COOLEY FARMS WAS NAMED in honor of Harris R. Cooley, the pastor of the Cedar Avenue Christian Church of Cleveland, who served as Director of Charities and Corrections under Tom L. Johnson and Newton D. Baker. Both the idea for the establishment of a farm colony and the responsibility for carrying out the project were his.
In his attitude toward social questions Cooley shared the theories held by Johnson, Samuel M. (Golden Rule) Jones, Brand Whitlock, and Frederic C. Howe. These ideas were not peculiar to the Civic Revival. They were parts of the social gospel which was undermining the individualistic pattern of thought (i.e., the evangelistic psychology) in American religion as well as in American politics in the early years of the twentieth century.
While the ideas he put into practice in Cleveland’s charitable and correctional institutions were thus not always original, Cooley gave them a more vigorous application than they received in any American city outside of Cleveland and Toledo. As Cooley explained to an interviewer, “‘nowhere in the United States had any one such a chance to apply them [the ideas] as Mr. Johnson gave me.” One of the points stressed in the school of psychology to which the Civic Revivalists adhered was the importance of environment in shaping the individual. Cooley Farms was the outgrowth of Cooley’s determination to provide Cleveland with institutions where the city’s charges could be cared for in wholesome surroundings.
Johnson gave Cooley’s proposal for the establishment of a farm colony his vigorous support and the Warrensville site was chosen fairly early in his administration. The project, uncompleted when Johnson left office, was carried on by Newton D. Baker. As indicated above, Cooley Farms was divided into four estates: Colony Farm (the almshouse). Correction Farm (the workhouse). Overlook Farm (the tuberculosis sanatorium), and Highland Park Farm (the municipal cemetery).
For our purposes the significant parts of Cooley Farms are the alms-house and the workhouse. Nearly everybody feels tenderly for the sick and the dead but a kindly attitude toward the indigent and the delinquent is less frequently encountered among public officials.
“They have made the human voyage,” said Cooley of the old men and women who were sent to Colony Farm. That simple fact was enough to stir his sympathy. “Among the unfortunates are some who have been wasteful, intemperate, and vicious. Some are undeserving, some have done wrong, but these things are true of some of the children of luxury.”
Cooley claimed that his generous treatment of the people who were forced to come to the almshouse was not dictated by charitable motives. In providing them with a pleasant home for their last years he thought society was only giving them what was their due. In his opinion, they were the crippled veterans of industry, deserving of at least as much generosity as is showered on the wounded veterans of wars.
“The bent backs, the swollen joints, the wrinkled faces of these underprivileged ones tell the story of trial, hardship and suffering. Most of them have done their fair share of the world’s work.” Cooley placed the red-roofed, stucco buildings of Colony Farm on a hill that commanded a beautiful view of the countryside. In a spirit reminiscent of Jones he had the phrase, “To lose money is better than to lose love.”