Researching Your House
Courtesy of “Focus on the Heights,” with the original published by the City of Cleveland Heights, but updated considerably. Here are some rudimentary tips for researching a Cleveland Heights house.
Let’s begin with the site you are currently on, our Cleveland Heights Historical Society website, which includes all our View from the Overlook journals, and they have much information on this subject. Also here are all our “Featured Stories.” The booklets that went with the Heights Community Congress’ Heights Heritage Home and Garden Tours, online under ohiomemory.org, and are text searchable.
To begin with, it would be best to have on hand the Permanent Parcel Number (“PPN”) besides the house’s address, which you can get from a deed, mortgage-related documents, or the Cuyahoga County Auditor’s website. This is the website where you can glean basic information about your house, as well as the PPN. The address is https://myplace.cuyahogacounty.us/.
Cleveland Heights City Hall, 40 Severance Circle, Cleveland Heights
At Cleveland Heights City Hall, original Building Permits, which give the name of the owners, builders and architects involved are available for some homes built after 1915. If there’s a problem in securing them, they’re at the County Administration Building (see below). Also, at City Hall, the Planning Department has Plat Maps from 1898, 1912, 1914, 1920 and 1941 available for reference. In contrast, the City Directories (city of Cleveland and starting in 1920s older suburbs) and starting in 1940s separate volumes for older suburbs, for various years, are available at Cleveland Public Library – Downtown Branch at 325 Superior Avenue, Lakewood Public Library, and the Western Reserve Historical Society’s Library in University Circle. More on these below. Many of the local history talks given around May (History Month) and October each year, sponsored by the Cleveland Heights Historical Society, the Cleveland Heights Landmark Commission, the Heights Libraries, and the Cleveland Restoration Society can be found on the Cleveland Heights Historical YouTube Channel and some on the Library’s own Channel.
Cuyahoga County Archives, 3951 Perkins Avenue, Cleveland (AsiaTown neighborhood)
Ask to see the “big maps.” They are well organized and clearly labeled. They show the various owners of the property and when they acquired it. The Archives also stocks old City Directories, slightly similar to today’s phone books (actual old phone books are in History/Geography at Cleveland Public Library downtown). However, in addition to a person’s name and address, his/her occupation is listed. Lastly, Building Cards (tax assessor’s cards) are available at the Archives. You may probably find one with a 1950s photo of your house on it, as well as other information such as square feet, a footprint of the house, whether or not the attic was finished, etc. The tiny photograph, if still intact, may have trees or other landscaping that block the view of the house’s façade but in the majority of cases original details such as how the house looked with or without original porch, with or without shutters, etc. may be clarified because the original exterior features of most Heights houses remained in the late 1950s.
Cleveland Public Library, 325 Superior Avenue, NE, Cleveland
The Cleveland Public Library has tons of information related to house histories. Every Department in both buildings includes information that might be of interest for one researching a house or other building and, obviously, many types of books may be found in more than one department. For example, the Fine Arts Room has materials on styles, architects, cities, furnishings, and floor plans, while Science/Technology is more likely to have books on construction and remodeling/renovation, but many materials could be in either and, in some cases, the same actual books are indeed in both. History/Geography has the old City Directories, phone books, and Crisscross Directories, books on the history of communities and neighborhoods, and books on prominent people in the various communities.
Through this department are the old Cleveland Blue Books which list prominent local residents, prestigious club members, and offer street listings by addresses of those in the main body of the books. History/Geography has separated local and regional history books from the rest of the collection – they are near the staffs’ desk. Many are Reference. Business has records of current and previous businesses, which you may want to connect with previous owners of a house. Special Collections has more and typically rarer and more valuable materials related to architects’ house plans, and certain architectural firms in general, sand old commercial catalogs. The Map Room has old Plat Books and other maps showing communities and neighborhoods of the past. Literature has materials related to prose and poetry on residences, housekeeping, etc.
The Cleveland Public Library Digital Library access division offers opportunities for reproducing many vintage documents and types of literature. These staff are responsible for a huge, relatively new online database where one can find hundreds of periodicals, books, significant records, and the City and Suburban Directories. The Periodical Room has magazines devoted to houses and decorating. The Newspaper Room has newspaper classified ads from cities around the world that may be of some interest, and Photo Archive has a box of photos for Cleveland Heights. For more information on the Plain Dealer archival index see the Cleveland Heights Main Library section below. Other photo groupings from newspapers, etc., by topic, might be closely related to the Heights. The staff also have access to local newspapers and periodicals of the past. The Library’s online Necrology Index is another information source. Once you have discovered the names of your home’s previous owners, you can find out more. The Library’s Map Room contains the Plat maps and the “Sanborn” maps, which are on line and on microfilm. Fire insurance maps show a footprint of the building, much like the Plat maps available at City Hall.
Cleveland Heights Main Library, 2345 Lee Rd., Cleveland Heights
The Heights Library recently opened its own History Room where many of the best resources to help researching a Heights house are assembled together. However, the regular Library areas include the books on decorating, construction, etc., and most circulate. There also is now a very large assortment of books available for sale, as seems to be true of public libraries all over.
The Sun Press is on microfilm as far back as the 1920s. The earliest Heights newspapers, of 1922-6 have actually now been scanned and are included on the Heights Libraries’ contribution to the Ohio Memory database (ohiomemory.org). Also see the hardcopy City Directories from 1922 and after. From 1949 on Cleveland Heights was in a separate directory than the general Cleveland volumes. No City Directories of this type have been printed since the 1990s. Through this public library and all the others in the area there are online databases accessible to those with public library cards, with the privileges varying per which card you have, as well as database and location where you are searching (e.g. within the library or elsewhere). The Plain Dealer’s online archival index is entirely text-searchable back to the beginning, so one can look up a house’s address and perhaps find old classified ads or articles about the people at that address. In some cases there are articles pertaining to tracts being developed and demolitions, etc. As mentioned above, many of the mainly May and October talks typically at a Heights Library are found on the Cleveland Heights Historical YouTube Channel and some on the Library’s own Channel.
Cleveland State University Library, 1860 East 22nd Street, Cleveland
Special Collections houses many historic documents and is home to the huge Cleveland Memory database (www.clevelandmemory.org), which has hundreds of materials online, including thousands of photographs of buildings around Greater Cleveland. The Cleveland Press is arranged by topic. You can click up names of people, places or events and search out a file.
Western Reserve Historical Society, 10825 East Boulevard, Cleveland
There is a wealth of information here, including a detailed photo archive, historic postcards, maps, books, personal papers of prominent Clevelanders, and information from the Women’s Civic Club of Cleveland Heights. There is a charge for using this library for non-Western Reserve Historical Society members, and we suggest you call before going as to determine its hours open.
Cuyahoga County Recorder, Cuyahoga County Administration Building – 2079 East Ninth Street, Cleveland
This is the best physical location to find the deed history of your property. It is time consuming and tedious work; however, it is easier if you have most of the names and dates from the Cuyahoga County Archives. In many cases the public may view good copies of Building Permits here too.
Kelvin Smith Library, CWRU, 11055 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland
This library has an interesting archive. You will find the Plain Dealer on microfilm, as well as Cleveland history books, old plan books and general local information.
Please feel free to contact our Cleveland Heights Historical Society with questions regarding this summary: clevelandheightshistory.org.
Links to Helpful Websites
Cleveland Architects Database
Cleveland Heights, City of
Cleveland Heights Community Congress
Cleveland Heights/University Heights Public Library
Cleveland Jewish History
Cuyahoga County Archives
Cuyahoga County – property information
Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
Euclid Historical Society and Museum
Forest Hill Homeowners
National Park Service – James A. Garfield National Historic Site, etc.
National Register of Historic Place
Ohio History Connection
Ohio Local History Alliance
[Ohio] Statehouse Museum Shop
Shaker Heights Historical Society and Museum
South Euclid-Lyndhurst Historical Society
Western Reserve Historical Society