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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.

Images

Dyeing and Drying Wool, 1876 Dyeing usually comes at the end of the wool processing process. Shaker women hung the wool in the sun after dyeing it to speed drying. Image courtesy of the Shaker Historical Society
Woolen Mill The damming of Doan Brook just east of Lee Road provided power for the woolen mill in this image. The mill was once located at the northeast corner of the intersection of Lee Road and South Park Boulevard. Constructed in the 1850s, it produced wool which the Shakers turned into high-quality stockings, gloves, quilts, yarn, and other clothing items to wear and sell. Image courtesy of the Shaker Historical Society
Horseshoe Lake Dam, 1900 Members of the Hecker family -- who operated a dairy farm nearby on Fairmount Boulevard -- pose in front of the dam at Horseshoe Lake in 1900. The original construction of this dam on Doan Brook in the 1850s provided power for the Shakers' woolen mill and also created Horseshoe Lake. Image courtesy of the Shaker Historical Society
Horseshoe Lake, Ca. 1910 A man pours a drink for a friend at Horseshoe Lake. Image courtesy of the Shaker Historical Society
'Crystal Lake,' 1904 Horseshoe Lake is called 'Crystal Lake' in this image from a 1904 sales brochure published by the Buffalo real estate company that once owned the old North Union Shaker land. The 37-page advertisement was titled "Shaker Heights: ideal home sites: pure air and water, country surroundings, city conveniences, best values in suburban property." It highlighted the natural beauty of the area, attempting to attract wealthy Clevelanders fed up with the polluted and overcrowded big city. A year after this advertisement appeared, the Van Sweringen brothers purchased the entire Shaker property for $1 million dollars. They would go on to develop the land into Shaker Heights. Image courtesy of the Shaker Historical Society
"Shaker Park" is Created, 1896 In 1896, the Buffalo real estate company that owned the old Shaker lands donated 279 acres of it, including Lower and Horseshoe Lakes, to the City of Cleveland. 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. This article announcing the donation appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 1896. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Division of Special Collections.
Center Family Gate Posts, 1930 Shakers lived communally in "families" of up to one hundred unrelated people. The North Union Shaker community's Center Family formed in 1923 and settled along the west side of Lee Road south of its intersection with Shaker Boulevard. The Center Family governed the entire colony (which at its peak consisted of three families and nearly 300 people), managed farming operations, and operated the woolen mill near Horseshoe Lake upon its construction in the 1850s. In this image from 1930, former North Union Shakers Joseph and Alma McGill Stoll and a group of teachers from Fernway School study one of the Center Family's stone gateposts at the southwest corner of Lee Road and Shaker Boulevard. In the background is the first Shaker Heights City Hall, located on Lee Road at the site where the Shaker meeting house used to be. Image courtesy of the Shaker Historical Society
Anti-Freeway Cartoon, 1963 This editorial cartoon appeared in the Sun Press on December 26, 1963 in response to the proposal by the Cuyahoga County Engineer's Office to build freeways through Shaker and Cleveland Heights. The Clark and Lee Freeways would have met at an interchange near where the Nature Center of Shaker Lakes sits today. Horseshoe Lake would have probably been destroyed had the plan proceeded, but a series of protests by local residents (including the founding of the Nature Center in 1966) ultimately prevented the freeways from being built. Image courtesy of the Shaker Historical Society
"Hiawatha" at Horseshoe Lake In June 1915, spectators came to Horseshoe Lake to watch a production of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's epic poem "The Song of Hiawatha." The play, featuring performances by "real Indians," proved to be a hit, and thousands attended the show during its three-week run. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Division of Special Collections.
Oak Tree on Liberty Row To honor the Cleveland-area men killed in World War I, over 800 oak trees were planted along what became known as "Liberty Row." The line of oaks stretched intermittently from Gordon Park at Lake Erie to North Park Boulevard in Shaker Heights. At the base of each tree was a bronze plaque bearing the name of a deceased soldier. Many of these trees are still standing with their plaques intact, including this one in Horseshoe Lake Park. According to an October 16, 1918 Cleveland Plain Dealer article, 26 year-old James Taddeo, who lived on 1819 Woodland Road in East Cleveland, died of pneumonia in a naval hospital. The seven year Navy veteran had been cited for bravery during a submarine battle shortly before his death. Image courtesy of the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities

Location

Metadata

Michael Rotman, “Horseshoe Lake,” Cleveland Historical, accessed January 23, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/425.