100 Years in 100 Days: The Van Sweringen Brothers

100 photos that define Shaker Heights.

Shaker Heights Patch is celebrating 100 years of Shaker Heights history by creating an online scrapbook. Each day for 100 days, we'll feature a photograph that helps tell the story of Shaker Heights.

We're opening the series by featuring the Van Sweringen brothers: Mantis James, left, and Oris Paxton. The siblings were real estate developers who began establishing the suburb more than 100 years ago.

The "Vans," as they're affectionally called, had a vision for a village of "ideal sites for delightful country estates removed from town and yet within easy distance of it." They began in 1905 by buying property in the old North Union Shaker community. Within two years, they owned the entire parcel.

The brothers marketed their development to Cleveland millionaires looking for an escape from the city's pollution. The "Vans" made that escape more attractive by providing a rail line so residents could work in Cleveland, but live outside it.  "With its completion in 1920, thus providing the village with high-speed commuter service to...Cleveland...the success of Shaker Village...was assured," Claudia Boatright wrote in the book, "Shaker Heights: The Van Sweringen Influence."

The Van Sweringens' reach wasn't limited to Shaker Heights. In 1923, they began constructing Terminal Tower. But the stock market crash of 1929 decimated their finances. They eventually declared bankruptcy and were never able to rebuild their empire. Mantis James died in November 1935; Oris Paxton died in December 1936. 

Sources: Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, "Shaker Heights: The Van Sweringen Influence"

You can join our celebration of Shaker Heights history. Share your memories in the comments. Or upload your photos and we'll feature them in this scrapbook. Follow #ShakerCentennial on Twitter. And don't forget to sign up for our daily newsletter, so you won't miss a single one of our 100 posts.


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