Forest Hill park is a 235-acre oasis located on the edge of the Appalachian Mountain foothills in East Cleveland and Cleveland Heights, OH. Overall, the park is about 40 percent forest and 45 percent meadow. The remainder has been developed for recreational activities. It has an interesting topographical diversity provided by its two largest and deepest ravines-the Dugway Brook watershed and the valley where Forest Hills is located today-and by the 100-foot rise in ground level within the park.

The surface soil, called Miami Clay Loam, is silt loam overlaying heavy clay loam, both residue from the last glacier to cover vast portions of North America. Bedford shale and sandstone are under the loam. Some of the sandstone is Euclid Bluestone, which was quarried for walls and bridges built in the park and for other uses elsewhere.

Characature of Patrick Calhoun
Proposed Footbridge Design by A.D. Taylor

Some of the hardwood trees, such as sugar maple and beech, that line the sides of the ravines, are very old. Enormous oaks and chestnuts are located on the drier edges of the ravine tops, plateaus and ridges. Even the dead trees provide living quarters for park inhabitants and make it possible for a variety of birds and animals to use the park.

Approximately 450 different plant species have recently been identified in Forest Hill Park, including several endangered species such as hairgrass and withe-rod. The encroachment of native and non-native invasive plants, including Japanese knotweed, tree-of-heaven and buckthorn, are a threat to the endangered plants, as well as to all the plants in the park. The "invaders" also take space that could be available for more desirable plants.

A lagoon and Dugway Brook are the park's main water features. The lagoon is man-made and is home to fish, turtles, ducks and too many geese. A great blue heron spends many hours decorating the island in the lagoon in summer months. The spillway and cascade emptying the lagoon are one of the park's finest features.

A branch of Dugway Brook enters the park on the south side through a large culvert. Above ground for only a short distance, the creek flows sedately over shale, eventually converging with an above-ground tributary. The creek then flows into another large culvert and does not resurface in the park


Characature of Patrick Calhoun
Forest Hill Boathouse

A.D. Taylor, the landscape architect who designed Forest Hill Park, said that "one seldom finds an area of such size possessing such a diversity of topography, abundance of existing vegetation and many other natural advantages, located within a metropolitan area of a large city." It is not an exaggeration to call Forest Hill Park one of the finest urban oases in the United States today.

History of the Urban Oasis
The recent history of Forest Hill Park begins in 1853 when 13-year old John D. Rockefeller moved to Cleveland, OH, from western New York. By 1870, when Rockefeller organized the Standard Oil Company, Cleveland was an industrial giant among American cities. Dozens of railroads, steel mills, oil refineries, breweries and other industrial enterprises generated enormous wealth, soot and smoke. Recent immigrants from overseas and from America's farms lived in hovels all over the city. Business owners built mansions on the famous Millionaires' Row, an old Indian Trail now called Euclid Avenue. The Rockefeller mansion was a prominent addition to the row.

In 1873, Rockefeller purchased 109 acres of rural land east of Cleveland's clutter and smoke. The front of the property was along Euclid Ave. in East Cleveland and extended into the city of Cleveland Heights. In 1913 Rockefeller purchased another 100 acres and a few years later, other small parcels were added to the estate, bringing the total property to 267 acres.

Rockefeller sold his original parcel in 1877 to the Euclid Avenue Forest Hill Association for a commercial sanitarium. The sanitarium was located at a prime location atop a hill with a view of Lake Erie. However, the project failed and in 1879 Rockefeller regained ownership. In 1880, the sanitarium became a private club for Rockefeller and his cronies, but it lasted only one year and the building was remodeled into a summer home for the Rockefellers. They named the house "Homestead" and used it from June until mid-September every year (even after they moved to New York in 1884) until 1915 when Mrs. Rockefeller died. In 1917 "Homestead" burned to the ground.

While John D. Rockefeller's business practices were criticized by many, few would argue with his treatment of the estate that came to be called Forest Hill. He created carriage paths following the contours of the land and even made them longer than they needed to be so they would emerge at the most spectacular spot on the property. He built beautiful stone bridges over ravines using stone quarried on the property. An attractive nine-hole golf course was laid out on a plateau and bridal paths were built so he could race his horses. Two lakes were constructed. While maintaining most of the original trees, he also added others in strategic locations.

John D. Rockefeller, Jr., participated with his father in creating the major features of the estate and was given management control of the property at a young age. It is here that the son learned from the father to appreciate the outdoors and natural beauty; to recognize the necessity of open spaces for recreation and renewal; and most of all, the need to conserve such places. These lessons resulted in John Jr.'s gift's to the American people of land with extraordinary natural and historical significance, including Acadia National Park in Maine, the Cloisters in New York City and Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

John, Jr., bought Forest Hill from his father in the early 1920's and began giving away small portions of the estate for roads, a school, a hospital and a Masonic auditorium. He devised a plan to build an upper-middle-class housing development on nearby land and, in the late 1920s, began construction of homes in the Forest Hill subdivision east of Lee Boulevard. He built 81 distinctive French-Norman-style homes before the stock market crash in 1929 put a stop to the project. The 81 homes he built are on the National Register of Historic Places. The remainder of the Forest Hill Subdivision was developed with sturdy, well designed homes, mostly built after World War II.

In 1938, conditions were right for John Jr. to dispose of the estate. The cities of East Cleveland and Cleveland Heights, where the Forest Hill Estate was located, were almost completely developed. East Cleveland was very densely populated, with little public open space. In addition, the federal government was struggling to alleviate the effects the nation's economic collapse by providing employment for projects that benefited the public. The Works Progress Administration is one of the best known of the programs.

Rockefeller responded by giving to the cities of East Cleveland and Cleveland Heights 235 acres that is to forever be parkland. East Cleveland received about two-thirds of the land and Cleveland Heights the remainder. Rockefeller also gave the cities a plan for the development of the park by noted Cleveland landscape architect Albert Davis Taylor. Taylor was the president of the American Society of Landscape Architects and a protégé of the Olmstead firm of landscape architects founded by Frederick Law Olmstead, the father of American Landscape Architecture. He and Calvert Vaux designed Central Park in New York City and Olmstead himself designed many other significant parks across the United States.

Using labor paid for mainly by funds from the Works Progress Administration, East Cleveland and Cleveland Heights proceeded to develop the estate into a public park according to the Taylor plan. It included forested, secluded areas; lovely open vistas; and active recreational areas, mostly on the perimeter of the park. A decision that was, at the time, radical, excluded automobiles from the inside of the park. Lawn bowling was popular, so two lawn bowling greens and a pavilion were included in the plan. Tennis courts, baseball fields, picnic facilities, comfort stations, trails (mostly following those laid out by Rockefeller), a boat house and lagoon and many other features were part of the design.

The scope of the effort to develop the park is difficult to appreciate today when much of it looks as though its in a natural state. In fact, some of it is in original condition. But, in one year alone, in 1939, 1,000 people were employed to create just part of the East Cleveland portion of the park. Work was begun on the Dugway Brook culvert and construction of the footbridge across Forest Hills Boulevard was started. Storm sewers were built, land graded, and buildings started. By the time the war broke out in 1941, 13,000 shrubs and another 13,000 small trees had been planted and the existing A. D. Taylor plan structures were virtually complete.

Although Taylor was involved in the park until his death in 1951, not all his plans for Forest Hill Park came to fruition. A swimming pool, picnic areas, a lawn bowling green, an overlook and several other features did not materialize. The Superior Road side of the park was somewhat neglected, but plans for its development were finally approved in 1946.


Significant Sites In and Around Forest Hill Park
1.Boat house and lagoon. Includes restroom open periodically. Originally intended for storage and rental of boats and comfort facilities.
2. Rustic stone masonry bridge and spillway with cascade that drains into the lagoon.
3. Meadow vista, a smaller version of the Great Meadow. Retains much of its original character, but picnic sites, trails and meadows need restoration and trees need maintenance and replacement.
4. Graceful pedestrian bridge designed by East Cleveland Engineer Wilbur Watson and Frank Walker, architect.
5. Site of Rockefeller home with view to Lake Erie. Built in late 1870's as a sanitarium, converted in 1881 to Rockefeller summer home.
6. Great Meadow and ravines containing old growth forests. View originally extended from the site of house to Lee Boulevard.
7. Site of Rockefeller barns and stables. A portion of brick wall and brick paving remains.
8. Beautiful stone bridge built in late 1800's using stone quarried on the property. Enabled horse drawn carriages to cross a ravine to reach the Rockefeller house and stables.
9. Dugway Valley, site of a restored picnic shelter and restroom needing restoration. Dugway brook flows underground through the Valley.
10. Heights Rockefeller Building containing apartments, offices and retail space. Built c. 1930 to complement and serve Forest Hill sub-division. Andrew Jackson Thomas, architect.
11. Forest Hill Historic District comprised of 81 "Rockefeller homes on the Nation Register of Historic Places, several other unusual homes with steel supports and many other attractive homes with slate, tile, or cedar shake roofs.