Brief history of Willoughby Hills
Situated in what was the Connecticut Western Reserve, the City of Willoughby Hills had its beginning as Chagrin Township, so named because it straddled the Chagrin River. The township was formed in 1815 and stretched south from Lake Erie to the north boundary of Mayfield Township (now Mayfield Village and Highland Heights). It spanned the gap from Euclid Township on the West (now Richmond Heights and Euclid) to Mentor and Kirtland Townships on the East.
In 1834, the name Chagrin was changed to Willoughby in honor of Dr. Westal Willoughby.
While fur traders may have passed through the area as early as the late 1600's and set up an outpost in 1754, the first permanent settler, David Abbott did not arrive until 1797. He built his home and a grist mill along the Chagrin River and brought his family to live with him. The area near the mouth of the river was inhabited by the Whittlesey Culture from about 900 AD to 1650AD. The land to the South was their hunting grounds.
As more people came into the area from Cleveland, and from settlers moving westward from the East, pockets of more dense population formed. Eventually, these various small pockets incorporated beginning in 1853 with the Village of Willoughby. The year 1916 saw the incorporation of the Village of Wickliffe, followed by Willowick in 1922. During the depression years, Waite Hill incorporated in 1928, and Lakeline in 1929. The year 1947 saw Timberlake incorporating, followed by Eastlake in 1948. Willoughby, Wickliffe and Eastlake all annexed township territory to their villages periodically.
By 1954, all that was left of the original Willoughby Township was an area along the south end of the original township and two small isolated pockets in Wickliffe and in Willoughby. To prevent further loss of valuable land and population, the residents of what was left of Willoughby Township incorporated and became the Village of Willoughby Hills in April of 1954.
A township is governed by three elected trustees and an elected clerk and has very limited powers of self government. With incorporation came a statutory Mayor/Council government with the mayor, village clerk and six council members elected by the voters.
With the 1970 census, the population exceeded 5,000 and the village became a city. Also, in 1970, the voters adopted a City Charter streamlining the government to better fit the needs of the community. The Charter provided for a mayor and seven council members at-large to be elected for staggered four year terms. An amendment adopted in 1975 created three district council seats and four at large with the fourth highest at-large vote getter to serve a two year term. Another amendment, adopted in 2000, divided the council-at-large seats into four separate terms. The Mayor's term of office coincides with the district terms.
The charter also provided for the adoption of a Master Plan for the preservation and development of the community. In 1973, the charter was amended to provide for submission to the voters of any legislated changes in the zoning map or use of property. In 1996, another amendment requires the approval of the voters prior to the Board of Building and Zoning Appeals changing any permitted uses in the zoning districts.
Willoughby Hills Historical Society
Frank J. Cihula
October 25, 2001
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