As the transition point between the Allegheny Plateau and the Great Plains, the Cuyahoga Valley was the western frontier for the emerging American nation. The combination of a wide valley, steep slopes that sheltered the lowlands, and a narrow river contributed to the development of an industrial powerhouse. In the Cuyahoga Valley, as is the case throughout the world, topography is destiny.
The Cuyahoga Valley that we see today looks quite different than it did over three centuries ago, when Native Americans were living in the Valley. The River got its name, Cuyahoga, which means “crooked river” from the Native Americans that lived here.
As early American settlers and European immigrants established homesteads in the Valley in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the transformation from wooded landscape to industrial engine for Cleveland's economy began. Many of the Valley's natural features such as the hillsides, tributary streams and the Cuyahoga River itself were altered, removed or covered in order to support human needs. Industrial growth and urban sprawl resulted in pollution of the waterways and of the land, resulting in poor water quality and many brownfields. However, we do have many thousands of acres of preserved and restored landscapes in the Valley – the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the Metroparks System, and Wendy Park/Whiskey Island to name a few. The systems map illustrates how the natural features impacted development over time.
Our landscape, which has a legacy of industry, continues to change and to develop. We are connected to the past and to present. Municipalities that share the Cuyahoga River watershed are connected to one another, though they may be many miles apart. Now, we must become aware of these connections as we design and create a sustainable landscape for the 21st century and beyond.