History of Cuyahoga Valley National Park

The preservation of the lands began in the early 20th Century, when they set up local and state parks.  The movement for a national park began in the 1960s, as local citizens sought to fight urban sprawl into the area.  However, in the early 70s, the National Park Service director was vehemently against the creation of a national park in Cuyahoga Valley.  Instead, local leaders convinced Congress and President Gerald Ford to declare the area a National Recreation Area in 1974.  A key champion of the park was Congressman Ralph Regula, who would help funnel resources to the park for decades and shepherded the change in designation to a national park in 2000.

The area has been home to humans for thousands of years.  Paleo Indians were the first known inhabitants of the area, more than 10,000 years ago.  Most of the history of the valley by native Americans is unrecorded. The native Americans who lived here are responsible for the name of the river and the valley, “Ka-ih-ogh-ha” which means crooked. The last permanent residents, the Whittlesey, left in the early 1600s, and the area was thereafter used as a transportation route for trade and hunters. The Treaty of Greenville after the battle against General Anthony Wayne at Fallen Timbers (Maumee) forfeited the lands east of the Cuyahoga River to the United States and opened the area to pioneers. Remnants of early civilizations have been found throughout the park.

Brandywine Village was first settled in 1814 by George Wallace, who built a sawmill at Brandywine Falls, taking advantage of the water power going over the waterfall. Remnants of the village, left behind as the prosperity dried up and other communities were created nearby, still remain today next, and the barn and house used by his son James still remain today as the Inn at Brandywine Falls. Farming has been an important part of the area since the early 1800s.  There are nine farms operating in the park in order to preserve this farming heritage, with plans to extend farming to five percent of the park lands.  The first pilot farms in the park were established in 2002.

The Cuyahoga River was unsuitable for transportation early in the area’s history due to its elevation drop.  In 1827, the Ohio & Erie Canal opened between Akron and Canton to connect the Ohio River (flowing into the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico) with Lake Erie and the Atlantic Ocean, and to become part of the continuous link between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico when it was completed in 1832.  The canal would open Cleveland up to substantial industrialization in the 19th and 20th century.  The trip from Cleveland to Cincinnati, which once took weeks, was cut down to 80 hours when the full length of the canal opened in 1832. It allowed Ohio to compete with states along the Atlantic, and lead to an increased number of immigrants, workers, and entrepreneurs to the region. Cleveland, Akron, and Massillon became commercial and trade urban centers due to the Canal. Along the canal, cities boomed.  Property values increased, grain prices increased, and people flowed into the area due to its prosperity. Beginning in the 1870s, city dwellers escaped to the area for recreation, including carriage rides and leisure boat trips on the canal.

The Valley Railway Company brought trains to Cuyahoga Valley in 1880, and was an additional recreational escape.  It was built to allow easy transport of Ohio’s mineral deposits and agricultural resources to the rest of the nation through ships on Lake Erie.  On southbound journeys, passengers were brought to the many stations along the railroad.  Although commercial transport ended decades ago, the tracks are still used today as passengers enjoy travel through the park on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

Use of the canal came to an end in 1913 when a torrential rain downpour over four days flooded every river in the state.  It caused extensive damage to the canal, and the state of Ohio decided not to make the repairs.  Although the canal would never recover, the tragedy spurred the development of modern, local and national disaster preparedness.

In the early 1900s, the Jaite Mill was started.  The mill would make paper to be used for bags.  In the 1920s and 1930s, it was the 11th largest multi-wall paper producer in the United States.  The mill was sold in the 1950s after it was unable to compete with larger mills in the south.  Although the National Park Service had considered adapting the industrial buildings, arson in 1992 left them unsafe.  They were demolished in 2006 and the land will be restored to the forest that was there a hundred years before.

The development of the park began at the beginning of the 1900s, aided with the study completed by the Olmsted Brothers which evaluated the recreation potential of the Valley, and the creation of several city/metropolitan parks in the 1920s. In 1929, Cleveland businessman Hayward Kendall donated hundreds of acres, which were named Virginia Kendall Park, in honor of his mother. During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) worked to clear dying trees, build shelters and provide additional recreation, such as a toboggan run and swimming area in Kendall Lake. The camp built to house the men would later become Happy Days Lodge, a summer camp for children from Akron. Most of the work the CCC completed was in Virginia Kendall Park.

By the 1960s, concerns about urban sprawl led to lead local leaders to conclude the valley should become an NPS site, using precedent set by Nixon’s “Parks to the People” policy that allowed urban national recreation areas to be established, although the NPS and Department of the Interior were strongly opposed. The Cuyahoga River had been recovering from the effects of this industrialization.  In 1969, it galvanized the environmental movement when oil and debris on the river caught fire for 24 minutes.  The U.S. Congress passed the Clean Water Act as a result of the publicity surrounding the river’s fire. The park’s advocates pushed legislation through Congress, obtaining crucial support and resulting in a bill signed by President Ford in 1974 that created Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area. The park was redesignated as Cuyahoga Valley National Park in 2000. The national heritage area of the Ohio & Erie Canalway connects the park to local parks and 40 communities, and the park includes a trail that follows the canal for 21 miles, often used for running or biking. The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, whose predecessor is the Valley Railway of 1880, still operates trains through the park. The surrounding communities abut the park on all sides.