LAKEWOOD is a 5.5-square-mile, inner-ring suburb just west of Cleveland. Its boundaries are Lake Erie to the north, W. 117th St. to the east, Berea Rd. and I-90 to the south, and the Rocky River to the west. Originally part of ROCKPORT Twp. (est. 1819) in the Connecticut WESTERN RESERVE the area now called Lakewood was first populated by Ottawa, Potawatomi, Chippewa, Wyandot, Munsee, Delaware and Shawnee tribes, all of which were pushed westward following the Treaty of Fort Industry on July 4, 1805.
The future suburb’s first non-aboriginal residents included James Nicholson, JARED KIRTLAND, and Mars Wagar, all of whom have Lakewood Streets names after them. Most early settlements were located along Detroit Rd, with large farms and estates stretching north to Lake Erie. Brick making and fruit farming were popular vocations and the discovery of natural gas and oil wells also ignited development. Wells were drilled as early as 1883, with one yielding almost 22,000 cu. ft. of gas per day. Additional growth followed construction of a municipal light plant in 1896 and a streetcar line in 1903.
By 1871 the area's population had reached 400, and voters agreed to create a school district separate from ROCKY RIVER named East Rockport. Continued population growth led to a movement for incorporation as the hamlet of Lakewood in 1885; however a legal dispute with the Rockport Plank Rd. Co. over ownership of Detroit Ave. delayed incorporation until 1889. When Lakewood became a village in 1903 its population was 3,300. By 1911, when it was incorporated as a city, Lakewood’s population had climbed to more than 15,000.
As more people moved into Lakewood, descendants of original farming families and estate owners began subdividing their properties. In 1917 a real estate boom followed the opening of the DETROIT-SUPERIOR BRIDGE (known since 1989 as the Veterans Memorial Bridge), with the price of lakefront properties rising to as much as $15,000 an acre. LAKEWOOD HOSPITAL opened in 1907.
Lakewood’s population reached 40,000 in 1920 and 70,000 by 1930. Although the population subsequently began to drop, increased demand for housing in the 1950s and 1960s spurred construction of many lakefront apartment complexes along the community’s ”Gold Coast” on Lake Rd.
By 1980, Lakewood had 1,100 small businesses, the largest of which was the Carbon Products Div. of the Union Carbide Corp., established as the NATIONAL CARBON CO. in 1892. The Templar Motor Corp. in Lakewood’s BIRDTOWN manufactured upscale vehicles from 1917 to 1924. “Birdtown” (originally home to a large and diverse group of immigrant SLOVAKS, CARPATHO-RUSSIANS, POLES, and UKRAINIANS) was so named because myriad streets (e.g., Robin, Plover, Lark, Thrush) were named for birds believed to be indigenous to the area. Both Birdtown and Lakewood’s CLIFTON PARK are on the National Register of Historic Places. Other historic structures include the Westerly Apartments, the Detroit-Warren Building, and the homes of James Nicholson, Erastus Day, Harvey Hackenberg, and John Honam. In 1834 the latter built and subsequently lived in “The Old Stone House,” now on Lake Rd. and occupied by the Lakewood Historical Society.
The 1990s saw renovation of shopping areas, and construction of the Lakewood City Center and a lakefront pavilion and band shell at Lakewood Park. The 2000s ushered in a surge of business activity; some 100 small businesses opened between 2010 and 2015. The Solstice Steps (styled as an amphitheater facing Lake Erie) was constructed at Lakewood Park in 2015. Lakewood Hospital closed in 2016 and was demolished in 2019. All of Lakewood's public schools—7 elementary, 2 middle, and 1 high—were renovated or rebuilt during this period.
Lakewood’s population has continued to decline: from 62,000 in 1995 to 50,100 in 2018. Nonetheless, Lakewood remained a vibrant suburb, with low poverty rates, myriad public amenities and rising home prices in 2019.
Updated by April Miller
Borchert, James and Susan. Lakewood: The First Hundred Years (1989).
Butler, Margaret. The Lakewood Story (1949).
Lindstrom, E. George. Story of Lakewood, Ohio (ca. 1935).