The land that today makes up Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) has been home to humans for thousands of years. American Indians were the first inhabitants. Different American Indian cultures hunted and built villages in the valley during different periods. By the middle 1700s, Europeans were establishing trading posts in the valley and a few decades later settlers from New England started coming to stay. Those frontier communities eventually became towns, their growth helped along by first the canal, then the railroad, and later interstate highways.

The American Indian villages, pioneer settlements, and canal worker communities are long gone. But each wave of residents left their mark. The artifacts, trails, farms, old mills, and canal remains of the Cuyahoga Valley provide clues to how past peoples lived their lives. Visiting the CVNP's many historical sites is like visiting different time periods in the valley. Thanks to the park, those special places are preserved.

Click to learn more about the history and culture of the Cuyahoga Valley.

Cuyahoga River lined with deciduous trees along the banks under a partly cloudy summer sky.
American Indians called the Cuyahoga River “Ka-ih-ogh-ha”, meaning crooked.

©D.J. Reiser

Native Americans
When Native American tribes seeking refuge arrived in the Ohio Country, they found relatively unoccupied land. The last permanent residents, the Whittlesey, had disappeared from the region in the early 1600s. Between the early 1600s and 1730, the valley had been used primarily as a transportation route for trade and hunting.

American Indians forfeited all lands east of the Cuyahoga River when they signed the Treaty of Greenville in 1795. The result of a decisive loss to General Anthony Wayne at Fallen Timbers, near present day Maumee, Ohio, the treaty opened the Ohio Country to pioneers.

Read more about period of history in our A Land of Refuge site bulletin and our Prehistoric People site bulletin.

Western Reserve Pioneers

A new kind of people began coming to the Cuyahoga Valley in the late 1700s. Families from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and other New England states had begun moving to the Western Reserve, including land around the Cuyahoga River. These New Englanders were not traders or missionaries. They were settlers looking to make a new life in the valley.

Three volunteers wearing traditional 1800's clothing stand besides the canal lock mechanism in front of the historic Canal Exploration Center building.
Today's Canal Exploration Center was once operated as a tavern and store by the Gleeson family.

NPS/ Ted Toth

Moses and Polly Gleeson
Imagine leaving civilization for the wilderness. By 1818, a Moses Gleeson and his wife Polly Richardson Gleeson had moved to Bedford, Ohio, at wilderness edge. Like many who came to the new state of Ohio looking for a better life, Mr. Gleeson was a farmer and a business man, farming and trying his hand at sawmilling, then at the tavern business. A business associate convinced him to purchase the property located at Lock 38 as an investment, speculating on the potential of the new Ohio & Erie Canal. Moses Gleeson bought the structure on the canal, then added to it to open it as both a tavern and a store. Eventually hard times found that tavern, and the building became a store, a residence, and a blacksmith shop, among other uses. The Gleeson family remained prominent in the area and in Bedford and in time Americanized the name to Gleason.

For more of their story, visit Canal Exploration Center.

Last updated: April 28, 2020

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