Yet, such a term never seems to surface in the better recognized or more respected scholarly publications on design, architecture and style available today. (In fact, I am aware of just one book, Architecture of the Western Reserve, 1800-1900, by Richard N. Campen, published in 1971 by the Press of Case Western Reserve University, that deals in any depth with the building styles of northeastern Ohio and its region.)
So, just what is ‘Western Reserve Architecture’? Or, better yet, what is the ‘Western Reserve’? The Western Reserve is but the truncated name for the Connecticut Western Reserve. The State of Connecticut — 5th of the new American nation of 13 states — laid claim to lands that extended westward from its Atlantic territories deep into the middle of the North American continent, and, in fact, all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
As settlement of its share of debt to the central American government in funding the Revolutionary War, Connecticut ceded its lands in the far west, areas that have since become parts of the States of Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and so on. The State then lost lands that became part of Pennsylvania at the resolution of the Pennamite-Yankee War — a decades-long state-border conflict — in 1799. The sole remaining portion of Connecticut’s ‘Western Reserve’ lay in a 120-mile wide swath throughout northern Ohio, from Lake Erie to a line just south of present-day Youngstown and Akron. The Western Reserve was finally ceded by Connecticut to the Northwest Territory in 1800, and became part of the newly-created State of Ohio in 1803.
As Connecticut natives arrived through the late 1700s and early 1800s to survey and settle the area, establishing new towns as they went, the Western Reserve name was liberally applied. Still today, such institutions as Case Western Reserve University and The Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, and Western Reserve Academy in Hudson proudly carry the name. Moses Cleaveland, a Yale alumnus, lawyer, soldier, politician and surveyor of the Connecticut Land Company, founded the City of Cleveland in 1796.
The architecture of the Western Reserve reflects the area’s churning history of title, ownership, settlement and civic identity. It is an amalgam of features lifted from a broad range of Early American styles, from Greek Revival, through Federal and Georgian to Queen Anne and something colloquially called ‘farmhouse Colonial’.
Significant buildings might feature solid brick construction, embellished with decorative stone coursings, caps and details, while the more utilitarian might consist of nothing more than simple log cabin construction, or timber balloon framing clad in lap siding of roughly sawn boards. The formal balustrades, pediments, friezes, domes and spires of churches, courthouses and city halls around the traditional New England town square or green would give way to the gabled shingled roofs of homes and inns stretching into the surrounding farmland.
Colors of most structures ranged from the earthy brick reds, oranges and browns to the muted painted wood tones of gray, tan, white and barn-red. Though many sizable buildings were multi-story, structures would also often stretch horizontally, with low gabled, shed and hipped roofs topped by dark shingling, over light lap-sided walls and extensive porches. Windows were almost exclusively simple, rectilinear double-hung sash, frequently accompanied by shutters. Brick or stone chimneys and fire walls would typically anchor small farmhouses or subdivide larger ones. Reflecting the farming background of most new settlers, residential structures would most often appear united with the surrounding landscape, and the appearances of homes and outbuildings would tend to fuse to a common style.