NORTH OLMSTED

NORTH OLMSTED is a suburb of Cleveland.  Its city hall is located 17 miles southwest of PUBLIC SQUARE.  It was incorporated as a village in 1908, became a city in 1950, and a charter city in 1960.  It has a mayor-council form of government.  It is bounded by WESTLAKE on the north, FAIRVIEW PARK and BROOK PARK on the east, OLMSTED TOWNSHIP on the south, and Lorain County on the west.  North Olmsted has an estimated population of 31,591, making it Cleveland's seventh most populous suburb.

North Olmsted was formed from parts of northwest Olmsted and southeast DOVER Twps.  One of the city's most prominent geographical features is the South Ridge, an ancient beach ridge that runs parallel to the shores of Lake Erie at elevations of 750 feet or more above sea level and bisects the city from northeast to southwest.  Present-day Lorain Rd. runs along this ridge.  In the second and third decades of the 19th century, migrants from the eastern U.S. began to occupy and farm lands on or near the South Ridge.  The first to do so in Olmsted Twp., where the ridge was locally known as Butternut Ridge, was David Johnson Stearns of Dover, VT, who arrived in 1815.  He settled on land that is located near the intersection of Lorain and Stearns Rds.  He is considered by North Olmsted to be its first settler.  The first to permanently settle on the ridge in Dover Twp., where the ridge was known as Sugar Ridge and later Coe Ridge, was Asher Miller Coe from Middleton, CT, who arrived in 1823.  The land upon which he settled is located near the intersection of Lorain and Columbia Rds.  Following the arrivals of these two men and their families, others settled on or near the ridge in the two townships, and, during the two decades that followed, a community developed on the ridge which crossed township lines.  Events highlighting the coalescence of this community include Coe's construction in 1824 of Coe Ridge Rd. (today Lorain Rd. from Columbia to Porter Rds.), which facilitated travel from southeastern Dover Twp. to northwestern Olmsted Twp.; the 1834 founding of the First Unitarian Church of Olmsted (today, the Olmsted Unitarian Universalist Congregation) by residents of the two townships, including both Stearns and Coe; and the 1839 order of annexation of southeastern Dover Twp. to Olmsted Twp. (initiated by Coe), which, for unknown reasons, was set aside one year later.

In the second half of the 19th century, a series of events alienated farmers living on the South Ridge from their township governments and eventually led to the incorporation of North Olmsted.  In Olmsted Twp., this alienation began as political power shifted south from farmers on the ridge to OLMSTED FALLS, to which the township government relocated in 1849.  When Olmsted Falls incorporated as a village in 1856, lines between the village and township governments blurred, with offices (and sometimes officials) shared by the two governments.  This fueled the resentment of farmers of "North Olmsted," as the area along and near the South Ridge began to be called as early as the late 1870s, and also contributed to a belief that township expenditures for roads, drainage, and schools were not allocated fairly.  In Dover Twp., South Ridge farmers had similar grievances regarding allocations of resources made by their township government, which was seated to their north in Dover (today, Westlake).  In 1895 the South Rocky River Bridge was constructed over the Rocky River Valley, and the Cleveland & Elyria Railway Co. (see INTERURBANS), the franchise for which was obtained by LEON MELVILLE COE, a grandson of Asher Miller Coe, was built along a route that traveled over that new bridge and along Coe Ridge and Butternut Ridge Rds.   This development provided the area's farmers a more direct route to the growing Cleveland market to the east, but it also increased their frustration over what they perceived as inadequate expenditures by their township governments to repair roads and improve drainage.  In June 1908, farmers from both townships, heeding legal advice from attorney Arthur A. Stearns (a great-grandnephew of David Johnson Stearns and a future Board President of the CLEVELAND PUBLIC LIBRARY), decided to incorporate as a village.  Following the results of a territorial election held in September, North Olmsted officially became a village on 12 October, 1908.  Following a second election held in November, the village's first mayor, council, and other elected officials took office on 1 January  1909.  The village erected its first municipal building (Old Town Hall) near the intersection of Dover Center and Lorain Rds. in 1914 during the administration of first mayor George Willet.  That building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is now  used for city events, meetings, and other activities.  The current City Hall was erected adjacent to Old Town Hall in 1984.  At the time of its incorporation, North Olmsted covered approx. 14 square miles, 10 from Olmsted Twp. and four from Dover Twp.  However, several subsequent detachments of territory led to a reduction, and today North Olmsted has 11.67 square miles of territory.

While North Olmsted was formed as a village in order to improve conditions for farmers, its incorporation also led inexorably to its mid 20th century transformation from a truck farm center into a residential suburb.  Within several years of its incorporation, real estate developers began acquiring farm lands and laying out residential subdivisions within walking distance of the numerous Interurban stops along Lorain Rd., the new name for the route on the South Ridge that formerly consisted of both Coe Ridge Rd. and Butternut Ridge Rd. west of Porter Rd.  When the Interurban ended service in North Olmsted in 1931, mayor CHARLES ALDEN SELTZER, the father of legendary CLEVELAND PRESS Editor LOUIS B. SELTZER, replaced it with the NORTH OLMSTED MUNICIPAL BUS LINE, the first publicly-owned bus line in Ohio, which continued the public transportation connection between the village and Cleveland.  Most of the early residential subdivisions built in the village in this period were located on the east end of town, including Clague Rd. Ext. south of Lorain Rd., and a number of subdivisions built off Clague Rd., but they also included subdivisions as far west as Stearns Rd.  From 1910 to 1930, residential subdivisions steadily replaced farm lands, but the pace of suburbanization in North Olmsted dramatically slowed from 1930 to 1945.  After World War II, there was a renewed and rapid increase in subdivision development, especially west of Dover Center Rd., including the mammoth 500-plus-home Bretton Ridge Subdivision, built in the mid-1960s.  During this period the city of Cleveland built a municipal water tower near the intersection of Dover Center and Lorain Rds.  With its painted green legs and base, and red and white checkered top, it has become a local landmark and iconic symbol of the city.  During the 1950s and 1960s, North Olmsted was one of the fastest growing suburbs in Cuyahoga County with its population increasing more than 500% from 6,604 to 34,861.  New families moving to the city in this period were often headed by blue- or white-collar workers, a number of whom were employed at nearby NASA JOHN H. GLENN RESEARCH CENTER AT LEWIS FIELD and Cleveland HOPKINS AIRPORT.  During these decades, the ethnicity and religious affiliations of the largely white population living in the city changed as many first- and second-generation Eastern and Southern European families arrived, leading to the founding of the city's Roman Catholic parishes: St. Richard (1950), St. Brendan (1964) and St. Clarence (1977).  The Olmsted Unitarian Universalist Church, built in 1846 and the second oldest church building in Cuyahoga County, was, almost as an acknowledgment of these demographic changes, moved in 1963 from its original location on the corner of Lorain and Butternut Ridge Rds. to a less prominent location on Porter Rd in order to make room for a gas station.  By the end of the 1970s, farms had all but disappeared from the city, which just a few decades earlier had claimed as its slogan: "Where the flowers grow."

With North Olmsted's population explosion came a correspondingly large growth in its retail sector centered along and near Lorain Rd.  Retail shops had long dotted Lorain Rd., especially after 1895 with the arrival of the Interurban.  These early retail shops included grain stores, general stores, and blacksmith shops, and catered to the mostly farming population.  In the post-WWII era, as the rapidly expanding non-farm population all but replaced these farmers, the retail sector changed accordingly.  In 1958 developer Saul Biskind (who later built some of the largest residential subdivisions in North Olmsted) opened Great Northern Shopping Center near the intersection of Lorain Rd and Brookpark Rd Ext., a junction created in 1955 when Brookpark Rd. was extended into North Olmsted.  In 1976 Biskind opened Great Northern Mall adjacent to the shopping center.  Specialty stores and restaurants soon lined both sides of Lorain Rd. from Clague Rd. on the east to Stearns Rd. on the west, and both sides of Great Northern Blvd. (relocated State Rte. 252) between Lorain Rd. and Brookpark Rd. Extension.  By the 1980s, North Olmsted was one of the largest regional retail centers in Cuyahoga County. During this period, the area was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as having the largest number of restaurants within a one-mile radius.  In the 1990s, during the administration of Mayor Ed Boyle, the city was also noted as the first municipality in the U.S. to pass an anti-sweatshop ordinance.

North Olmsted is now a mature suburb which (as of 2014) had 94% of its land developed.  It still has a largely white population, but, according to the 2010 census, it has become more ethnically diverse, with a 7% Arab (see ARAB AMERICANS) population.  In that same census, AFRICAN AMERICANS comprised 2%, Asian Americans less than 3%, and Hispanics and Latinos (see HISPANIC COMMUNITY) approx. 3.5% of the city's population.  The city has 1 high school, 1 middle school, 3 intermediate schools, and 2 primary schools.  Its library has been part of the CUYAHOGA COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARY system since 1926, but traces its origins back to 1829 when the OXCART LIBRARY, the first circulating public library in the WESTERN RESERVE, was created.  The current library building on Lorain Rd., adjacent to City Hall, was built in 2004.   North Olmsted's police department was created in 1915 and its fire department in 1924.  The city has a landmarked historic district which lies along Butternut Ridge Rd. between Lorain and Columbia Rds.  The district contains some of the oldest homes in North Olmsted, some dating to the first half of the 19th century.  The district also includes Butternut Ridge Cemetery, where early settler Isaac Scales was buried in 1821 and which became a township cemetery in 1835.  Located close to this historic district in the CLEVELAND METROPARKS Rocky River Reservation is FROSTVILLE, a living history museum, which has on its grounds a number of 19th century houses and other early buildings of the city which have been preserved and restored.

North Olmsted has many recreational facilities within its territorial boundaries, including parts of two Metroparks Reservations (Rocky River and Bradley Woods); several city parks, including 40-acre North Olmsted Community Park, which opened in 1925 during the administration of Mayor Leon Melville Coe, and has on its grounds the city's Community Cabin and Senior Center; a Recreation Center, built in 1975, and renovated in 2015; and SPRINGVALE GOLF COURSE AND BALLROOM, which was acquired by the city in 1994.  Every year since 1945, the North Olmsted Community Council, an organization whose members belong to a variety of civic, business and social organizations in the city, has sponsored a Homecoming event which is held in late summer at North Olmsted Park. 

Jim Dubelko

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Banks, Bruce and Jim Wallace. The Olmsted Story: A Brief History of Olmsted Falls & Olmsted Township. Charleston: The History Press, 2010.

Thomas, Dale. North Olmsted. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2008.

See also SUBURBS.


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