The City of North Olmsted has three listings on the National Register of Historic Places including Old Town Hall, the First Universalist Church and Fort Hill.
The first mayor, George S. Willet, was elected December 8, 1908. No municipal buildings existed, instead the council met at the mayor’s home. On August 19, 1912 legislation was approved to purchase land on Dover Center Road from Dr. F.A. Rice on which to build a town hall. Successive legislation approved expenditures to design, construct and furnish the building, which was ready for occupancy by the end of 1914. Since that time when Town Hall was furnished, it served as the seat of municipal government for a small village that peaked in population of approximately 34,500 around 1980. All legislation necessary to operate a city government was enacted here. As additional office space was needed, other buildings were either purchased or built, but the original offices still remain, only slightly changed.
When Town Hall was built it was used for the entire village government operation. There was a Council Chambers, Mayor and Clerk’s office, vault, jail and general office which included the Justice of the Peace, Street Commissioner and Board of Education. The main floor of Town hall served as a community center. School plays, Grange meetings, church choir performances, graduations and dances were held in the auditorium. The small elevated stage was used for dramatic productions. Residents remember playing basketball in the auditorium in the 1930’s.
Architecturally, the building is an early twentieth century version of Colonial Revival style. The structure is reminiscent of colonial Virginia’s eighteenth century county town halls: simple, red brickwork, restrained wood details at doors, cornices, trim and proportioned fenestration, one main large room on the first floor and a pediment porch at the entry façade capped with a cupola which signifies its public purpose.
Constructed in 1847, the First Universalist Church is the oldest surviving church North Olmsted and one of the first Universalist churches in Ohio. Historically it was always an important public community center as well as a religious structure.
The Universalist Society was organized in 1834. Meetings were held in a building used jointly by the Methodists, Presbyterians, Universalists and the community government until 1847, when the Universalists erected the structure. The building was used as a community building for meetings, gatherings, and celebrations of all kinds. The bell, installed in the belfry in 1851, has been used as a fire alarm and to toll the death of residents as well as announcing Sunday worship services. The belfry may have been used as a station in the Underground Railway, to hide escaping slaves before the Civil War. The liberal view of the congregation made it possible for the church to have its first female minister as early as 1878.
Architecturally the building is a well preserved example of the classic Greek Revival period modified with some Victorian features. This rectangular church building has a low-pitched gable roof with a finely-detailed façade pediment containing a semi-elliptical fan. There are four rectangular windows on the side elevations and two on the front. The entrance has double doors with a pointed window above. The walls have clapboard siding. On the roof there is a square louvered belfry with Tuscan pilasters, a projecting cornice and a low pyramidal roof. In 1963 the widening of Lorain Road at the original site, plus the increased traffic made it imperative to move the building for preservation.
Fort Hill and its Native American earthworks, dating back a thousand years, have long been landmarks of local interest. Located in the Rocky River Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks, a small deck at the top of the 135-step staircase allows visitors to overlook the remains of the ancient fortifications. The site of Fort Hill, named for these old fortifications, is perfectly situated for defense. With steep walls of exposed shale, and good views of the river, the Native Americans living here would have been able to easily stave off hostile visitors. Fort Hill was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. It is located behind Rocky River Nature Center off Valley Parkway, north of Cedar Point Road. The City of North Olmsted has three listings on the National Register of Historic Places including Old Town Hall, the First Universalist Church and Fort Hill.
The one and a half mile long Butternut Ridge Historic District is a reminder of both the origins of old Olmsted as well as how the community developed over time. The numerous homes, schools, businesses and cemetery show a wide range of building styles and architecture, representing periods from the first settlement to today. Architectural styles include Vernacular, Greek Revival, Victorian, Bungalow, Neo-Colonial and more. Despite the variety of styles that comprise the district, a sense of balance exists between the old and the more recent. This cross-sectional view of history has been a source of pride for residents of the area and the community at large.
The City officially established the Butternut Ridge Historic District by ordinance in 1986. The central thread of this district is the prehistoric ridge, left by receding Lake Erie, used by Native Americans as a trail west, widened by settlers, and paved with early experimental concrete processes, which today is a busy tree lined residential street.
The Butternut Ridge Historic District includes properties along Butternut Ridge Road between Porter and Columbia Roads. This road, originally named for the numerous Butternut trees along it, was the first east-west road in Olmsted, surveyed in 1816. The district was settled in stages, moving from agricultural to semi-rural and becoming more developed as the interurban railway provided access to Cleveland in 1895. The district represents the largest concentration of pre-1920 homes in the City and retains a handful of homes that predate the Civil War. The first burial at the Butternut Ridge Cemetery dates to 1821. Butternut Ridge Road was an early corridor of learning; schools and libraries have been located along the Ridge throughout its settlement.
Find these historic locations in North Olmsted, marked with Ohio Historical Markers:
Isaac Scales (1786-1821) settled on this site. At his death, he was buried in his back yard. A large rock marked his grave. The land was reclaimed by Charles Olmsted who deeded it to the Township in 1835 for a public burial ground. Early settlers and veterans, who fought in six American wars including the Revolutionary, are buried here. The crypt was built in 1879.
David Stearns, the first permanent settler, built a log cabin near this site on the “ridge” (Lorain Road) in 1816. Stearns was given this land by his father, Elijah, who had bought 1,002 acres from the Olmsted family. This area of North Olmsted was first called Kingston, renamed Lenox in 1823, and Olmsted in 1829. In 1827, Stearns donated his cabin to the community to be used as the first schoolhouse. In 1852 the cabin was moved to Butternut and Dover Center and continued to serve as a school.
In 1823, Asher and Abigail Coe migrated from Connecticut and settled here. By mid-century the Coe family operated the second largest dairy farm in Ohio. Their home was used as a post office in 1843. The Universalist Church, built in 1847 at Butternut and Lorain, was established largely as a result of Asher Coe’s efforts. The present Lorain Road, from Columbia to Butternut, was built as a connecting link between his home and the church. In 1857, Coe donated land for Coe School.
In 1829 the citizens of Lenox voted to change the township name to Olmsted as their part of a bargain to acquire 500 books owned by the heirs of Aaron Olmsted. Believed to be the first public library in the Western Reserve, the books were brought from Hartford, Connecticut, by oxcart and were stored in settlers’ cabins. The remaining 125 volumes are now housed in the North Olmsted Public Library.
Adele Von Ohl Parker was a daredevil stunt rider once starring in Buffalo Bill’s shows. Stranded during the Depression, she started a riding school; her flamboyance captivated her young riders. The 34-building ranch was the scene of many rodeos and Wild West shows. Visiting friends included Gene Autry and a circus owner whose elephants bathed in the Rocky River. This 37-year fantasy vanished forever upon her death in 1966.
Springvale Ballroom is located on part of the one hundred and forty acre tract that English immigrant John Biddulph bought in 1840. Fred Biddulph, John Biddulph’s grandson, was born near this site in 1887. Fred and his wife, Clara, built the five thousand square foot Springvale Ballroom. On May 19, 1923, they paid fifteen dollars for the right to open the dancing pavilion. The first dance at Springvale Ballroom was held on May 23rd. A five-hole golf course was added to the property in 1928. Later changes to Springvale included renovation of the ballroom, the addition of a golf office, and an upgrade to a full eighteen-hole course. Ballrooms reached a high point of popularity during the 1930s and 1940s, serving as places for social gatherings. During World War II, servicemen on leave paid a nickel a dance at Springvale. The daughter of Fred and Clara Biddulph, Rose, and her husband Bill Scheeff took over the management of Springvale when her brother, George, retired in 1984. Both served as President of the National Ballroom and Entertainers Association, with Bill heading the organization from 1983 to 1985 and Rose presiding from 1992 to 2001. Couples danced in the ballroom to the music of Guy Lombardo’s Royal Canadians along with other fine bands. The Ed and Mitzy Waring Dance Company has instructed and performed in Springvale for a number of years. A place of wonderful memories, Springvale is one of the oldest continuing ballrooms in Ohio. The City of North Olmsted purchased the Springvale Ballroom in 1994, saving it from demolition.
Joseph Peake was born in Pennsylvania in 1792 and came to Ohio in 1809 with his parents and brother. They were the first African Americans to settle permanently in the Cleveland area. He was the son of George Peake, a runaway slave from Maryland, who fought on the British side at the Battle of Quebec in 1759 during the French and Indian War. A man with some means and talent, George Peake invented a stone hand mill for grinding corn, a labor-saving device that endeared the Peakes to their neighbors in western Cuyahoga County. Joseph Peake and his wife Eleanor, an African American from Delaware, bought land in the 1840s on the Mastick Plank Road and built a home near this marker. Peake family members were active in their community. Joseph voted in Olmsted Township elections and Eleanor was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The congregation met in the Union House of Worship at the eastern end of Butternut Ridge Road. Northern anti-slave Methodists formed the Wesleyan Church in 1843 and four years later the Olmsted Wesleyans built their own church in the northwestern area of the township. Defying the law, Wesleyans were known to hide runaway slaves in their homes and churches. According to stories told by their neighbors, the Peakes also helped escaped slaves who were traveling from Oberlin to Cleveland. The former Wesleyan Church is preserved at Frostville.
The North Olmsted Historical Society was founded in 1953 and became incorporated as a non-profit association in 1961. A year later, Frostville Museum opened in the Prechtel House. The society took on the challenge of preserving the history of the entire original township and became the Olmsted Historical Society in 1969. The Frostville Museum has grown from one house to a small village. Volunteers are dedicated to preserving the past and the present for the future. In August 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama designated the society as a Preserve America Steward. Frostville is an affiliate of the Cleveland Metroparks. From 1829 to 1843, the northern region of Olmsted Township was called Frostville. It was named by Elias C. Frost, who operated a post office in his farmhouse located at what became the intersection of Kennedy Ridge and Columbia Roads in North Olmsted. Elias came to the Western Reserve in 1807. He married Phoebe McIlrath of Waterbury, Connecticut in 1809. Elias was a clerk for the Olmsted Universalist Church, a township trustee, and a militia captain. Like other Universalists, the Frosts hated slavery. Their grandsons, Francis, Charles and William Frost fought for the Union in the Civil War. Charles died in the conflict.