Bankrolling Higher Learning Philanthropists’ Feud Led to Founding of Two Schools

Plain Dealer article written by Bob Rich and published on February 4, 1996




Author: BOB RICH


On a bitter, cold February day in 1851, a brightly polished new locomotive pulled into Cleveland packed with passengers from Columbus and Cincinnati to celebrate the completion of the city’s first railroad, the Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati Co. 

Among the officials who greeted the out-of-towners on the courthouse steps were the mayor, William Case, and the superintendent of the railroad, Amasa Stone, who not only had stock in the line, but a salary of $4,000 a year to run it. 

These two were to clash in later years, and their mutual dislike and competitiveness would strongly affect higher education in Cleveland. 

The famous and accomplished Case family: father, Leonard, and sons, Leonard Jr., and William, were unquestionably the first big names in 19th century Cleveland education, starting with the Cleveland Medical College in 1843. They also made several tries to create a Cleveland university, but came up short in the money department each time. 

When Leonard Case Jr. died in 1880, he accomplished by his bequest of $1 million in land and money what he couldn’t manage while alive: a successful new school of higher education – the Case School of Applied Science, on Rockwell Ave. It was the first independent school of technology west of the Alleghenies. 

The Cases were doing their business friends a favor because industry had become complicated; special skills were needed, and the idea was that sons of middle-class families could afford to give up working for wages while they studied for better jobs. As for the sons and daughters of Cleveland’s elite, they would continue to be taught liberal arts at tiny Western Reserve University in Hudson, Ohio. 

But that school was practically broke, and so the trustees were perhaps more than willing to be lured away to University Circle in Cleveland by that man whose personality was as flinty as his name – Amasa Stone. 

Stone’s arrogance had made him unpopular even in his own top-drawer society circle. But it also drove him as a philanthropist to do things for which only he would get the credit – and that included competing with the Cases by bankrolling a successful university in Cleveland. 

Stone had made a phenomenal climb to wealth and power since those early railroad days. From banking to contracting, from a rolling mill to screw manufacturing, even to a trotting track in Glenville, Amasa Stone was in the thick of it. He gave the Home for the Aged Protestant Gentlewomen to the YWCA, saw his two daughters married extremely well – Clara to John Hay, a famous diplomat, writer and secretary to Abraham Lincoln; and Flora to industrialist Samuel Mather. 

But tragedy dogged him: his son, Adelbert, was drowned in a swimming accident at Yale. He lost his reputation when a train on one of his own lines plunged into the Ashtabula gorge during a snowstorm in December 1876, killing 92 passengers and injuring more. The main arch of the bridge had caved in – a wooden bridge, designed, patented, and built by Stone himself, against the advice of his own engineer who wanted a new stone or iron bridge to span the gorge. 

His physical and psychological health was already bad by 1880, when his business empire began to collapse; only philanthropy relieved some of the pressure. 

Stone offered the little Hudson college $500,000 if it would move to what is now the University Circle area. There were conditions: he wanted the school named for himself, (but had to settle for Adelbert College of Western Reserve University); wanted to design and construct the buildings; Cleveland citizens had to provide the land for the site; and the site had to be built next to the new Case School, which had bought some farmland east of Euclid Ave. and E. 107th St. 

Leonard Case Jr. may have been dead, but Amasa Stone was still competing with the family name. The little Hudson school lunged at the offer. As a local writer put it, according to historian William G. Rose, they “hitched their educational wagon to the new star of progress and threw old-fashioned prudence to the wind.” 

A depressed Amasa Stone commited suicide in 1883, but his youngest daughter Flora and her husband, Samuel Mather, would help more than 30 religious, charitable and educational institutions in their time, including establishing the women’s undergraduate school at Western Reserve. 

And Florence and sister Clara were able to honor their autocratic father with the Amasa Stone Chapel. 

There was one thing he wanted that he didn’t get: a demand that the two schools exist side-by-side “in close proximity and harmony.” The two institutions promptly built a fence between them.


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