CLEVELAND UNIVERSITY became the city's first institution of higher learning in a brief career lasting from 1851-53. It was chartered by the Ohio general assembly on 5 Mar. 1851, and its trustees included AHAZ MERCHANT, SAMUEL STARKWEATHER;, and RICHARD HILLIARD. For president, they tapped the recently resigned head of Oberlin Institute, Asa Mahan, who brought most of the new university's first students from Oberlin with him. Classes began in the Mechanics' Block on Ontario Street, but the school's future was closely bound to a proposed campus planned for an area on the west side, hopefully named University Heights. Most of the trustees appeared to be speculating in property in the neighborhood, later known as TREMONT. They set aside a 275-acre parcel for the university, part for the campus and part to raise an endowment fund. Streets in the area were endowed with such academic names as College, Literary, Professor, and Jefferson, and a 3-story building was raised among them for the future home of Cleveland University.
Philosophically, Mahan charted the university along a progressive, non-sectarian course. Citing the examples of Brown and Rochester University, he advocated a practical as opposed to classical course of study. Included in the ultimate plans of Mahan and the trustees was a visionary complex encompassing not only a national university of European scope, but an orphan asylum, old-age retreat, and female seminary as well. After a full year of operation, culminating with the awarding of 8 degrees in June 1852, Cleveland University declined rapidly the following fall. Mahan resigned as president on 13 December, possibly because of a clash of personalities with some of the trustees. One of the school's chief benefactors, Thirza Pelton, died shortly thereafter on 19 February 1853. Although the Board of Trustees was reorganized that year, the university apparently was liquidated by the end of the academic year. From 1859-68, the Cleveland University building was occupied by the HUMISTON INSTITUTE, a college preparatory school operated by Ransom F. Humiston.
Holtz, Maude E. "Cleveland University: A Forgotten Chapter in Cleveland's History" (Masters thesis, Western Reserve Univ., 1934).