Filed Under Conflict

The Shaker Lakes Freeway Fight

The Shaker Lakes are man-made bodies of water created by the North Union Shaker Community in the mid-nineteenth century to power a series of mills. When the Shakers left and their lands became part of the suburb of Shaker Heights, the lakes remained, becoming the focal point of a series of parks. In the 1960s, however, the parks surrounding the Shaker Lakes were threatened by a proposal that sought to construct freeways through both Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights.

One of the most important developments in Cleveland (and big cities as a whole) after World War II has been the emergence of vast freeway systems, spurring the growth of suburbs and sparking an exodus of residents from within central cities themselves. The fact that Shaker and Cleveland Heights have remained free of such roads is no accident. In 1963, a plan by Cuyahoga County Engineer and Democratic Party leader Albert Porter to run the Clark, Lee, and Heights Freeways through the two suburbs sparked outrage among its residents. Porter, a powerful politician whose leadership at the County Engineer's Office from 1943 onward had contributed to the success of the postwar freeway construction boom, soon emerged as the prime villain in the affair, brashly demanding for construction to commence despite a number of protests.

Women played a large role in the successful effort to block the Heights freeways from being built. Women's organizations were fundamental in the 1966 creation of the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes, which highlighted the educational and environmental significance of the threatened Doan Brook watershed. The fight against the freeways also benefited from the fact that Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights were very prosperous suburbs filled with wealthy residents, some of whose homes faced destruction. Activists in the Heights pressured state and local leaders to reroute the freeways. In February 1970, Ohio Governor James Rhodes, who was running for the U.S. Senate that fall, finally scrapped the project. Porter's career ended in disgrace when he plead guilty to several counts of theft in office in 1979. The Nature Center remains open and has since taught generations of young people about the importance of the environment.

Video

Albert Porter Takes Center Stage Phil Hart and Kathleen Barber discuss the role of Cuyahoga County Engineer Albert Porter in the Heights Freeway Fight. Source: CSU Center for Public History + Digital Humanities
"Fight for What You Think Is Right" Phil Hart describes the consequences of the successful citizen movement to stop freeway development in the Heights. Source: CSU Center for Public History + Digital Humanities

Images

Proposed Freeways A map showing the route proposed for the Heights, Clark, and Lee Freeways. Source: The Shaker Historical Society Date: ca. 1963
Protest Letter How-To This is a 1967 flyer from the Shaker Heights Historical Society urging concerned residents to protest the freeways being proposed and showing them how to get involved in the fight. Source: The Shaker Historical Society Date: 1967
Northeast end of Upper Shaker Lake, 1890 Photograph of the northeast end of Upper Shaker Lake, by Plain Dealer photographer, Loius Baus. The Upper Lake is believed to have been created in 1826 when the first gristmill was built. Later, the woolen mill received its water power from this source. Source: The Shaker Historical Society Date: 1890
Nature Center at Shaker Lakes The Nature Center at Shaker Lakes was founded in 1966 by activists hoping to stop the building of the proposed freeways. Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: ca. 1966
Albert Porter Cuyahoga County Engineer and Democratic Party leader Albert Porter presents his plans. Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: ca. 1963
Anti-Freeway Cartoon, 1963 This editorial cartoon appeared in the Sun Press on December 26, 1963 in response to a 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. Source: Shaker Historical Society Date: 1963
Proposed Highway Interchange This artist's rendering shows the 1960s proposal for a highway interchange just east of Lower Shaker Lake. The Clark and Lee Freeways would have intersected where the Nature Center of Shaker Lakes is now located. Lower Shaker Lake would have remained mainly intact, but with the Clark Freeway running alongside its entire southern shore. Source: Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Division of Special Collections. Date: ca. 1960s

Location

2600 South Park Blvd

Metadata

Michael Rotman, “The Shaker Lakes Freeway Fight,” Cleveland Historical, accessed October 4, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/55.