Forest Hill

Forest Hill was once the sweeping estate of oil baron John D. Rockefeller. Originally from a small town near the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, Rockefeller purchased the land along Euclid Avenue as a commercial venture in 1873, opening (along with other investors) a "water cure resort" centered around a Victorian mansion built on a hilltop overlooking Cleveland and Lake Erie. After the resort quickly went out of business, the mansion became the Rockefeller family's summer home, dubbed the "Homestead." The Rockefellers split time between here and their home on Euclid Avenue's Millionaires' Row until the family moved to New York City in 1884, after which point they returned to Forest Hill each summer. After his wife died in 1915, however, John D. Rockefeller seldom returned to Cleveland and Forest Hill. The "Homestead" burned down under mysterious circumstances in 1917.

Rockefeller sold Forest Hill to his son John Rockefeller Jr. in 1923 for $2.8 million. In 1939, Rockefeller Jr. donated 235 acres of the Forest Hill acreage to the cities of Cleveland Heights and East Cleveland with the express stipulation that they be used for public recreation. This land included the site of the old Rockefeller house (now used as a sledding hill), and was developed into a public park by the landscape architect and Cleveland Heights native A. D. Taylor. The park opened in 1942, allowing members of the public to at last savor the cool lake breezes previously enjoyed by the richest man in the world. Picnic areas, walking trails, ballfields, and a swimming pool were some of the amenities added to the park over the years.

On the land east of Lee Boulevard, Rockefeller Jr. commissioned Andrew J. Thomas of New York to design a Garden City-influenced residential and commercial development. The resulting Forest Hill subdivision included 81 French Norman-style houses situated with common back yards that formed greenswards, as well as the gateway business block now known as the Heights Rockefeller Building, before the Great Depression prevented a fuller expression of the Rockefeller-Thomas vision. After prolonged difficulty in developing the remainder of the Forest Hill residential allotment, Rockefeller Jr. sold the land in 1948 to a Toledo-based syndicate that in turn sold lots to individuals who built mostly California ranch houses.

Images

Entrance to Forest Hill

Entrance to Forest Hill

The building located at the entrance to Forest Hill shown here was known as the Rockefeller Lodge. This postcard, created around the 1910s, shows the Forest Hill estate before a large section of it became a public park in 1942. It is not clear what event -- which appears to have drawn a large crowd to the private estate -- this postcard depicts. | Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections View File Details Page

Forest Hill, Circa 1900

Forest Hill, Circa 1900

Built during the 1870s, this mansion housed the "water-cure" (or spa) resort that John D. Rockefeller Sr. owned a large stake in. When this business venture quickly failed, Rockefeller used the mansion at Forest Hill as his family's summer home. The house burned down in 1917. | Source: Library of Congress View File Details Page

Forest Hill, Close-Up

Forest Hill, Close-Up

When the mansion at Forest Hill burned down in December 1917, suspicion immediately fell on two ex-employees of the estate. It was reported that the men had previously been fired after an altercation over wages with the foreman of Forest Hill's grounds. Authorities investigating the blaze found two empty five-gallon oil cans near the ruins of the fire. | Source: Library of Congress View File Details Page

Father and Son, 1915

Father and Son, 1915

John D. Rockefeller and his son, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. are shown in 1915. John Jr. purchased the Forest Hill estate from his father in 1923, donating a portion of it to Cleveland Heights and East Cleveland in 1939 for the creation of Forest Hill Park. | Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections View File Details Page

Lagoon, Nov. 1939

Lagoon, Nov. 1939

This photograph from November 1939 shows the area around the lagoon in Forest Hill Park under construction. When the park opened in 1942, the man-made lagoon featured a new boathouse, replacing the smaller structure in the middle of this image. | Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections View File Details Page

Footbridge Construction, 1939

Footbridge Construction, 1939

The footbridge under construction here took pedestrians over Forest Hills Boulevard. It was built to serve visitors to Forest Hill Park, which opened to the public in 1942. It has a single arch spanning 140 feet and is 48 feet above the road. Workers from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) constructed the bridge. | Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections View File Details Page

Completed Bridge, 1940

Completed Bridge, 1940

This photograph shows the completed footbridge over Forest Hills Boulevard in Forest Hill Park in September 1940. F. B. Walker was the consulting architect on the project, and A. D. Taylor served as the project's landscape architect. | Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections View File Details Page

Audio

Rockefeller Homes

Christopher Hubbert of the Forest Hill Home Owners Association View File Details Page

The Homestead

Christopher Hubbert of the Forest Hills Home Owners Association tells a story of the Rockefeller Homestead in Forest Hill View File Details Page

Wildlife In Forest Hill

Christopher Hubbert of the Forest Hill Home Owners Association speaking about the surprising variety of wildlife in Forest Hill View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Michael Rotman, “Forest Hill,” Cleveland Historical, accessed June 27, 2017, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/83.

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