August 2013: North Chagrin Reservation

Willoughby Hills, OH

Feargus Bowden Squire came from England and went into the oil business by partnering with John Teagle to form Teagle & Squire in 1865. In 1876 the company was swallowed by John Rockefeller and Standard Oil. Squire became a vice-president and was one of America’s richest men by the time he retired in 1909. Squire became enchanted with the mature forests of Willoughby Hills and planned to build a grand estate. By the 1890s he had erected a magnificent turreted gatehouse in the style of an English country manor. But that was it. Nothing more was ever built. After Squire’s death the family sold his estate to become the keystone for North Chagrin Reservation. A number of smaller farm properties were appropriated through eminent domain until the new park totaled nearly 1,200 acres, forming a rectangle roughly five miles in perimeter along the Chagrin River’s western bank. Today the reservation encompasses over 2,100 acres. 

Ironically, the shell of Squire’s Castle is the lasting legacy of F.B. Squire’s life in most people’s minds rather than his work in building Standard Oil into the world’s largest business. The gatehouse never provided entry to a great estate but it does serve as the gateway to a great trail system. Step out the backdoor with your dog and you are greeted by wide, compacted gravel paths that sweep into a ravine decorated by a climax beech-maple forest. The A.B. Williams Memorial Woods was lovingly tended by the park’s first naturalist and is a National Natural Landmark. The Castle Valley Trail rambles across the hills to connect with the Overlook Trail that descends into the heart of the forest, terminating at a valley overlook. A detour leads to a virgin stand of white pines southwest of the castle. Loop variations are endless in North Chagrin with connector trails and the Bridle Trail that clocks in at over 10 miles. The Hemlock Trail, for instance, can serve as a stand-alone canine hike, a loop with the bridle trail or a circumnavigation of the park with the Castle Valley Trail and Squire’s Lane Trail. It skirts unguarded clifftops but the ravines in the park are more rounded than instant-drop-to-your-dog’s-death walls. In the southwest corner of the park the Buttermilk Falls Loop is a quiet leg-stretcher for your dog through light, second-growth woods with a stop at a cascading falls.  

Arthur Baldwin Williams was the Cleveland Metropolitan Park District’s first naturalist. He encouraged the establishment of a trailside nature center in North Chagrin. When it opened in 1931 it was considered the first facility of its kind in the country. The Nature Center overlooks Sanctuary Marsh, one of the best places in the world to see and photograph wood ducks. The Wood Duck Festival is celebrated every October.

From I-90 exit onto SR 91, SOM Center Road. Parking lots are available on both sides of the road. To reach Squires Castle go east on SR 6, Chardon Road and south on SR 174, River Road East.