Horseshoe Lake

In 1852, the North Union Shakers dammed Doan Brook for the second time, generating power for a new woolen mill and creating what would later become known as Horseshoe Lake. The new dam symbolized the continued growth of the North Union community, which was founded in 1822. The Shakers had previously dammed the Doan Brook at a spot further west to power a saw mill, creating Lower Shaker Lake in the process. In addition to operating these mills, the Shakers farmed, raised cattle, and manufactured small items such as brooms, barrels, and clothespins. They sold their wares and foodstuffs to Cleveland residents and neighboring farmers. By the early 1850s, the North Union Shakers were at their peak, with over 300 members spread across three different settlements. The next thirty years would witness the decline of the community, however.

The numbers of North Union Shakers steadily dwindled in the years following the Civil War, as elderly members passed away and new converts proved hard to find. Strict Shaker religious practices (including a strict vow of celibacy) and the communal nature of Shaker living did not appeal to the generation coming of age after the Civil War. Nor could the hand-made items the Shakers crafted compete with the cheaper mass produced goods flooding American markets at this time. Not only was the North Union community losing members, it was also losing money.

The North Union Shakers disbanded in 1889. The 20 or so remaining members, most of whom were elderly, moved to other Shaker communities. Although the Shakers eventually left northeast Ohio, the lakes they created to power their mills remained. In 1896, Horseshoe Lake was part of the 279 acres of parkland donated to the City of Cleveland by the Buffalo real estate company that had purchased the old Shaker lands. The new parkland followed the path of Doan Brook, connecting with Ambler Park, Wade Park, Rockefeller Park, and Gordon Park to create a nearly continuous stretch of parks from Shaker Heights to Lake Erie.

In the 1930s, workers with the New Deal's Works Progress Administration (WPA) landscaped the area, turning it from "a pile of mud and rocks" into Horseshoe Lake Park. The City of Shaker Heights spent nearly a million dollars to renovate the park in 2004, adding new playground equipment and an elevated boardwalk that winds its way through wetlands. The renovations were completed in 2007.

More recently, the dam has been the subject of controversy. In 2018 the Ohio Department of Natural Resources discovered a sinkhole along the dam, leading to the decision to drain Horseshoe Lake and conduct an assessment of the dam's condition the following year. In 2021 the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District informed the cities of Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights that in light of minimal flood-control benefits, the risk of dam failure, and the high cost of rebuilding the dam, removal of the Horseshoe Lake Dam should be given close consideration. Preservation-minded citizens, however, have urged that the lake's historical value needs to be considered before abandoning the 170-year-old lake. For now, the lake's fate hangs in the balance.

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