Friday, September 15, 2023

Just why is it called "the Heights"


East of downtown Cleveland there are suburbs that bear names ending in "Heights".  There's a reason for that, and it's geographical, with a bit of elitism sprinkled in.  

Cleveland also has suburbs on its west (of the Cuyahoga River) that use the word "Heights" in their names as well. There is no real geographical reason, and while some are very nice, they are not heights.

The eastside heights are geographically indeed situated on "heights".

The west side, not so much. 

Allow Cookie to explain. 

East of Cleveland - which has nothing to do with the city of East Cleveland - and trust me, that is an entirely different kettle of fish - rises an ancient plateau.  And that plateau rises very quickly.  It stretches roughly from the banks of the Cuyahoga River north towards the Lake Erie plateau and points northeast of the region.  In some places the rise is subtle, in other places, such as between University Circle and Cleveland Heights, it gets rather steep, 300 to 500 feet up. 

When these areas were being transformed from farmland overlooking the expanding city of Cleveland, they colloquially were called the heights, because they were higher ground.  The first example that Cookie can friend is from a man named Dr. H. Ambler who wanted to develop his land, and he named it Ambler Heights.  Dr. Ambler also built a quixotic ruined "Indian fort", complete with a crumbling stone tower to entice people to come up and have a "look see."

As the rich escaped ever commercial and industrializing Million's Row or Euclid Avenue, a good percentage made their way up the Cedar Glen Parkway, the Mayfield Pike, and Ambler Road (Now Fairhill Road) and built mansions in what was called the Overlook at the top of the first rise. 

Other developers followed, and the places that built up for their idealized communities started to include "Heights" as part of their names.  Still, yet another increase in elevation happens along Fairmount Boulevard and Cedar Road.  

So we end up with Cleveland Heights, and Shaker Heights (built on the land owned by the North Union Shakers). 

While both communities catered to the wealthy, Cleveland Heights developed over time and through the efforts of many developers.  Shaker Heights also developed over time, but its development and street grid were tightly controlled through 1950. 

In the meantime, the other "Heights" burbs developed.  Garfield Heights started the trend when development began in the 1910s, followed by University Heights in the 1920s. Warrensville Heights, Mayfield Heights, Garfield Heights, Maple Heights, Bedford Heights, Highland Heights, and Richmond Heights all flourished after World War II, but lacked investments by the well-to-do.  Lyndhurst and South Euclid are honorary heights cities, but Beachwood is not. Well, maybe it is, who knows.

And what of the westside's Broadview Heights? Not a Heights. Fairview Heights? Not a Heights. Oh, sure, they use the name, but being from the Heights is an Eastside thing. The Village of Highland Hills? Not a Heights, although it has higher terrain than most around it. 

It is, however, a unified school district shared between Cleveland Heights and University Heights that was bestowed the crown royale of being just known as "Heights" upon Cleveland Heights.  It entered the flow of conversation because "Heights High School" is in Cleveland Heights.  Shaker Heights kids went to Shake High School, but Cleveland and University Heights kids went to "Heights".

For the non-locals, the inclusion of University School, a prep school which has it lower school building in Shaker Heights, not University Heights.  University Heights has John Carroll University.  Just so you know. 

And what of Dr. Ambler and his Ambler Heights? Ultimately, it was swallowed up by Cleveland Heights. 

And where is the height of the Heights?  Cookie has no idea. But I do know that the highest point in the Dugway Brook watershed is Lyman Circle, in Shaker Heights, although I never considered that as being exceptionally "high".  I also think that Sulgrave Oval is higher in elevation than Lyman Circle.

So when someone from the Heights says that Cleveland is downhill, we mean it is down the hill that we call the Heights. 


  1. Well, Beachwood is next to Shaker Heights and University Heights (originally called Idlewood), and all were carved out of the old Warrensville Township, but I guess I don't mind too much if Beachwood is not lumped with The Heights. Beachwood (in the area around Beachwood Place, where we used to hike and catch frogs before it was developed) contains the headwaters of Euclid Creek, which flows down to Lake Erie, so I guess Beachwood has claim to a certain elevation.
    You neglected to mention that Lyman Circle also contains Laurel School, a private girl's school in Shaker, and to make the series complete, Shaker also houses Hathaway Brown School, another girl's school. For all the areas you mention, it is fascinating to go over the old plat maps (all available on the internet) to see how the areas changed over time, and to note the names of the landowners, at all of which I am sure you are a past master.

    1. Tis true. I asked my mother once why we never lived in Beachwood - kids ask the darndest questions - and she said "they have streetlights or sidewalks." Well they did by the 1970s.
      On another note, years later, I did meet a very fetching man who grew up in the neighborhood west of Richmond Road, back by "the Hanger." We had several interesting conversations about his old neighborhood.

    2. And Acacia Country Club is now a wildlife preserve.

  2. Is now a good time to mention acrophobia? 😁 Jx

    1. Lord knows I have it, which is why we've never bought a house the precipice of a steep drop.