A.B. WILLIAMS MEMORIAL WOODS is an old-growth beech-maple-hemlock forest covering 65 acres of CLEVELAND METROPARKS’ North Chagrin Reservation in Mayfield, Ohio.  One of the best examples of old-growth forest in Ohio, it has been recognized as a National Natural Landmark and a member of the Old Growth Forest Network.  It serves as a living representation of the region’s vegetation prior to development.

The mostly level land lies on the western border of the Chagrin River valley, where Cleveland shale underlies somewhat poorly drained clay loam soils.  The forest contains many trees 250-400 years old, primarily beech, sugar maple, hemlock, red maple, and tulip poplar.  It also has impressive specimens of cucumber magnolia, black gum, and red and white oak.  Some of the largest trees are over 4 feet in diameter.  The area has remained forested throughout the historical period.  In 1871, a few large trees were cut, but no other logging is known to have occurred.  Cleveland Metroparks acquired the land in 1925.

A.B. Williams Memorial Woods is named in honor of ARTHUR BALDWIN WILLIAMS, an ecologist who studied it extensively during the 1930s.  As Cleveland Metroparks’ first naturalist, he also established the trailside museum there, which is thought to be the first facility of its kind in the country.  While working on his M.A. and Ph.D. in ecology at Western Reserve University, Williams completed an inventory of the identity, size, and location of every tree in the forest, as well as surveys of herbaceous plants, fungi, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates.  This work was published in the prestigious journal Ecological Monographs in 1936, and has since become a classic of ecological literature, making A.B. Williams Memorial Woods well-known among scientists as well as nature-lovers.

The work of A.B. Williams has made it possible to study long-term changes in the forest community.  Since his 1930s surveys, A.B. Williams Memorial Woods has changed rather dramatically in composition and structure.  Beech remained the most frequent and dense tree species, but larger beech trees died and were replaced by huge numbers of root sprouts, increasing the overall stem density of the forest by 50%.  Hemlock declined in frequency and density and had almost no saplings in 2018, while sugar maple and red maple increased greatly in frequency, stem density, and basal area.  The blight-killed chestnut trees standing dead in the 1930s are gone.  In sum, beech and maple are displacing hemlock in this stand.  Tree diseases, pests, and deer herbivory likely contributed to these shifts.

Nevertheless, A.B. Williams Memorial Woods remains a valuable example of northeast Ohio’s native forests and a peerless resource for research and education.  Visitors can easily explore the forest via a well-developed trail network. 

Kathryn M. Flinn

Associate Professor of Biology

Baldwin Wallace University

Flinn, K.M., E.R. Bly, and C.S. Dickinson. 2019. "Major changes in tree community composition and structure over 86 years in an old-growth forest." Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society 146: 87-95.