Part I: Community

5. Case School and Its Neighbor: Community as Co-Existence

“College matters are moving pleasantly. Our students give us as little trouble as possible.”[1] Perhaps with intended humor, so wrote Professor Morley of Western Reserve University on October 24, 1886 on his third year at the new campus in Cleveland at what was within twenty years to be known as University Circle. But the tranquility he described was abruptly disturbed two days later when there was a disastrous fire in the only building at the neighboring Case School of Applied Sciences. Notes and perhaps equipment crucial to experiments Morley was conducting with Case professor Albert Michelson were destroyed, and for the next two years the students and faculty of Case crowded into the two Western Reserve buildings.[2]

This incident might stand as a paradigm for the history of the interrelations between the two oldest institutions of higher learning in Cleveland. Generally they were content to pursue their own futures, and did so without serious interference from students, donors, or faculty, but on occasion the two schools proved to be indispensable companions.

Western Reserve might have been the only Cleveland college with 19th-century roots had not Leonard Case, Jr. believed that the citizens of the growing industrial region of northeast Ohio needed technical education. The Western Reserve trustees believed so, too, but when they voted in 1877 to begin an engineering course at their institution, they allocated only $150 to support it. No faculty was available at that price, even the instruments and models necessary to teach civil and mechanical engineering would have cost far more than that. The course was stillborn.[3]

But a far bolder plan was in the offing: in February 1877, just a few months before the Western Reserve trustees had taken their action, Leonard Case, Jr. had set up a secret trust fund to provide for the creation of the Case School of Applied Science at his death. Case had been born in the Western Reserve and raised in Cleveland, where his father had acquired large real estate holdings. After graduating from Yale in 1842, the younger Leonard Case returned to Cleveland with decided intellectual tastes. He became an active participant in a group of natural history fanciers led by his brother William.[4]

The group met in a wooden building next to the family home on Superior Avenue across from the northeast corner of Public Square, and accumulated so many stuffed animals and other natural curiosities that they took to calling their building “the Ark.” They became known as the Arkites, and from their fertile minds came the origins of many of the earlier cultural institutions of Cleveland, including the Western Reserve Historical Society and the Cleveland Library Association.[5]

The immediate impetus for Case’s educational legacy for his native city is uncertain. His father held stock in various industrial enterprises, and the son undoubtedly became acquainted with many technically-inclined men as a result, but Case would not have been impressed by their academic preparation: industry was by-and-large run by people who learned on the job, not in schools.

Two things are certain. First, Case had a strong, philanthropic bent. He believed that he should return to Cleveland a just proportion of what he earned there. When on his father’s death in 1864 he inherited a substantial amount of investments in city real estate and industries Case apparently gave little thought to personally spending the income, let alone the principal. He began distributing much of his income to worthy charities. Second, Case grew more and more enamored of science, and believed that higher education institutions in the United States were reluctant to encourage its development.[6] The most promising areas for the serious study of science were in the mining and technical schools attached to the state colleges of the Midwest and West, and a few engineering colleges scattered across the country.[7]

In February of 1877 Leonard Case, Jr. turned to his confidant and lawyer Henry G. Abbey to create a deed of trust for five large parcels of land in the heart of Cleveland. At his death these parcels were to be conveyed to a new entity, to be called the Case School of Applied Science, which (he specified) would have teachers and professors of mathematics, physics, civil and mechanical engineering, chemistry, economics, geology, mining and metallurgy, natural history, drawing, and the modern languages. Case made certain that the curriculum for his school was outlined clearly to the future trustees of his benefaction.[8]

When Case died early in 1880 Henry Abbey quickly incorporated the Case School of Applied Science. He chose fifteen prominent citizens of Cleveland as the original incorporators, including Jepha Wade and at least three who lived in the Doan’s Corners area: J.H. Devereaux, W.S. Streator, and Samuel Williamson. Others were some of the Arkites, and others were men chiefly known for their contributions to Cleveland’s commerce and industry.

In the latter category was Captain Alva Bradley, a wealthy Great Lakes ship-owner who was a friend of Samuel Edison of Milan, Ohio. Samuel had named his now-famous son Thomas Alva Edison as a gesture of appreciation for Captain Bradley’s close business relationship with him.[9]

The incorporators (five of whom were later selected as trustees) had two major decisions to make: how to organize the institution and where it should be located. Since none of the men were educators they looked for outside help. Case’s close friend John Stockwell, a Clevelander who had published mathematical and astronomical treatises (in part with Case’s support), suggested several consultants to the trustees to whom they wrote for advice. Benjamin Gould, a prominent American astronomer with a Ph.D. from the famous German university at Göttingen, drew up the plan that most appealed to the business-oriented incorporators.[10]

Gould told them that some level of instruction should begin immediately, and that the Case homestead, now on their land at Rockwell Avenue in the center of Cleveland, was adequate for the purpose. He thought that good teachers and sufficient scientific and technical apparatus could be secured for only $10,000 per year until such time as the trust had generated enough additional income to erect a suitable building.

The incorporators had felt unprepared to carry out Case’s wishes immediately, and worried about squandering their trust on bricks and mortar. Taking Gould’s advice, they believed, meant that they could learn “experimentally the kind and direction of the instruction demanded by the industries of Northern Ohio, and the extent and character of the accommodation [that is, the building] necessary to render such instruction most efficient.”[11] This tough-minded approach to education and finance remained characteristic of Case School throughout the next century.

The school was organized quickly with John Stockwell as the head instructor, and in April 1881 seven students met in the Case homestead to study mathematics, astronomy, French and German for a preparatory term of three months. Regular classes began in the fall and continued at the homestead through the spring of 1885 when the first graduation was held, with five degrees awarded in civil and mechanical engineering.[12] The faculty had by then grown to four, with the addition of professors John Eisenman (civil engineering). Albert A. Michelson (physics and electrical engineering), and Charles F. Mabery (chemistry).[13]

Simultaneous with their search for faculty the Case trustees had participated jointly in the search for a site to locate both Western Reserve College and their new school in Cleveland. In September 1880, when the Reserve trustees had a clear commitment from Amasa Stone to fund their move from Hudson, they approached the Case trustees with a proposition to consider “uniting with us in the purchase of a site ample for both institutions, with a view to placing them side by side.”[14]

The Case trustees were receptive, but found that some Clevelanders (including, perhaps, some of the Reserve trustees) assumed that agreeing to a joint site had committed them to an eventual merger. In January 1881 the Case trustees recorded their intent to build a site adjacent to Western Reserve, but (in a formula to echo down through the years) declared that they had never discussed merging with their future neighbor and that they sought only complementary educational purposes and the financial advantages of shared resources (“libraries, apparatus, etc. and the ability to engage a higher order of talent… by giving employment to the same person in both institutions”).[15]

When the citizens’ committee selected a site across from Wade Park the Case trustees suggested that Western Reserve take the east side and Case the west side, which was immediately agreed to.[16] For the Case campus Professor Eisenman designed a massive sandstone building to include all the classrooms and offices. Ground was broken for it in the spring of 1885 and it was finished when classes began in the fall of 1885. The fire on October 27, 1886 destroyed much of the interior and its attractive cupola, but it was successfully reconstructed and Case Main was the central architectural feature on the school’s campus until it was torn down in 1972.[17]

Stockwell, and his successor as president of Case from 1886 to 1902, Cady Staley, were successful in instituting rigorous engineering courses which drew students well-prepared in mathematics and science. Civil engineering dominated the curriculum but in the early years mechanical, electrical, and mining were added as courses of study leading to degrees. Appropriate laboratories, and buildings to house them, followed; booklets were published and distributed extolling the virtues of the chemistry and mechanical engineering facilities.[18]

President Staley, a graduate of one of the earliest private engineering schools in the United States (Union College in Schenectady, New York), recognized that the idea of higher technical education remained novel in late-nineteenth century America, and that Case needed to recruit students if it was to fulfill its potential. He took tours of the industrial cities of Ohio to tell teachers and students of the opportunities an engineering career presented, bought advertisements in The Ohio Farmer and other newspapers, offered free lectures in civil engineering, and initiated the creation of sixteen scholarships for outstanding graduates of Cleveland’s high schools.[19] Staley also took personal interest in students and student life. The Case Athletic Club was born in his tenure. and Professor Frank Van Horn began his legendary twenty-six year term as the Club’s treasurer. Staley also promoted a music club, a photography club, and a literary society, and on his death established the Cady Staley Trust Fund to provide students with short-term loans.[20]

As the school grew under strong leadership and a sound curriculum the trustees struggled to derive sufficient income from the Case endowment. Wisely they did not sell off the land in central Cleveland immediately, but adopted the view that the value of the lots would increase as the city itself grew.[21] It must have been frustrating to have to lease a large downtown tract for no rent in exchange for fencing in order to “protect the property from baseball players and other trespassers.”[22] More positively, in 1889 the trustees granted a right of way to the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad through two lots along the shore of Lake Erie and the next year sold lake-shore property to the American Wire Company, which was undoubtedly attracted because of the adjacent railroad service.[23] This was not an isolated strategy. At other times the trustees granted the city land to cut a street through to the lake-shore, gave a right-of-way through their property to Standard Oil (for a pipeline), and allowed a streetcar company to lay track through their downtown land.[24]

With foresight or just blind faith in the future the trustees were participating in the late nineteenth century process of urbanization by permitting new utility and transportation systems access to their lands.[25] Their lands grew in value as rapidly as the rest of downtown Cleveland real estate. When in 1905 the city decided to provide a unified public area by creating what became known as the “Group Plan” of city, county, and federal buildings between Superior and Lakeside avenues northeast of Public Square, Case sold its portion of the site for $1,900,000.[26] This substantial realization of cash from the endowment was not simply banked. The trustees showed enormous confidence in the city’s continued growth by using the income to purchase several new tracts of real estate over the next two years, mostly in the University Circle area.[27]

The endowment also grew through new gifts. Leonard Case, Jr’s. cousin Laura K. Axtell gave about 60 parcels of land in the city and western Cuyahoga County to the school in 1885, thereby establishing the school’s first endowed chair (the Kerr Professor of Mathematics). In 1898, two other cousins of Case gave downtown lots to the school, but they were immediately sold in order to buy a precision astronomical instrument for Professor Howe.[28]

Case’s successful endowment growth and curriculum development still left it a smaller school than Western Reserve University.[29] This was perpetually clear to its trustees, who balanced a fear of being swallowed up by Western Reserve with a sincere desire to fulfill their pledge of cooperation. Discussions of merger, coming at intervals of 10-20 years, always originated with the expansion-minded Reserve trustees or with outside agencies such as the Chamber of Commerce, which sought to create a University of Cleveland. Instead, Case jealously preserved its identity. The Case and Reserve campuses were carefully separated by a 40-foot north-south strip with only a fence running down the middle — a no-man’s-land on which the two institutions agreed not to build.[30]

This demilitarized zone was perhaps a necessary expression of Case’s independence while Western Reserve was constantly expanding its campus during its first fifty years at the Circle. Reserve leapt north of Euclid Avenue in 1889 when it created a campus for the new College for Women. Thereafter it acquired private land piecemeal along Adelbert Road to provide buildings and land for the professional schools President Thwing added in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Reserve trustees assisted in purchasing a massive plot east of the main campus in 1915 for the combined site of University Hospitals and the Western Reserve Medical School.

In the latter 1920s President. Robert E. Vinson (who had succeeded Thwing in 1923) carried out a major land-acquisition campaign, including most of the land on the north side of Euclid Avenue not held by the university. A few vacant lots were donated by Jeptha H. Wade II, but most of the purchases were mortgaged in anticipation of a fund-raising campaign to start in 1930, a campaign which never occurred due to the beginning of the Great Depression in 1929. Still, Western Reserve University remained by far the largest landholder in the Circle.[31]

In land acquisition Reserve and Case could act completely independently of one another but in other areas there slowly developed the interdependence which Hiram Haydn, Amasa Stone and Jeptha Wade had anticipated. Professors Michelson and Morley easily bridged the gap in the 1880s through their common research interests. (See chapter 6, following.) In 1906 the Case and Reserve trustees agreed to share chemistry facilities; both student bodies used Amasa Stone Chapel (Reserve) and the football field (Case) and in 1925 when Cleveland College was created as a downtown, night-school division, it was administratively part of Western Reserve University, but relied heavily on Case faculty and facilities.[32]

 Generally, when Case and Western Reserve had common needs or serious problems, such as the burning of Case Main in 1886, they found pragmatic means of cooperation. The two colleges had established in the Circle a pattern for the future institutions that would arrive there: a willingness to cooperate for mutual benefit while maintaining institutional identities.

  1. E.W. Morley to S.B. Morley, 25 October 1886, E.W. Morley Papers (hereafter Morley Papers), Case Western Reserve University Archives (hereafter CWRU Archives), Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio.
  2. Clarence H. Cramer, Case Institute of Technology: A Centennial History, 1880-1980 (Cleveland: Case Western Reserve University, 1980), pp. 51-52. Whereas several writers have stated that the equipment for Michelson’s ether-drift experiment was lost in the fire, Morley’s own description mentions only that “Michelson and [Case professor Charles] Mabery lost their books and lecture notes, and also their notes of work done. Mabery lost a good deal of this kind.” E.W. Morley to S.B. Morley, 16 November 1886, Morley Papers.
  3. 27 June 1877, Trustees’ minutes, Western Reserve College (hereafter Trustees’ minutes, WRC), CWRU Archives.
  4. Walter B. Hendrickson, The Arkites and Other Pioneer Natural History Organizations in Cleveland (Cleveland, OH: Press of Western Reserve University, 1962).
  5. Cramer, Case Institute of Technology, pp. 1-5.
  6. Ibid, pp. 6-7, 9. In 1872 a Cleveland newspaper reported that Leonard Case, Jr. was worth $7-10 million, and was a “modest, unassuming gentleman whose charitable activities are quiet, but it is believed that he distributes about $100,000 annually in benefits: Annals of Cleveland 55 (1872): 65.
  7. Lawrence P. Grayson, “A Brief History of Engineering Education in the United States,” Engineering Education 66 (1977): 246-64.
  8. Deed of Trust, Leonard Case, Jr. to Henry G. Abbey, 24 February 1877, in Trustee’s minutes, Case School of Applied Sciences (hereafter Trustee’s minutes, CSAS), CWRU Archives.
  9. Matthew Josephson, Edison (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1959), pp. 2, 12.
  10. Cramer, Case Institute of Technology, pp. 19-20, 24-25; Clark A. Elliott, Biographical Dictionary of American Science: The Seventeenth Through the Nineteenth Centuries (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1979), pp. 106-7, 242.
  11. 4 April 1881, Trustees’ minutes, CSAS.
  12. 3 April 1882, 6 June 1885, Trustees’ minutes, CSAS. There were also five certificates granted in chemistry for taking a rigorous one-semester course in languages, physics, mathematics and analytical chemistry: William Meriam diary, 1885, CWRU Archives.
  13. The faculty was first appointed as instructors, but all were promoted to professor in 1884. The CSAS trustees were careful to note that the promotion occurred without an increase in pay: 29 September 1884, Trustees’ minutes, CSAS.
  14. 20 September 1880, Trustees’ minutes, Western Reserve College, CWRU Archives.
  15. 12 January 1881, Trustees’ minutes, CSAS.
  16. R.P. Ranney to Amasa Stone, 14 June 1881. Cady Staley Papers, CWRU Archives; Amasa Stone to R.P. Ranney, Ibid. There is no evidence for the oft-repeated story that the Case trustees tricked Amasa Stone by asking for the east half, so that Stone (regarded as a bully) would insist on having the east half, while they really wanted the west half.
  17. Case Tech (student newspaper), 2 September 1972.
  18. 4 January 1892, 3 February 1896, Trustees’ minutes, CSAS; Cramer, Case Institute of Technology, pp. 54-55.
  19. 16 May 1887, 5 August 1889, 7 April 1891, 21 September 1896, Trustees’ minutes, CSAS.
  20. 3 November 1890, 6 January 1896, Trustees’ minutes, CSAS; Cramer, Case Institute of Technology, pp. 55-56, 132-147.
  21. This strategy the Case trustees attributed to Leonard Case, Jr.: 6 December 1897, Trustees’ minutes, CSAS.
  22. 20 April 1887, Trustees’ minutes, CSAS.
  23. 13 February 1889, 7 April 1890, Trustees’ minutes, CSAS.
  24. 19 December 1885, 4 January 1892, 6 February 1893, Trustees’ minutes, CSAS.
  25. Jon C. Teaford, The Twentieth-Century American City: Problems, Promises, and Reality (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), pp. 8-11.
  26. 5 June 1905, Trustees’ minutes, CSAS.
  27. 31 December 1906, 21 January 1907, 12 February 1907, 18 March 1907, Trustees’ minutes, CSAS.
  28. 3 October 1898, Trustees’ minutes, CSAS; Cramer, Case Institute of Technology, p. 59.
  29. Cramer, Case Institute of Technology, pp. 55, 62, notes that CSAS had 353 students and 21 faculty in 1902, and 850 students (“400 more than it had ever had before”) in wartime 1918. In Clarence H. Cramer, Case Western Reserve: A History of the University, 1926-1976 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1976), p. 113, he states that Western Reserve University had 246 students and 37 faculty in 1900, and “more than 2,000 students” and 415 faculty in 1921.
  30. Charles F. Thwing to H.A. Haring, 10 May 1909, box 3, Charles Thwing Office Files, CWRU Archives). See Cramer, Case Western Reserve, pp. 234-35, for a general discussion of Case-Reserve relationships in the early 1900s.
  31. In 1933 President Vinson stated that the University’s debt was $6 million: officer’s diary entry, 24 May 1933, folder 57, box 4, series 238S, RG 1.1, Rockefeller Foundation Archives, Rockefeller Archive Center, Sleepy Hollow, New York.
  32. 19 June 1906, Trustees’ Prudential Committee minutes, Western Reserve University, CWRU Archives; Cramer, Case Western Reserve, p. 126; Cramer, Case Institute of Technology, p. 136.


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