NORTH CHAGRIN RESERVATION, located between Chardon Road to the north and Mayfield Road to the south on the northeast edge of Cuyahoga County, is one of the original metropolitan park areas in Greater Cleveland's "Emerald Necklace," as first described by city park engineer WILLIAM STINCHCOMB in 1916. Following establishment of the Cleveland Metropark Park Board in 1917 (see: CLEVELAND METROPARKS), the agency began surveying land for the reservation in the upper part of the Chagrin River Valley, having been assured the support of a group of sympathetic estate owners led by Amasa Mather. The largest tract was purchased in 1925 from the former landholdings of Feargus B. Squire of STANDARD OIL COMPANY. A number of smaller farm properties along S.O.M. Road were appropriated at the same time through the Park Board's power of eminent domain. By 1930 the new reservation totaled nearly 1,200 acres, forming a rectangle roughly five miles in perimeter along the Chagrin River's western bank.
ARTHUR BALDWIN WILLIAMS, the Cleveland Metropolitan Park District's first naturalist and an ardent proponent of the reservation, devoted his fieldwork in the late 1920s and early 1930s to the area's remaining stands of native beech-maple climax forest. (Part of the reservation was later named the A.B. Williams Memorial Forest in his honor.) Williams encouraged the establishment of a trailside nature center in North Chagrin, opened in 1931, which is thought to be the first facility of its kind in the country. He also supervised the creation of an early labeled trail system and led weekend wildflower and bird watching expeditions through the park.
Over the course of the 1930s the reservation was modernized with graded roads, permanent trails, sewage and water infrastructure, and shelter houses, much of this construction undertaken by federal and state public works programs. Between 1933 and 1937, workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps camp at neighboring Euclid Creek Reservation laid out miles of hiking and bridle trails in North Chagrin. Similar projects funded through the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, National Youth Administration, and WORKS PROJECTS ADMINISTRATION included an enlarged trailside museum, picnic and parking areas, the rerouting of drainage systems along park boundaries, and an improved YMCA camp. Park workers also added a new roof to SQUIRE'S CASTLE and reforested the area with native specimens from the park district's nursery.
In the early 1940s the Metropolitan Park Board made a failed bid to connect North and South Chagrin Reservations via a new parkway along River Road, which would have realized Stinchcomb's original vision of a continuous natural corridor in the region. The proposed land annexation was suppressed by opposition from residents of MAYFIELD VILLAGE, HUNTING VALLEY, and, most strongly, GATES MILLS. In 1944, the reservation was expanded to include the Manakiki Golf Course, a private links located adjacent to the park on the former estate of Cleveland industrialistHOWARD HANNA. The course remained exclusive to Makikiki Country Club members until 1960, at which time the park board was forced to open public play under court order.
The reservation grew sporadically from the 1960s through the 1980s, reflecting a slow but steady expansion of the larger Metroparks system. Few major changes were made to the facilities, although a new nature education building was added in 1976. More recent development and education initiatives in the reservation have been guided by ecological concerns, most notably the effects of runoff from surrounding development on the river watershed's ponds, streams, and marshes. A five-year plan for the park, announced by the Metroparks in 1995, identified water quality along with intensive soil erosion throughout the Chagrin valley as key priorities. This led in part to a 2003 watershed protection agreement between the agency and Mayfield Village, which added 17 acres near Wilson Mills and River Road as a storm drainage buffer zone. As of 2006, North Chagrin Reservation included 2,112 acres.