The Case Legacy

The Arkites, the Case brothers and their fellow science enthusiasts, met in a building across the street from the Case home. Their "arc-like" collection of flora and fauna became the foundation of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.


How a visionary family launched a college and shaped its personality forever

By Thomas P. Kicher

Universities have personalities. We can identify an organization’s traits by examining its history. I’m not an historian, but I’ve long advocated using history as an analytical tool to understand how and why certain decisions have been made. What were the issues of the day that influenced the decision-makers?

For the last several years, I’ve been researching the history of Case and what influenced its personality as embodied in the faculty, the administration and the educational philosophy that we experienced as students and that shaped our lives as professionals.

Therein lies a tale. It's the story of a family of visionaries and their lasting impact on a city they loved.

Case LegacyThe Case School of Applied Science was established by Leonard Case Jr. via a trust deed, valued at $1.5 million at the time of his death in 1880.  He relied on the integrity of his trusted secretary, Henry G. Abbey, to execute his wishes.  The citizens of Cleveland had long wished for an institution of higher learning to provide their young village the intellectual credibility and opportunity afforded eastern cities, much as Yale College provided for New Haven.

In order to fully appreciate the magnitude of the gifts of the Case family, we must begin with the Case family settlers, Meshack Case and Magdalen Eckstein, second generation immigrants from Holland and Bavaria, respectively.

As newlyweds, they journeyed from the East Coast to southwest Pennsylvania, on the frontier of civilization.  Meshack was from an educated family and exhibited extensive practical skills. He fought in the Revolutionary War and suffered compromised health for the rest of his life. Both he and Magdalen were quite religious.

In the spring of 1800, the couple purchased 198 acres near Warren in Trumbull County and were among the first 36 settlers in the Western Reserve.

As part of the settlement of the Northwest Territory, 3.4 million acres of land, reserved for the citizens of Connecticut, was sold to a group of investors for 35 cents an acre.  General Moses Cleveland, an investor in the transaction, conducted the survey and was authorized to establish a capitol on the bluffs just east of the Cuyahoga River.

Leonard Case Sr., the eldest son of eight children of Meshack and Magdalen Case, turned 14 shortly after the family arrived in Warren.  He was a robust and stout young man of boundless energy, able to provide the much needed “manpower” for the family farm.  Simultaneously, he was a gifted writer and scholar, in spite of his limited formal education.  In today’s vernacular, he was home schooled.  He was stricken with a mysterious illness in the fall of 1801, bedridden for two years, and never fully recovered. He had limited use of his lower extremities for the balance of his life.  Historians believe he had been stricken with polio, an illness not identified until the 20th century. 

From farming to surveying

Unable to farm, Leonard Case Sr.Case Legacy purchased books and began the study of surveying. In 1806, he secured a position in the land office in Warren, where all land transactions were recorded.  Then, in 1807, he became the private secretary to General Simon Perkins of the Connecticut Land Company. He was appointed clerk of the Court of Common Pleas of Trumbull County and deputy tax collector for non-residents of the Western Reserve.

Encouraged to study the law, he supported himself by serving as the justice of the peace and tax collector.  He was admitted to the Ohio Bar in 1814. 

In 1816, Leonard moved to Cleveland to become the cashier of the new Commercial Bank of Lake Erie. The bank did not survive the first financial crisis of the new country but Leonard Case Sr. flourished in his new home.  He followed a career in law and politics, specializing in the laws of real estate, taxes and land titles. 

He married Elizabeth Gaylord of Middleton, Connecticut, in 1817.  The authors of the Centennial Commission’s Report on Pioneer Families of Cleveland, 1796 to 1840, described Mrs. Case as “very domestic in her tastes and seldom left her home except on errands for her household.” The couple welcomed a son, William, in 1818. Leonard, Jr. was born in 1820. Case Legacy

Leonard Case Sr. was soon recognized as one of the leading citizens of Cleveland, a man whose advice and support was sought by many.  After a term as president of Cleveland City Council and as an Ohio Legislator, he returned to banking and concentrated on making Cleveland a transportation center, in part by contributing lakefront land for railroads.

He followed conservative financial practices, never assuming debt that he could not meet within two years.  He preferred to lease his land holdings for up to 10 years rather than sell.  During the financial crisis of 1837, he was able to acquire businesses and vast real estate tracts by buying the delinquent mortgages and paying overdue tax bills. 

Leonard Case Sr. amassed a fortune, becoming one of the richest men in Cleveland, where he owned more than 2,000 acres of land.  At the same time, he was generous with his philanthropic gifts, supporting churches, schools, hospitals and many civic organizations.  It appears he was guided by the provisions of the original gift of the Western Reserve to the citizens of Connecticut, which dictated that the Connecticut Land Company set aside up to 500 acres in each 25 square mile township for schools, churches, public buildings and a “Town Square.” 

When Leonard and his wife Elizabeth lived near the center of the village on Public Square, they gifted the village with the Erie Street cemetery, only to be criticized for selecting a location that was “too far from the settlement.” That decision cost him re-election to city council.  The residents of Cleveland simply did not want to travel that far into the woods to visit their dead.

His gifts of property to religions spanned all denominations, Christian and Judaic, but excluded the Catholic faith. This might be attributed to family history and Grandfather Eckstein’s persecution by the Catholic Church in Bavaria. 

Like father, like son

Leonard, Sr. was a role model for his sons, challenging and supporting them to follow him in lives of service and philanthropy to the citizens of Cleveland.

William and Leonard Jr. were raised in an atmosphere of privilege. Never having to work, they devoted their adult lives to community service and philanthropy, continuing to make gifts to the village of Cleveland throughout their lives.  During Leonard Sr.’s later years, William assisted his father in managing a vast empire of land holdings and was instrumental in establishing the network of railroads around Cleveland.  William, a consummate outdoorsman, was well known among the sport hunters and the conservationists.  He gathered and preserved an extensive collection of animals and birds native to Ohio and Michigan.  He was frequently cited by John J. Audubon as a reference in the identification of new bird species and their habits and houses.

William was also known for his expertise as a horticulturist, planting acres of imported ornamental and fruit trees on the shores of Lake Erie and breeding a new species of berries.  He served a term as Mayor of Cleveland and, following his father’s leadership, continued the practice of planting shade trees, helping Cleveland earn the nickname “Forest City.”

Leonard was the more cerebral, focusing his attention on languages and literature. He was a published author and translator.  He was also an accomplished mathematician and astronomer and developed a close friendship with John N. Stockwell, starting in the winter of 1864.  John was also an accomplished mathematician and astronomer and shared many manuscripts with Leonard, including a five volume treatise, “Mecanique Celeste,” by Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749-1827). It summarizes his development of calculus-based classical mechanics, an important tool in modern engineering problem solving.  They were known to have spent hours discussing their common interests in mathematics, astronomy and statistics.   

Poor health forced Leonard into the life of a recluse taking comfort in his books and studies.   

An arc of wonders

William and Leonard, Jr. used Case Hall, a building across the street from their home near Public Square, to organize a group of young men into a salon. There, they would gather and discuss the advancement of science, art and literature.  The group called itself the “Arkites,” as they met in a building that housed their collection of preserved animals, birds and shells.

The contents of the “Ark” became the foundation for the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.  Their library became the foundation of the Cleveland Public Library, where William served as the first president.  In 1850, William founded Cleveland University, but a lack of support and the selection of questionable leadership doomed the effort almost from the start. 

The industrial revolution had dawned with the development of the steam engine, mining and metallurgy, factory manufacturing, electric power and lighting and the chemistry of photography, lubrication and fuels.  The public was keenly interested in scientific phenomena, including astronomy, particularly the behavior of comets and meteors.  They exhibited growing appetites for new science, both natural and physical, which they consumed for both their entertainment and livelihood. 

The most powerful influence on William and Leonard, Jr. was certainly their father, Leonard, Sr., who taught himself the elements of land surveying, which is based on the mathematical fundamentals of Euclidian Geometry, when he was unable to work the family farm.  Leonard, Sr. used this important technical skill, along with his writing talents, to secure employment as the land clerk for the Connecticut Land Company.  He managed to build a successful career in banking and finance by becoming the legal authority and political leader of the frontier village of Cleveland.

At the time of his death, Leonard, Sr. was one of the richest men in the Western Reserve and a major landowner.  One noteworthy parcel stretched from St. Clair north to the lake and from East 26th Street to East 55th Street. It became the industrial and transportation center of Cleveland.

Case LegacyWilliam died before his father so when Leonard Sr. passed, the family’s entire inheritance was left to Leonard Jr. 

Relatives and strangers alike appealed to him for financial assistance.  Growing weary of the requests, he delegated the distribution of personal gifts to Henry G. Abbey, his personal secretary.  Four years before his death in 1880, Leonard, Jr. established a trust deed for the establishment of a school of applied science.  The balance of the Case family estate was left without the protection of a will, sparking an ugly battle between Leonard Sr.’s and Elizabeth’s siblings that was ultimately settled by the court.

By gifting the city with the Case School of Applied Science, Leonard, Jr. extended his father’s dream and supported Cleveland as a manufacturing and industrial center. 

First school of applied science

Some historians report that few understood the intent of Leonard Case, Jr. in establishing the Case School of Applied Science. Many claimed that even the board of trustees did not understand what he envisioned.  There were no other schools with such a name.  However, I believe that Leonard and his brother William, along with their fellow science intellectual enthusiasts known as “Arkites"--a group that included Henry G. Abbey-- understood what he had in mind.  It was shaped by many hours of discussion and conveyed to John Stockwell, the school’s first faculty member, via private conversation and correspondence with Leonard Jr.  Stockwell accepted the leadership assignment of identifying and recruiting the first faculty of the Case School, which included Arthur F. Taylor, C. Vaillant, J.W.C. Duerr, John Eisenmann and Albert Michelson, who woud soon win the nation's first Nobel Prize in science.     

An example of the professional personality the board sought is exhibited in the teaching career of George Armington.  He was the first instructor in mechanical engineering.  Shortly after he graduated from MIT, he moved to Cleveland and began a career teaching.  By the end of his second year on the faculty, he was informed that he needed to develop a professional practice and was encouraged to take a position in industry to gain experience. 

Armington left Case and started Euclid Crane and Hoist.  He never returned to CSAS, but working with his son, Arthur, expanded into highway machinery and founded Euclid Truck, now Terex Corp.

This early proscription for the hiring of faculty established the professional personality of the Case school.  The hiring of well-educated faculty who exhibited strong professional practices continued until about 1960, when the engineering division was established as Case’s entrée into the “engineering science movement.”  From that time forward, faculty were expected to have attained a doctorate degree and possess the skills of a successful researcher.  While industrial experience was appreciated, it was no longer a requirement.

Research prowess was substituted for industrial experience, but the basic personality remained: Strong fundamentals in math and science and a strong drive to find and apply new science and engineering.

The students who graduate from this institution enter the work force with a strong foundation in the fundamentals of math and science and an overwhelming drive to apply these problem-solving skills for the good of humanity.

A fitting tribute

The naming of the Case School of Engineering within Case Western Reserve University is a fitting tribute to the Case family. 

It reflects the vision of Leonard Case Sr., who was instrumental in the execution of the Connecticut Land Company’s mission of land development in the Western Reserve and the financial growth of Cleveland.  It also honors the vision of Leonard Case Jr., who promoted the concept of a strong educational institution for the youth of Cleveland, based on the fundamentals of math and science and focused on the practical applications that would contribute to Cleveland as an industrial center.

The Case family would be proud of the success that Cleveland and its esteemed research university has achieved with their help.

Thomas P. Kicher ’59, MS ’62, PhD ’65, is the Armington Professor Emeritus of Engineering and the former Dean of the Case School of Engineering.

Helen Conger of the Case Western Reserve University Archives contributed to this story.

The Case family residence, just east of Public Square in downtown Cleveland, was the original site of the Case School of Applied Science in 1880