University Circle: From Farmland to Learning

Today, we know University Circle as perhaps the finest location in the world for a university campus, a square mile (about 260 hectares) on Cleveland's east side packed with nearly 50 leading educational, cultural, religious, scientific and health care institutions as well as beautiful parks and walkways. It was not always so.

In the Beginning

The area now encompassed by University Circle was known in the early 19th century as Doan's Corners. The area was named in honor of Nathaniel Doan, who, with his family, settled here near two intersecting Native American paths and built a tavern, a blacksmith shop, a general store and other facilities. Doan's fellow settlers were largely farmers joined later by merchants and craftsmen. They were located outside the boundary of Cleveland but interacted frequently with the rapidly growing city center four miles to their west.

As the 18th century moved on, the edges of Cleveland crept closer and closer to Doan's Corners along with the snarl of transportation and utility lines that come with city living. The transportation improvements that extended to and beyond the area came to include a paved main road and an electric trolley, which made it possible for residents of Doan's Corners to commute easily to jobs downtown. In the 1870s, the neighborhood was formally annexed by Cleveland, but it still was far from what it would one day become.

Here Come the Students!

The relocation of Western Reserve University and Case School of Applied Science from their original sites to Doan's Corners in the 1880s was the signal event in the transformation of the area. Prompted by the pledge of Amasa Stone to pay for Western Reserve's move from Hudson and for the cost of building its new facilities, the community raised funds to purchase 43 acres of land from farmers in Doan's Corners. That decision was consistent with the American tradition of locating colleges and universities outside—but near—major cities, breaking with the European custom of basing these institutions entirely within cities.

The arrival of the institutions and modern public transportation also served to give the area its current name. "University Circle" was the designation for the trolley turnaround near the Case and Western Reserve campuses. For the record, University Circle, as we know it today, is not circular in shape.

The Circle as Civic Opportunity

Just as the city was about to enter a period of intense urbanization, the move of the institutions to the area also provided important incentives for area philanthropists and for city planners of the day. Western Union founder Jeptha Wade, who owned considerable property in the area, was a donor to the effort to purchase land for the two schools. In 1882, he gave much of his own property to serve as a park. His family's name now marks key features of the University Circle area. In 1896, John D. Rockefeller, a former Clevelander who was by then a resident of New York, donated funds to purchase and preserve a large park area nearby.

City planners of the era struggled to accommodate the inexorable march of urbanization while preserving some sense of order and tranquility. Part of their response, guided by the Cleveland Educational Group Plan, was to encourage cultural and educational institutions to locate near each other, creating special districts where learning and culture would prevail. Following the arrival of Case and Western Reserve in Doan's Corners, the planners pounced on the area as the ideal location for other kindred institutions. Over the next several decades, more than 30 other institutions either moved to or were created in University Circle.

Perfecting the Circle

As urbanization and urban sprawl accelerated, and the institutions themselves grew, it was inevitable that there would be difficulties. By the 1950s, the institutions found themselves competing against each other to purchase scarce real estate and they were concerned about how best to provide commonly needed services such as parking and security. The presidents of Case and Western Reserve, with significant support from Elizabeth Ring Ireland Mather and other community leaders, put together a plan for the University Circle Development Foundation (UCDF) that would provide coordinated services and land banking for all Circle institutions.

UCDF was reorganized in 1970 as University Circle Incorporated (UCI). Today, it offers a range of services and amenities that are vital to the Circle and to students, faculty, staff and visitors of the university. UCI also works closely with city government and with community groups to promote partnerships and mutually supportive relationships.

What Does It Mean?

The university's location amid nearly 50 leading cultural, religious, health care and scientific institutions certainly gives us interesting neighbors. More important, however, are the joint ventures and other partnerships the university has built with more than half of these neighboring institutions. As a result, their facilities, staffs and collections are easily accessible to students. Just a few examples follow:

  • The university operates joint degree programs with the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Cleveland Play House;
  • Students (and others) can ride the UCI shuttle bus system throughout the Circle at no cost;
  • Students are eligible for The Cleveland Orchestra student advantage programĀ­ which offers discounted tickets throughout the season;
  • Students can visit many Circle institutions for free through the Free Access Program, supported by the College of Arts and Sciences and the Office of Student Affairs;
  • Staff members in many Circle institutions serve as adjunct instructors at the university, providing the special perspective of scholar-practitioners in a wide range of fields.

For these and many reasons, we believe there is no better location for a university campus than University Circle.

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