Thirza Skinner Pelton and her husband Brewster Pelton purchased the land that became Lincoln Park in 1850 from Francis Branch, the son of a Connecticut pioneer who settled what is now the Tremont neighborhood in 1818. The Peltons intended part of the land they purchased to become the campus of the new Cleveland University. The wealthy couple had come to Cleveland from the nearby college town of Oberlin, OH, where they operated a boarding house for students. Things did not work out as planned: Mrs. Pelton, the primary benefactor of the new college, died in 1853 and Cleveland University soon closed. Altogether, CU graduated only 11 students. Only one of the buildings that composed the school’s campus survives: Tremont Place Lofts (formerly Union Gospel Press). Cleveland University’s plans also called for buildings to be erected on a private space owned by Ms. Pelton. This is the bucolic gathering spot we now call Lincoln Park.
After Mrs. Pelton’s death and the closing of Cleveland University, Brewster Pelton continued to keep the greens of Cleveland University—Pelton Park, as it came to be known—private. A fence and locked gates kept unwanted visitors out. In the late 1850s this became a source of great controversy as angry residents repeatedly destroyed the fence, demanding that the park be opened to the public. After Brewster’s death in 1872, Cleveland attempted to take control of the land but was prevented from doing so by the courts. Finally, in 1879, the City conducted successful negotiations with Brewster’s heirs and purchased the park for $50,000. On July 4, 1880, South Side Park (renamed Lincoln Park in 1896) opened to the public with an Independence Day gala that included a barbecue and long speeches by prominent politicians.