr. had started the Ark in the 1830s as a place to relax. After buying the property, he let his two sons take charge of the building and began to fade from popular society because of health issues. William Case worked in his father's companies but spent much of his time at the Ark. The Ark is important because there were no museums in Cleveland during this time. The Arkites collected, researched, and discussed findings with each other. As time passed, other societies were interested in representing Cleveland history and the Arkites were the most knowledgeable within the city. They began to present papers and work with others to curate and show their research. William Case's taxidermy bird collection is still on display in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History (CMNH) today.

CMNH considers the Ark as a part of its founding because of the work that was done by the Arkites. The Ark moved into adjacent Case Hall in 1876 after its building was demolished to build a new post office. Many other societies also used Case Hall, including the Kirtland Society, whose leader Jared Kirtland was also an Arkite. Case Hall lasted until 1916, when it too gave way to the new Cleveland Public Library.

When the Natural History Museum was established in 1920, it was located in the Lennox Building at Euclid Avenue and East 9th Street. The museum first moved down Euclid Avenue onto Millionaires Row in the Leonard Hanna Mansion. The mansion held many exhibits but most notably many of them were from the original Arkites, including William Case's birds as well as many exhibits donated by the Kirtland Society in 1920. As the museum began to gather more and more collections, such as Jeptha Wade II's precious stone collection and discoveries of new animals and plants from the a safari that the museum had sponsored in Kenya in 1930, eventually it either had to expand or find a larger building.

The choice was made for the museum when the Hanna mansion was in the path of a planned highway. In 1958 the museum moved to Wade Park, where it is still located today. Since that time, the museum has enjoyed many achievements. In 1971 the CMNH sponsored a team of zoologists to breed bald eagles, which were threatened with extinction and had only a handful of working nests. They were the first team ever to artificially inseminate a bald eagle and repopulated the area and others with the national bird.

The CMNH's accomplishments built upon a firm foundation. The Arkites, with the Case family at its center, set the stage for this venerable institution in both spirit and collections. Thus, as this nationally significant museum looks toward its official centennial, it must also cast a glance back-more than 80 years before its official inception-to the humble shack that started it all.

Images

Happy the Haplocanthosaurus, ca. 1977

Happy the Haplocanthosaurus, ca. 1977

The Haplocanthosaurus Delfi is the only one of its kind complete enough to showcase. The Cleveland Museum of Natural History was the first to show it in 1959. It was first displayed on its side but was positioned straight a few years later. | Source: Cleveland Museum of Natural History View File Details Page

The Ark, ca. 1835

The Ark, ca. 1835

This is the only known image of The Ark, the Public Square gathering place recognized as the first natural history institution in Cleveland. It was erected on the northeast corner of the square around 1830 as part of Leonard Case Sr.'s homestead. Case's two sons hosted meetings there that included discussions about the latest scientific findings and inspections of animal specimens and other curiosities. The Ark was demolished in 1875. | Source: Cleveland Museum of Natural History View File Details Page

Case Hall, 1876

Case Hall, 1876

Case Hall was completed in 1865. When the Ark's frame house was torn down in 1875 to build a new federal building on the northeast side of Public Square, the Arkites moved next door to Case Hall. It stood until 1902 when it too was demolished (along with the federal building) to construct a new Post Office as part of the Group Plan. | Source: William Payne, Cleveland Illustrated (Cleveland: Fairbanks and Benedict, 1876) View File Details Page

Hanna Mansion

Hanna Mansion

The Hanna Mansion on Euclid Avenue was home to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History from the 1920s to 1950s, when it was demolished for the construction of the Innerbelt Freeway. | Source: Cleveland Museum of Natural History View File Details Page

Balto and Quackenbush Twins, 1925

Balto and Quackenbush Twins, 1925

Balto, the sled dog who became a national hero in 1925 as part of the team that transported diphtheria serum to Nome, Alaska, poses for a picture with the vaudeville act The Quackenbush Twins. Balto's remains were donated to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in 1933 after his death at Cleveland's Brookside Zoo. | Source: Cleveland Museum of Natural History View File Details Page

Relocation, ca. 1958

Relocation, ca. 1958

Cars filled with museum artifacts move down Euclid Avenue on one of many trips made during the museum's relocation from the Hanna Mansion to University Circle. The Junior League of Cleveland and the Women's Society coordinated the move. The new building created an opportunity for curating the exhibits in chronological order rather than by classifications like mammals. | Source: Cleveland Museum of Natural History View File Details Page

Bald Eagle Hatchling

Bald Eagle Hatchling

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History was the first institution to breed bald eagles. Successfully hatching five eagles in captivity with the help of this program they were responsible for revitalizing the population of bald eagles. | Source: Cleveland Museum of Natural History View File Details Page

New Telescope, 1960

New Telescope, 1960

Inspecting the museum's new observatory telescope. | Source: Cleveland Museum of Natural History View File Details Page

Fish Fossil

Fish Fossil

This Dunkleosteus fossil is just one of many such prehistoric fish fossils in the museum's collection. | Source: Cleveland Museum of Natural History View File Details Page

Audio

The Arkites

Harvey Webster of the Natural History Museum discusses the Museum's roots in Public Square View File Details Page

Finding Lucy

Harvey Webster of the Natural History Museum recounts the discovery of Lucy View File Details Page

The Balto Story

Harvey Webster of the Natural History Museum tells the story of Balto, the sled dog who inspired Alaska's Iditarod Race View File Details Page

CMNH's Euclid Avenue Roots

Harvey Webster of the Natural History Museum discusses the Museum's Historic connection to Euclid Avenue View File Details Page

Happy The Haplocanthosaurus

Harvey Webster of the Natural History Museum recounts the story of Happy, the Haplocanthosaurus View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Emily Splain, “Cleveland Museum of Natural History,” Cleveland Historical, accessed April 23, 2017, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/41.
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