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Shaker Heights, Ohio

Updated on May 7, 2016
'Modest' Shaker-Heights-style home (actually just across the border into Cleveland Heights)
'Modest' Shaker-Heights-style home (actually just across the border into Cleveland Heights)

Such luminaries as Paul Newman, James Frey, Roger Penske, Fred Willard, Molly Shannon, Jim Brickman, Greg Pruitt, Jr., and even, supposedly, the Beaver’s dad, Ward Cleaver, all hailed from this leafy streetcar suburb east of Cleveland. No wonder — as it is one of the most charming cities in the U. S. within which to grow up.

This residential community began in 1822, established by about 80 settlers of the North Union Settlement of the United Society of Believers (perhaps referred to as Shakers for the tremors experienced by the faithful under possession by spirits). Damming Doan Brook, the congregation created the Shaker Lakes, and established both a gristmill and sawmill, enabling it to grow to several hundred people. However, as the sect practiced celibacy, it was doomed to extinction, and the settlement disappeared by about 1890.

Within a decade, the entrepreneurial Van Sweringen brothers bought the settlement’s land to develop a garden suburb. The brothers then purchased the Nickel Plate Road railroad system, in part to provide rights-of-way for what would become the Shaker Heights Rapid Transit Line of light-rail streetcars.

The former Shaker Village was incorporated in 1912 and by the 1930s became a city. It has grown steadily, to a population of about 30,000, and is a racially, socially and demographically diverse community.

Employing planning principles espoused by the great landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted, the Van Sweringens laid out most of Shaker Heights: its median boulevards, curving tree-lined streets, roundabouts, spacious home lots, and locations for churches, schools, civic and commercial buildings. One of their gems is Shaker Square, an octagonal traffic ‘roundabout’ and multi-street intersection populated by restaurants, retail shops, a cinema, and a bustling transit station. Roughly 3/4 of the city is today recognized as the Shaker Heights historic District by the National Register of Historic Places.

Shaker Heights is a showcase of fine residences. Historic mansions grace such streets as South Park, North Park, South Woodland, Shaker and Coventry. So-called ‘workers homes’ — huge multi-story Colonials that housed the employees of previous generations of Shaker millionaires — line many of the surrounding streets.

Much of the vicinity of Shaker Square and the corridor of Van Aken Boulevard are populated by grand old brick-and-stone apartment and condominium buildings, featuring such delights as oval rooms, carved stone ornamentation, timbered ceilings and leaded-glass windows. (But for a really unique community, visit rickzworld.)

Shaker Heights is also renowned for the quality of its public education, as well as that of its private schools of Laurel School, Hathaway Brown, and University School. The city is also served by the many arts, cultural, university and medical institutions of nearby University Circle.


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    • rickzimmerman profile image

      rickzimmerman 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks, Kristen! Hope you enjoy some of my other Hubs!

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Great hub. I used to live in Shaker Heights, when I first moved to Ohio from New Jersey for Ohio, and lived there for 4 years.. I know some of those places you've mentioned. Voted up!

    • rickzimmerman profile image

      rickzimmerman 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Julie: Good fact-checking. You are right: the house pictured is in Cleveland Heights, just across the border with Shaker Heights. I used it as I feel it is quite indicative of the architectural character of many of the homes throughout both Shaker Heights and neighboring portions of Cleveland Heights. For more views of Shaker Heights, check out my hub on Shaker Square (which is actually in Cleveland), the Shaker Rapid Transit Line and others.

    • profile image

      julie 4 years ago

      The house pictured is on Fairmount Blvd in neighboring Cleveland Heights, not Shaker.

    • rickzimmerman profile image

      rickzimmerman 5 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks so much for your kind comments, Ellen. I hope you enjoy all of my writings about Northeast Ohio. (You might also enjoy finding out a bit about Junkanoo or Tickfaw, Louisiana, as well.

    • Ellen Karman profile image

      Ellen Karman 5 years ago from medina, Ohio

      Dear Ricksimmerman, My family grew up in the home the Van Swaningen brother's home the brothers built for them selves, the big Tudor on South Park Boulevard across from Horse Shoe Park. We loved Shaker Heights and loved the mansion and the grounds and walking around with all the beautiful trees that line the streets. We collect Nickel Plate Rail Road trains and papers about it. The Van Swaningen's also built a home for their spinster sisters called Daisy Hill Farm over in Gates Mills. Which is also magnificent.

      There was a lot of history in that huge home with past presidents and Rail Road and Steel Tycoons meeting there. The house is on the cover of the Architecture of Shaker Heights. We so loved that town. Now we live on a big horse farm in Granger Township which is right next to Bath except we are in Medina County. I love all your hubs on Cleveland and am so glad I stumbled upon them by Hub Hopping. I am voting this up and beautiful and look forward to reading more of your hubs! Great read. I loved Cleveland Heights as well. Ellen Karman

    • rickzimmerman profile image

      rickzimmerman 6 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      I'm not sure the Browns are such a prize. (In my youth, the fans chanted "Go Browns! . . . and take the Indians with you!") We've luckily done better in recent decades. I miss all the great Cincinnati restaurants and Playhouse in the Park — got my undergrad degree at UC.

    • rickzimmerman profile image

      rickzimmerman 6 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      SC: Shaker Heights retains its charms — grand houses, winding stately avenues, interesting cafés, and an eclectic and diverse population.

    • Michael Shane profile image

      Michael Shane 7 years ago from Gadsden, Alabama

      It sounds like a unique spot of the U.S.A.! Nice hub!