Neighbors on the North Coast: Cleveland's Connection to the Mentor Shoreline

Hitchcock's Holdup by Sam Tamburro

The Western Reserve has long been one of the United States' most productive and distinct regions1 and is the home of industrial centers such as Akron, Cleveland, Lorain, and Youngstown.

Mentor, twenty miles east of Cleveland on Lake Erie's shore, nearly became one of these centers. Similar to Cleveland and Lorain, Mentor's lakefront position made it a likely site for industrial expansion during the Industrial Revolution, but no substantial growth occurred. One explanation would be that the community did not desire to become a dirty "smokestack" center of industry. Although this explanation sounds reasonable today, it simply was not the case in the early twentieth century. There were several efforts to industrialize Mentor throughout its early history, but the most significant attempt occurred in 1900. During 1900 to 1903, a business trust led by Calvary Morris, a Cleveland businessman, attempted to develop the Mentor Marsh into an industrial complex and attracted various rail lines and industries to the area. The plan was eventually stalled by problems with land acquisition caused by Peter M. Hitchcock.

Mentor's economy was closely tied to Cleveland's since Cleveland was the marketplace for many of the agricultural goods produced in Lake County. There were several rail lines connecting Mentor and Cleveland. As early as 1851, "The Lake Shore Road," running from Cleveland to Painesville, passed directly through Mentor.2 Like many other railroad lines at that time, it was mainly a passenger line. As the end of the nineteenth century approached, the rail system in the United States increasingly became industrially oriented, and Ohio experienced this trend.

Individuals like John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Samuel Mather helped to build Ohio into the major steel-producing center in the United States. The steel industry needed railroads to carry raw materials to industrial plants and carry finished steel products away. In Cleveland, businessmen such as Calvary Morris saw this growth in industry as a business opportunity to expand into the suburbs. Entrepreneurs considered the Mentor Marsh to be a prime site because of its proximity to Cleveland. Three main railroad lines serviced Mentor in 1900: the Cleveland, Painesville, and Eastern (CP&E); the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern (LS&MS); and the New York Central and St. Louis (NYC&STL), which was also known as the "Nickel Plate Line." All of these lines played significant roles in the attempted industrialization of the Mentor Marsh. Both the LS&MS and the NYC&STL could handle heavy freight and reach industrial centers within the Great Lakes area. Both of these lines ran through Mentor and, with minor additions to the roads, could be directed north to service the marsh. As this information regarding the proposed industrial development reached the business community, land speculation in Mentor began. Smaller businesses, such as the Hoffman Hinge Company which manufactured metallic hinges and car couplers for railroad cars, were dependent on steel for production and were expected to follow the steel industry to the suburbs.3 Wealthy men from Cleveland were buying land in Mentor at a quick rate, banking on the possible migration of Cleveland manufacturing companies to Mentor.4

The Mentor Marsh is roughly seven miles long and represents the flow of the Grand River thousands of years ago. Geologic evolution redirected the Grand River north to Lake Erie and cut off the section of the river that flowed through the marsh area; only Black Creek remained.5 With the Grand River water flow cut off from the remaining portion of the river bed, silt and vegetation gradually filled the area to form the Mentor Marsh.

In the 1870s, there had been a plan to dredge out the channel and build a large inland dock to hold grain shipped in at a cheaper rate than the railroads were charging to haul it.6 The enacting of the Granger Laws in 1874, which established maximum rates railroads could charge on freight, negated the economic need for the dock at that time. By 1900, the feasibility of converting the marsh into a shipping channel for a shipyard or into a steel complex was well known. Articles began to appear in the Painesville Telegraph and Painesville Republican that suggested options on the marsh were being acquired. Although the allegations could not be substantiated at the time, they were proved to be correct months later.

In early December of 1900, Lake County Commissioner J. C. Campbell had begun securing land options on the east end of the marsh.7 Campbell had secured roughly 2,000 acres for the steel and coal trust of Cleveland.8 This trust organization was a collection of Cleveland companies' legal advisors headed by Calvary Morris and H. A. Garfield.9 Both Morris and Garfield were on the board of trustees of the Cleveland Trust Company, a newly formed lending institution in Cleveland.10 The Cleveland Trust Company were investors American Steel and Wire Company, which was a Cleveland based steel manufacturing company.11 The Cleveland Coal Trust represented the Pittsburgh Coal Company and Morris, who owned 8,000 acres of coal land in Jefferson County in southern Ohio.12 These two trusts merged and became known as the Cleveland Steel and Coal Trust. Their formation was caused by Andrew Carnegie's plan to industrialize the harbor in Conneaut, Ohio.

In 1896, Carnegie had bought the Pittsburgh, Butler, and Lake Erie (PB&LE) Railroad that ran from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Conneaut, Ohio.13 Conneaut provided an excellent docking facility on Lake Erie where Carnegie would be able to ship coal and import ore for his Pittsburgh steel works. His plan was to transport ore by rail from Conneaut to Youngstown and Pittsburgh and return with coal to ship to other mills along the Great Lakes.14 By 1899, Carnegie began to consider building a steel tube manufacturing facility at Conneaut.15 Land was cheap and available. A manufacturing plant at Conneaut would be able to bring in iron ore from Minnesota and Michigan almost entirely by water, the cheapest form of transportation. The PB&LE could transport ore to Pittsburgh and, upon return, carry coke for the Conneaut plant at virtually no cost. Carnegie realized that finished products could be shipped by water or rail, from the Conneaut location, which would allow him to undercut the production cost of competitors and control the steel market.

It was the possibility of Carnegie cornering and controlling the steel and coal markets that caused the Cleveland Steel Trust and the Cleveland Coal Trust to consider building a complex at Mentor. At this time, American Steel and Wire's coal supply was shipped from Mahoning and Columbiana Counties and ore was brought in from Michigan.16 The land needed to build a large holding dock to compete with Carnegie was not available in the "Flats" area of Cleveland.17 The trust decided to build in Mentor. The trust obviously picked the marsh area for its access to Lake Erie and for its affordability. The price paid for the marsh acres was roughly $4,000.18 They proposed to dredge the delta of Black Creek at the west end of the marsh to form a harbor with ample dock space. Steam and electric rail systems connected Mentor to Cleveland, so it was practically a suburb. With the location decided upon, the trust moved to secure rail lines and an inexpensive coal supply from southeastern Ohio.

The trust's first action was to establish a rail line from Mentor to Pittsburgh. Their strategy was the same as Carnegie's?ship ore to Youngstown and Pittsburgh and return with coal for their steel operations. In February of 1901, the Morris trust purchased the Ohio River and Lake Erie (OR&LE) Railroad.19 It also purchased the Wheeling and Cleveland (W&C) Railroad, which included 21,000 acres of new coal fields. What is more important, the Morris syndicate formed a business relationship with the B&O in southern Ohio. The B&O allowed the Morris syndicate access to cross its Cleveland terminal and valley line to ship into Mentor.20 With an investment of $7,000,000 in these two rail lines, the trust was thought to have taken the final steps in the process to industrialize the marsh. But by March of 1901, the plan was all but canceled.

The reasons given for canceling the industrial development of the marsh vary, but two primary factors emerge: the formation of U.S. Steel and the inability to secure Peter M. Hitchcock's land option in the Mentor Marsh.

On 2 March 1901, Carnegie sold his Carnegie Steel Company to the U.S. Steel Corporation, which consisted of the National Steel Company, the American Steel and Wire Company, and the American Tin Plate Company.21 Both American Steel and Wire and American Tin Plate Company were heavily involved in the Cleveland Steel and Coal Trust.

The effect of the formation of U.S. Steel on the trust's plans for industrial development of the Mentor marsh is clear?it nullified them. Carnegie was now in alliance with the Cleveland Steel and Coal Trust. There was no longer a need to match his attempts in Conneaut with the development of the marsh, but the idea to industrialize the Mentor Marsh was not scrapped entirely in February of 1901.

The need for a large ore and coal dock on Lake Erie was still apparent. Mentor was a better site than Conneaut because of its proximity to Cleveland. Mentor is roughly 35 miles closer to Cleveland than Conneaut. U.S. Steel owned nine steel and wire plants in the Cleveland area, and the need for a large ore supply was evident. But the trust ran into difficulties with land acquisition in Mentor.

J.C. Campbell, the Lake County Commissioner mentioned earlier, now acted as the custodian on behalf of U.S. Steel's interests in Mentor. He was attempting to obtain marsh land for the project well into May of 1901, four months after the U.S. Steel's formation.22 This would lead one to believe that U.S. Steel still viewed the development of the marsh as viable. On 17 May 1901, Campbell was able to purchase land on the east side of the marsh from the Painesville Sportsman's Club.23 Campbell was also successful in buying acreage of marsh land from Alex Snell and the Brooks Family. The only section that needed to be purchased was located at the west end of the marsh where the Black Creek flows into Lake Erie. This area would be vital for industrial development of the marsh because it was the only section of the channel that connected with Lake Erie; it would provide the inland bay for the project. This valuable tract of land was owned by Peter M. Hitchcock, and he had no intention of selling it.

Hitchcock was a member of one of the most prominent families in Lake County. The Hitchcocks had long established careers in law. Hitchcock's father was a Lake County judge, and his grandfather was Chief Justice of the Ohio State Supreme Court.24 After law school, Peter M. Hitchcock became a member of the Cleveland law firm of Powers, Brown, and Company. He also began to invest in heavy industry such as the Mahoning Valley Iron Company and the Ontario Rolling Mill in Hamilton, Ontario. Additionally, he founded the Moon Run coal mines and the Reynoldsville coal field both in Western Pennsylvania.25 In 1898, these coal fields became collectively known as the Pittsburgh Coal Company. This company was part of the coal trust that entered into partnership with the steel interests in January of 1901 to block Carnegie's attempts in Conneaut and to build an industrial complex at the Mentor Marsh. When the merger between the Cleveland Steel and Coal Trust and U.S. Steel was finalized, Hitchcock refused to sell his option. Steel; the industrialization plan was thwarted.

The reasons for Hitchcock's decision not to sell his land is unknown. It is obvious that when Carnegie became involved in the Mentor Marsh project, Hitchcock lost interest in the deal. It cannot be determined if business or personal differences existed between Hitchcock and Carnegie. But, with his knowledge of the law and his personal financial fortune, Hitchcock was ready to withstand any attempt from U.S. Steel to acquire his land. U.S. Steel tried for three years to convince Hitchcock to sell his 52 acres. In May of 1903, U.S. Steel finally relinquished their attempt to purchase Hitchcock's land.26

On 24 May 1903, Hitchcock entered into negotiations to sell his land to the Cleveland, Ravenna, and Southern (CR&S) Railway.27 Although he never sold his land, the possibility of CR&S owning the inlet access drew a strong response from U.S. Steel. The Cleveland, Youngstown, and Pittsburgh (CY&P) Railroad, which was run by U.S. Steel, sold the eastern portion of the marsh to the B&O. The B&O owned a gravel and sand shipping dock in Fairport Harbor, which is located near the east end of the marsh. Even though they had no plans to expand their shipping docks, the B&O realized the importance of keeping this property out of the possession of a competitor. U.S. Steel took a similar strategy in the west end of the marsh. The CY&P retained ownership of a large tract of land in the western section of the marsh, and they no longer made an active attempt to develop the marsh. With the Hitchcock land dispute in the Mentor Marsh still unsettled, U.S. Steel decided to build their industrial complex in Lorain, Ohio.

U.S. Steel's choice of the Lorain site was a sound business decision. Lorain had an existing steel manufacturing base with established rail lines. There would be no land disputes in Lorain. Furthermore, Lorain's American Shipbuilding Company produced some of the largest ore boats on the Great Lakes and was an important customer of U.S. Steel.28 In 1903, U.S. Steel, in conjunction with the LS&MS, began construction of a rail line that connected Lorain with Youngstown, Ohio. This rail line connected the mill and ore docks of Lorain with the furnaces in the Mahoning and Shenango Valleys. The LS&MS also established a rail belt line around Cleveland. This new belt line began at Wickliffe, on the east side of Cleveland; ran southwest around Cleveland; and extended northwest to its terminus in Lorain.29 This new belt line interconnected the U.S. Steel mills in the surrounding Cleveland area with the port of Lorain. U.S. Steel also established a new tube mill at Lorain to take advantage of the low cost of production and transportation that existed at the port facility. U.S. Steel had firmly established their new industrial port on Lake Erie at Lorain. The year 1903 marked the end of the attempts to develop the Mentor Marsh.

The beginning of the twentieth century was the starting point for an enormous industrialization period in the United States. Northeast Ohio possessed natural resources and an advanced transportation system that made it a leading area for development. Mentor was nearly swept up in this industrialization. For a brief period, Mentor was considered to be the next site for "smokestack" expansion. Major railroad systems serviced Mentor, and its lakefront location would have made it an industrial port for U.S. Steel. But, delays caused by the inability to acquire all the land needed for the project prompted U.S. Steel to find another location for their ore port and tube mill. Clearly, Peter M. Hitchcock's refusal to sell his land to U.S. Steel is what caused the reevaluation of the industrialization plan in 1901. Hitchcock was not acting out of environmental or community concerns. In fact, He was initially involved in the marsh development project. There was also widespread support for this project in Mentor. The natural beauty of the marsh wetlands would come to be appreciated as a resource only later in the century. The long-term result of Hitchcock's decision is clear -- he prevented Mentor from becoming the Lorain of the east side of Cleveland.


  1. Primary Sources
    1. Unpublished Materials
      • The Mentor Marsh Vertical File, Lake County HistoricalSociety, Mentor, Ohio.
      • The Mentor Harbor Yacht Club Vertical File, Lake County Historical Society, Mentor, Ohio.
      • The Peter M. Hitchcock Papers, Lake County Historical Society, Mentor, Ohio.
      • Lake County Property Atlas, 1899, Lake County Historical Society, Mentor, Ohio.
      • Lake County Property Deeds, Lake County Recorders Office, Painesville, Ohio.
    2. Newspapers
      • Cleveland Leader, 1901-1903
      • Cleveland Plain Dealer, 1901-1903
      • Cleveland Press, 1901-1903
      • Cleveland World, 1901
      • Painesville Republican, 1900-1903
      • Painesville Telegraph, 1900-1903
  2. Secondary Sources
    1. Books
      • Ahstrom, Janice M. et al. Here is Lake County, Ohio. Cleveland: Howard Allen Publishers, 1964.
      • Branthoover, William. Fairport Harbor, Ohio. Fairport Harbor, Ohio: Lake Photo Engraving, 1976.
      • Cotter, Arundel. The Authentic History of the United States Steel Corporation. New York: Moody Book Company, 1916.
      • Hatcher, Harlan. The Western Reserve: The Story of New Connecticut in Ohio. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1966.
      • Johnson, Tom L. My Story Edited by Elizabeth Hauser. New York: B.W. Huebsch, 1913.
      • Lupold, Harry F. The Latchstring is Out: A Pioneer History of Lake County, Ohio. Mentor, Ohio Lakeland Community College Press, 1974.
      • Nash Gary B. and Julie Roy Jeffrey. The American People: Creating a Nation and a Society. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1994.
      • Rose William Ganson. Cleveland: The Making of a City. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1990.
      • Swain, Sandra A. By The Buckeye. Mentor, Ohio: Center Street Publications, 1984.
      • Wall, Joseph. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970.



  • 1Harlan Hatcher, The Western Reserve (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1966), 1.
  • 2 Ibid. , 81.
  • 3 Ibid.
  • 4 Ibid.
  • 5 Mentor Marsh Vertical File, Lake County Historical Society, Mentor, Ohio.
  • 6 Mentor Harbor Yacht Club Vertical File, Lake County Historical Society
  • 7 "Campbell Is Mum," Painesville Republican, 7 December 1900, p. 3.
  • 8 "Steel and Coal Trusts Will Fight Carnegie," Cleveland Press, 12 January 1901, sec. A, p. 1.
  • 9 Ibid.
  • 10 Rose, Cleveland: The Making of a City, 555.
  • 11 Arundel Cotter The Authentic History of The United States Steel Corporation (New York: Moody Book Company, 1916), 20.
  • 12 "Clevelanders In Big Coal Deal," Cleveland Plain Dealer 27 January 1901, p. 2.
  • 13 Joseph Wall, Andrew Carnegie New York: Oxford University Press, 1970) 614.
  • 14 Ibid. , 614.
  • 15 Ibid. , 774.
  • 16 Philip D. Jordan, Ohio Comes of Age, 1873-1900 (Columbus: The Ohio Historical Society Press, 1946), 223.
  • 17 Ibid. , 223.
  • 18 "Steel and Coal Trusts will fight Carnegie," Cleveland Press, 12 January 1901, sec. A p. 1.
  • 19 "Back of a Projected Railroad," Cleveland Leader 12 February 1901, p. 1.
  • 20 Ibid.
  • 21 Wall, Andrew Carnegie, 792.
  • 22 "Marsh Option Sale," Painesville Telegraph 5 May 1901.
  • 23 Lake County Property Deeds, Vol. 52, p. 263. Lake County Recorders Office, Painesville, Ohio.
  • 24 Peter M, Hitchcock's Career Vita, Peter M. Hitchcock Papers, Lake County Historical Society, Box 1
  • 25 Ibid.
  • 26 "Lake Shore Railroad Belt," Cleveland Leader 27 May 1903, p. 1.
  • 27 "B&O The Purchasers," Cleveland Leader 10 July 1903, p. 5.
  • 28 Rose, Cleveland, 690.
  • 29 "The Steel Trust Will Build a Railroad From Cleveland To Lorain" Cleveland Leader 4 June 1903, p. 1