CHAGRIN FALLS, incorporated as a village on 12 Mar. 1844, is a residential community located in Cuyahoga County at the "High Falls" of the Chagrin River; it occupies approx. 2.2 sq. mi., of which 57.5 acres are taken up by the river. The village is bounded by an unincorporated portion of CHAGRIN FALLS TWP. to the northwest, MORELAND HILLS to the west, BENTLEYVILLE to the southwest, and Geauga County (unincorporated Russell Twp. to the northeast, South Russell Village to the east, and unincorporated Bainbridge Twp. to the southeast). The river drew people who, for the most part, came from England and New England. Seth Henderson of NEWBURGH purchased the land around the falls (his house, built in 1834, was later the site of the Church of Christ Scientist). Between 1837 and 1870, manufactories along its banks produced axes, iron goods, paper, and woodenware; mills turned out flour, wool and lumber. These were run by village pioneers such as George Fenkell, Noah Graves, and Charles Sears.
The community resided at first in 2 counties and 3 townships, controlled by 5 different governmental entities. After incorporation, Curtiss Bullard was elected mayor. In March 1845 Chagrin Falls Twp. was erected by the commissioners of Cuyahoga County on petition of "the inhabitants of parts of Solon and Orange Townships." The town then lay within one county and one township, which created the tooth-like projection that interrupts the straight boundary between Cuyahoga and Geauga Counties. A narrow-gauge railroad from Chagrin Falls to SOLON was built in 1877 as a branch of the Painesville, Canton & Bridgeport Railroad. This and other roads failed. The Cleveland & Chagrin Falls Electric Railway Co. operated in the village beginning in 1896, and eventually extended to Hiram and Garrettsville. Reorganized after 1910 as the Eastern Ohio Traction Co., it ceased to operate in April 1925 (see INTERURBANS).
Chagrin Falls contained a variety of Protestant churches in the 19th century, but a Catholic church was not built until 1948. (JAMES A. GARFIELD, later U.S. president, worked as a carpenter on the local DISCIPLES OF CHRIST church in 1852.) Early educational institutions included: a schoolhouse on Main St. (date uncertain); the Chagrin Falls Commercial Institute; a "select school" conducted by Rev. Lorenzo D. Williams on Pearl (now W. Washington) St. (1836-39); and the ASBURY SEMINARY (1839-50). Increased population (from 2,505 in 1940 to 3,095 in 1950) and the annexation of South Russell's school district (1927) led the Chagrin Falls Exempted School District Board of Education to purchase, on 29 Mar. 1955, the Cuyahoga County fairgrounds (located in the village from 1874-1924). The property accommodated schools and a community recreational area.
In 1989, the U.S. 422 freeway opened between Solon and Bainbridge Twp., diverting traffic away from downtown Chagrin Falls. In the ensuing decade, dozens of retailers closed or relocated away from downtown. Chagrin Falls attained national Main Street designation in 1998. In 2005 the city installed underground utilities, decorative streetlights, and brick crosswalks in an effort to create a more enticing downtown amid growing competition from suburban “lifestyle” centers such as Eton and Legacy Village. In 2007 a new organization, Chagrin Foundation for Arts and Culture (later renamed Chagrin Arts), initiated a partnership with New York’s Chautauqua Institution to bring renowned speakers to town and undertook other plans to make Chagrin Falls a cultural tourism destination. Meanwhile, in the 1990s, tensions surfaced between real estate developers and residents desiring to maintain the community's natural beauty. After the village blocked developer Roger J. Weiss from building houses on 21.7 acres along the Chagrin River owned by resident Karen Harmon, protracted legal battles culminated in the village seizing the property by eminent domain. In an agreement reached in July of 1998, the village agreed to pay $850,000 for the land, a sum significantly lower than the $1.4 million value set by the developer's own appraiser.
The town maintains a branch of the CUYAHOGA COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARY SYSTEM and the CHAGRIN FALLS HISTORICAL SOCIETY. Chagrin Falls grew from 601 inhabitants in 1842, with 30 different businesses, to a peak of 4,848 in 1970. The village population fell to 4,335 ten years later and has declined more gradually to an estimated 3,963 by 2018. Chagrin Falls, whose high school is perennially ranked at or near the top of public schools statewide, is also among the least diverse, with a 98% white population.
Elizabeth G. Rodgers, updated by Gregory B. Bodwell and Mark Souther