Cleveland’s first 'commuters village' could have been Aurora
The real estate market of the 1920’s saw the potential for turning Aurora from a small rural village into an emerging suburban community.
Having seen the great economic success of the development of Shaker Heights by the Van Sweringen brothers, Alfred Burns Smythe and partners established the Aurora Land Company with the intent of making Aurora “Cleveland’s First Commuters’ Village.” As part of the marketing for the development A.B. Smythe & Company wrote, “Cleveland like other large American cities has reached the point where the home-seeker desiring to live within his income must look beyond its limits and the immediate vicinity of his work if he wants to establish himself in a neighborhood or community of refinement.
“He must look for a location which provides the needs for comfortable home life; he must consider the safety and welfare of his children; he must think about transportation,” he continued. “Here in Aurora every essential for modern home life will be found. The high character of the development insures neighborhood refinement and with the schools, colleges, and churches in the vicinity he is assured of the educational and spiritual progress of his family.”
Enticed by soaring land prices several of Aurora’s largest landowners began to sell off their holdings between “Aurora Center” and “Aurora Station.” The Aurora Land Co. purchased a vast tract of land totaling approximately 950 acres. It extended from the corner of East Garfield Rd and Route 306 eastward to the Erie Railroad tracks and then following the tracks in a southeast direction all the way to the township’s boundary.
The tract was bordered on the west by Route 43 southward to just north of the current location of the Aurora Premium Outlets. The tract continued in a southeast direction extending all the way to “Harmon’s Pond,” known today as Sunny Lake. In the two years prior is was recorded that more than $1 million changed hands in the purchase of residential lots.
Initial plans called for the development of two separate subdivisions. Construction began with Subdivision #1 covering 162 acres divided into 414 home sites ranging in size from a half acre to an acre. Prospective buyers desiring to “grow larger vegetable and flower gardens” could purchase five, 10 or even 20-acre “estates” which promised that even though they were “fairly large properties they” were “not, in any way, isolated from the rest of Aurora’s activities, nor ... remote from transportation.”
Builders seeking to construct homes within the subdivision had to have their plans approved by a qualified board of architects who were selected by the Aurora Land Co.
A major focus of the marketing was the guarantee that the company had taken steps to protect the residential makeup of the “village” by excluding certain “groups” and individuals that were deem undesirable.
In early May, 1925 a meeting of invited “men” gathered at the Masonic Lodge (second floor of town hall) and listened to several speakers.
William MacDonald spoke about “Aurora of the Past.” The Rev. David Pearson of the Congregational Church (Church in Aurora) described “Aurora of the Present.” A.B. Smythe, sales agent for the Aurora Land Company, talked about “Aurora of the Future.”
This “Commuters’ Village” promised a wide spectrum of amenities. For those interested in riding the plans advertised three miles of bridle paths, a polo field, a model cross-country and hunting course with “miles of track, panel fences and approved self-opening and closing gates.”
A riding school would an “experienced groom available to instruct the novice, and where a good string of gaited horses” would be maintained. The centerpiece of the “village” would be the “Aurora Golf Club.” Bertie Way of the Mayfield Club was both the designer and superintendent of construction for the 18 hole golf course.
The first nine were promised to be ready for play in September, 1925 with the second nine holes being finished in 1926.
Crossing the winding Chagrin River four times the course was within walking distance of the home sites. With no initiation fee or annual dues the club was planned to be “maintained on a ‘pay as you play’ principle.”
The major selling point of the country club development was that it would be easily accessible by railroad, bus and automobile. Travelling on the double track lines of the Erie Railroad commuters were promised to be no more than a 30-35 minute ride to Union Terminal, then under construction, in downtown Cleveland.
A 45-minute train ride to West 9th Street in Cleveland was promised, with 10 minutes less to East 55th and only a 28-minute commute to East 93rd. An excellent bus line with “modern chair car buses” would operate each way daily.
For those who chose to “motor” to work, they could travel over “splendid paved roads” with a “pleasant hour’s drive through the Heights” to downtown Cleveland.
In addition to the “commuters’ village” and “golf club,” A. B. Smythe began construction of the Aurora Inn, which was completed in 1927. The Inn was located on the southeast corner of the intersection of Garfield Road (Route 82) and Chillicothe Road (Route 306) on a 12-acre parcel, which was part of the Wallace Lacey farm.
Covering three acres of the parcel, the Inn consisted of a lobby, lounge, dining room, and 23 guest rooms. The construction cost totaled $75,000 with an additional $25,000 being spent on authentic antique furnishings.
By 1929, approximately 35 homes had been built in the first subdivision along Hurd Road, Shawnee Trail, Hudson Road, and Pioneer Trail.
However, the dream of Smythe’s Commuter Village came to a dramatic end with the fall of the stock market and the onset of the Great Depression.
The Aurora Inn went into receivership in 1931. The Country Club struggled to stay open. Unable to meet their financial obligations many landowners defaulted on their properties with the Cleveland Trust Bank Co. becoming the largest receiver.
Following World War II, parcels of land were still being sold at sheriff’s auctions. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that the land started to be fully developed. What was proposed to be “Cleveland’s First Commuters’ Village” today includes Aurora’s Country Club section, the Highlands, Chatham Estates, Yorkshire Estates, Wellington, Prestige Woods, and the Premium Outlets.
Assisted living facilities The Avenue and Independence Village along with individual private properties along Rt. 43 are also part of what was the original Smythe’s Aurora Land Co. tract.
Kudley is president of the Aurora Historical Society.