Collectors of Ohio lore should love getting to know Willoughby’s history. It’s the only town in America that has belonged, at one time or other, to six counties (Washington, Jefferson, Trumbull, Geauga, Cuyahoga, and Lake). The City bore two names before the current name was adopted; Charlton and Chagrin. Colloquially, the area was sometimes referred to as Abbott’s Mill or Chagrin Mills.
Willoughby’s early history parallels that of many northern Ohio towns. The area, first inhabited by Native Americans, was explored by French trappers in the mid 1700s. In 1787, Yale graduate David Abbott made a trip west from Rome, New York. Eleven years later, Abbott acquired 200 acres including what is now Willoughby and assembled a group of pioneers to settle in the area of the Chagrin River, building a sawmill and gristmill.
In 1834 a local group of doctors established the Willoughby University of Lake Erie Medical College named after Dr. Westel Willoughby, their former professor at Fairfield Medical College in New York. That same year, Dr. John Henderson, who also served as postmaster for the Village of Chagrin, officially changed the name of the village to Willoughby.
In the last decade of the nineteenth century, Willoughby founded its municipal water and light plant, organized a fire department, and was crossed by the Cleveland-Painesville Eastern electric railway. The CPE opened Willoughby to the residents of Cleveland, who were enchanted with the scenic lakeshore area. The CPE, which ran until 1927, also brought electricity to Euclid Avenue residents.
The traditions of industriousness and integrity instilled in Willoughby in the 19th century continue today. The citizens of Willoughby have strong roots and a lot of pride in the connections to the past. Listing Willoughby’s downtown on the National Register of Historic Places ensures its architecture and history will be preserved well into the future.