case western reserve university



The Arkites and Their Impact

During the nineteenth century, there was intense interest in the emerging fields of science on the part of young, well educated (meaning classically educated) people. Given the nation's preoccupation with exploration and westward expansion early in the century, it comes as no surprise that their interest often focused on natural history and geology. The Enlightenment, a European movement that had considerable impact in the States as well, supplied a philosophical basis for this interest in scientific learning.

In the 1830s, a group of young men began gathering regularly in downtown Cleveland to share their insights into nature and science. Two of them, William Case and his younger brother Leonard, Jr., were sons of a wealthy real estate investor who had established the family home near what is now Cleveland's Public Square. A small building on the family homestead eventually became the regular meeting place for the group, and was christened "The Ark" in reference to the biblical vessel that housed two of every kind of creature. In time, the group became known as the "Arkites."

Meeting at The Ark, c. 1858, by Julius Gollman. Leonard Case, Jr., is in the far corner of the room seated at a chess table. His brother William, a former Cleveland mayor, is fourth from the left in the group seated at the fireplace.

Many significant developments can be associated with the Arkites. They and their successors, including the Kirtland Society of Natural Science, planned and organized the creation of what is today the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, now located in University Circle. Less formally, the group also served as a ready roster of scientifically curious and learned individuals who could be asked to perform a range of investigations. For example, Dr. John Lang Cassels, a member of the Western Reserve College medical department who was an active Arkite, was called upon in the 1850 to travel to Michigan to investigate reports of mineral deposits there. He verified the reports, and from this assignment grew the iron ore industry that proved to be so important to the economy of Northeast Ohio well into the twentieth century.

While Leonard Case, Jr., was physically less hearty than many other Arkites, his mind was obviously no less fertile. After participating in these gatherings for nearly four decades, he was moved to include in his will a bequest of $1.25 million in real estate to endow the creation of the Case School of Applied Science, the region's first institution of higher education devoted to the sciences and technology.

The Arkites continued their gatherings for many years, though their visibility receded somewhat following the establishment of the Cleveland Academy of Natural Sciences in 1845, which they supported. Their gift to the region was their commitment to learn all theycould about the world around them, and to share that learning with others.