Details In the Deeds

Investigation of Restrictive Covenants For Race, Religion, and Ethnicity in Shaker Heights
By Angel L. Rios, Eastern Washington University, Intern Summer 2017

     This research uncovered the inventive aways Euro-American residence of Shaker Heights attempted to circumvent the Supreme Court to keep minorities out of their Cleveland Suburb. 

     There are nine neighborhoods in Shaker Heights. A color block map was used to determine a rough idea of the neighborhood’s boundaries. Using MyPlace, a GIS mapping program supported by Cuyahoga County, two homes were selected at random within each of the neighborhoods. Upon clicking on the chosen house, MyPlace produced an address and parcel number. With the parcel number, the researcher was able to look up the ownership records in the Map Room at the County Administration Office in the Tax Map Books. The books listed names of owners until, roughly, the late 1970s. The researcher used the book’s earliest recorded owner as a starting point. Knowing the owner’s name made it possible to pull the deed using the county’s online database. Each time the property changed owners, the deed recorded the buyer’s and seller’s names. Name and date range searches returned better results because parcel numbers were attached to properties after the research period.

     Example: John Doe is in the Tax Map Books purchasing the property on January 1, 1930. By limiting the date search to a single day and name the deed was quickly retrieved from the county’s digital records archive. Mr. Doe’s deed would show he bought the property from John Buck. The information indicated that Mr. Buck owned the property until January 1, 1930. Setting the date range from 1900-1931 and using John Buck’s name, the deed showing when Mr. Buck purchased the property was found. The legal property description was used to ensure the proper deed was used in this study. The process of using known information to retrieve unknown information was repeated. In this way, each property was able to be traced back to the Van Sweringen Company. 1900 was chosen as the earliest date, as the Van Sweringen Company, the company that developed Shaker Heights, began acquiring land in 1905. In some cases, the Tax Map Book was missing the page that recorded the randomly selected property. This simply made the processes a little lengthier, as the research starting point was often in the first decade of the 21stcentury.

     The objective of the research was to determine what happened first, racially restrictive covenants, or minority groups moving to Shaker Heights. Research proves minority groups had long been a part of the community. The restrictive covenant deeds and community actions were a response to an increase in the African American population and increased prosperity.

     The property that has yielded the most impressive results has been 3300 Lansmere Rd., which is located at Parcel 736-02-025 in the Fernway neighborhood.

Figure 1. 3300 Lansmere Rd. Shaker Heights, Ohio. Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

     According to the deeds, Albert E. Seymour bought the land on February 7, 1925, from the Van Sweringen Company. On May 12, 1925, Helen M. Stricker bought the property from Mr. Seymour. When Helen bought the property, restrictions were added to included collective censorship. “…nor shall the title or possession thereof pass to another, without the written consent of The Van Sweringen Company, except that said The Van Sweringen may not withhold such consent, if and after a written request has been made to The Van Sweringen to permit suchocupation [sic], leasing, renting, conveying or alienation, by a majority of the owners of the legal title of all land on both sides of the street or streets on which said sublots, or sublots, abuts or abut, within a distance of five hundred (500) feet from the respective sidelines of the sublot, or sublots, hereby conveyed, except transfer of title by way of devise or inheritance…”.[1]Why was this added more than a decade after beginning the development of Shaker Heights?

Figure 2. Permit for the construction of the Stricker home. Photo courtesy of Shaker Building Card Index,!prettyPhoto.

     Up until the addition of the new restrictive covenant, there had been an informal way of restricting who lived in Shaker Heights. In The Report of Shaker Heights Protective Association booklet dated October 19, 1925, the technique used “So far, it has been met as we think, in an unwise way by purchasing property at exorbitant prices to rid neighborhoods of undesirable residents. This way of making easy money has become generally known and the trouble only increased.”[2]The publication claimed 50% of the community had signed up to be a part of the Protective Association.[3]According to Marian Morton, a Cleveland historian, 25% of Shaker Heights never joined the Protective Association.[4]The new restrictive connivance was not added to existing deeds; it appears only to have been added when the property changed ownership. In the 1930s some Shaker Heights properties were auctioned by the Sheriff. The properties had likely been collateral for a loan the owner defaulted on. These Sheriff Deeds did not include the restrictive connivance, and this can be seen in the deed for 17601 Fernway Rd. parcel number 732-32-018 Sheriff’s Deed from March 20, 1937.

Figure 3. Front and back cover of the Report of Committee Shaker Heights Protective Association. October 19, 1925. Photo courtesy of Shaker Historical Society.

     To give a sense of the number of people involved in the Shaker Heights Protective Association, according to the census records in 1920 there were 1,600 residents, and in 1930 the number had grown to 17,783. Increased property taxes were the Protective Association’s concern. County Auditors can use “Sales Comparison” to assess the value of property. According to a newspaper article published circa 1928, in 1911 the real estate tax value in Shaker Heights was at $1,847,510 by 1927 the real estate tax was at $77,182,000, “and personal property tax had jumped from $18,000 to $18,000,000.”[5]The Protective Association wanted a more cost-effective way of preventing minority residences from moving into Shaker Heights.

     In 75 Years: An Informal History of Shaker Heights, two African American students appear in the front row of a photo of the fourth-grade class at East View School in the fall of 1920.[6]The printed photo located in the Shaker Historical Society’s archive did not yield additional information as to the identities of the students.

Figure 4. The fourth-grade class of East View in the fall of 1920. Photo courtesy of Shaker Historical Society.

     East View had been a separate village, but in 1919 it was annexed to Shaker Heights. In East View and Shaker Heights, those in favor of the annexation carried 64% and 70% of the vote respectively.[7]At the time this photograph was taken the school had been a part of Shaker Heights for nearly a year.

     African American’s lived in what had become Shaker Heights for a long time. Even before the Van Sweringens began their development of Shaker Heights there were African Americans in, what is now, the greater Cleveland area. The first African American settler, George Peake, arrived in 1809.[8]Congress had banned slavery in the Northwest Territory (from which Ohio was carved) and when Ohio entered the Union in 1803 it did so as a free state. Ohio had been a destination for the Underground Railroad. At least one African American woman was a member of the North Union Shaker Settlement.[9]The Shaker land would eventually become part of the Van Sweringens development. Beginning in the late 19thcentury up until World War I there was a “mass migration from the South [that] increased Cleveland’s black population substantially.”[10]With the rapid population growth came increased prejudice. African Americans were excluded from unions and most skilled jobs.[11]This lack of economic opportunity would have made the real estate price gouging tactic in Shaker Heights effective in pricing out the African Americans who arrived in the area near the turn of the 20thcentury. The prosperity of the 1920s awakened the residents of Shaker Heights to the fact that their growing community was accessible to more minority families.

Figure 5. North Union Shaker Settlement roll of the Mill Family members in 1842. The last name in the right column is that of Emily Jefferson, an African American. Emily passed away the following year at the age of 13. Photo courtesy of Shaker Historical Society.

     Prosperity in the Roaring Twenties led to population growth in Shaker Heights. More African American’s were also prosperous. On July 16, 1925, Howard E. Murrell, an African American banker from Cleveland closed on a house in Shaker Heights.[12]Dr. Edward Bailey also lived in Shaker Heights in the fall of 1925. These families were likely drawn to Shaker Heights for the same reasons everyone else was, good schools, and away from the dirt and noise of Cleveland. Euro-American Shaker Heights residents terrorized these two families until they left.[13]Mr. Murrell’s and Dr. Bailey’s move to the community meant uncontrollable integration was upon Shaker Heights. The restrictive connivance and Protective Association were an effort to hold back the inevitable. Come mid-century the Supreme Court and civil rights movement would affect Shaker Heights.

     In the landmark 1948 Shelley vs. Kraemercase, the United States Supreme Court ruled that racial covenants were not enforceable. The high court ruling, however, did not put an end to Protective Associations.[14]In 1964 a Shaker Heights city zoning ordinance prohibited the use of “For Sale” signs.[15]This seemingly small ordinance could have been an effort to prevent “undesirables” from seeing available properties. No longer could a person drive around a desirable area looking for houses that were on the market. Without signs, prospective buyers were reliant upon their realtor, word of mouth, or listings in the paper. 

     In 1965, (a full three years before Congress passed the 1968 Housing Rights Act) the Shaker Heights Housing Office was formed. Under the Department of Community Services, the Housing Office was meant to integrate Shaker Heights.[16]But even with this newly formed office, there was still segregation.

     According to a booklet produced by the Shaker Heights City School District in about 1969, Ludlow, Moreland, and Lomond elementary schools had become predominantly African American. The booklet states that integration had begun ten years earlier; however, even by 1969 the school district put the “non-white” population at 11%. As students attend the school in their neighborhood, the school’s population was a reflection of the racial makeup of the nearby homes. The school district realized that “racial isolation,” could have been “viewed as segregated…”[17]     

     One of the holdouts for integration was the Sussex neighborhood. In spite of the city’s efforts with the Housing Office, sellers and realtors colluded to keep the neighborhood from integrating. In 1967 the Tinsley family, an African American couple with two children were only able to buy a house on Townley Road with the help of friends from the Ludlow Community Association and a straw buy. A realtor agreed to meet the Tinsley’s at the house for a showing. Upon meeting Mr. and Mrs. Tinsley face-to-face for the first time in front of the house, he claimed to have forgotten the key. Mr. and Mrs. Milter stepped in and bought the house on behalf of the Tinsley’s. The day the Tinsley family moved in the seller called the Milter’s with harsh words.[18]

     The Ludlow Community Association was born out of a 1956 bombing of an African American family’s home that was under construction.[19]This tactic of terrorizing newly arrived families was reminiscent of what had taken place in 1925. Members of the Ludlow neighborhood wanted to live in a fully integrated city. These residents established the Ludlow Community Association. 

     The parents of the East View fourth grade students may have been domestic servants. According to Shelley Stokes-Hammond, this was the number one employment avenue for African Americans.[20]However, the numbers of American Americans employed in the mansion and large homes of Shaker Heights was limited. According to research done by Shaker Historical Society intern, Regan Starks, employing newly emigrated Europeans was a status symbol for Shakers’ affluent community. Emigrate domestic servants often received higher pay than African Americans.[21]The Shaker Historical Museum’s 2017 “Above Stairs: Domestic Service in Shaker Heights” also highlighted that on South Park Boulevard only one family had African Americans as domestics in their household as recorded in the 1910 census. This trend continued at least until the 1950s.

     In conclusion, the social economic class segregation between the Euro-American and African American community’s likely meant the Euro-Americans did not feel threatened by the African American population already living in the development and expansion of Shaker Heights. Mr. Murrell and Dr. Bailey were successful men of equal or near equal economic standing moving in during a time of national prosperity. The perceived threat to the Euro-Americans social standing, and the very real tax burden, lead to more aggressive tactics to keep new, wealthy, minorities from moving in. The trend of integration and resistance to that integration continued through the civil rights movement. The end result has been growing integration in Shaker Heights. The 2010 census places the non-white population at roughly 45%.[22]


[1]Deed, County of Cuyahoga Administration, accessed May 26, 2017,

[2]The Report of Shaker Heights Protective Associationbooklet dated October 19, 1925, Shaker Historical Society Archive, VF09, Shaker Heights Folder #4, page 6.

[3]The Report of Shaker Heights Protective Associationbooklet dated October 19, 1925, Shaker Historical Society Archive, VF09, Shaker Heights Folder #4, page 5.

[4]Marian Morton, “Deferring Dreams: Racial and Religious Covenants in Shaker Heights, Cleveland Heights and East Cleveland, 1925 to 1970,” Teaching Cleveland, Feb. 27, 2010, accessed July 7, 2017,  

[5]Partial Newspaper Clipping, Shaker Historical Society Archive, VF09, Shaker Heights Folder #2.

[6]David G. Molyneaux, and Sue Sackman, ed., 75 Years: An Informal History of Shaker Heights, (Shaker Heights: Shaker Heights Public Library, 1987), 39.  

[7]William R. Coates, “A History of Cuyahoga County And the City of Cleveland,” History of Warrensville, Cuyahoga County, OH Part 2, accessed July 10, 2017,

[8]“African Americans,” Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, Case Western Reserve University, accessed July 11, 2017,

[9]Ware Petznick, 1842 census of the Mill Family records Emily Jefferson who died soon thereafter. Death records noted she was a black Sister.

[10]“African Americans,” Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, Case Western Reserve University, accessed July 11, 2017,

[11]“African Americans,” Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, Case Western Reserve University, accessed July 11, 2017,

[12]Deed, County of Cuyahoga Administration, accessed July 3, 2017,

[13]Kenneth L. Kusmer, A Ghetto Takes Shape: Black Cleveland 1870-1930, (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1978), 168-169.

[14]Morton, “Deferring Dreams.” 

[15]Cathie Winans, “Interesting Facts to Consider or Food for Thought,” Human Relations Comm, Shaker Heights, September 7, 1999, Shaker Historical Society Archive, VF09, Shaker Heights Folder #4, page 6.

[16]Molyneaux, ed., 75 Years, 87.  

[17]Shaker Heights City School District, “Resume Of Staff Study On Racial Imbalance,” 1-2.

[18]Sue Starrett, “The Straw Buy,” Shaker Life, Aug-Sep 2012, 45.

[19]Sue Starrett, “Ludlow: Our Civil Rights Landmark,” Shaker Life, Aug-Sep 2012, 46.

[20]Sue Starrett, “Ludlow: Our Civil Rights Landmark,” Shaker Life, Aug-Sep 2012, 48.

[21]Regan Starks, “Selected Biographies of early Shaker Heights households,” 16.

[22]Year: 2010; Census Place: Shaker Heights, Cuyahoga, Ohio, accessed July 31, 2017,

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