Willoughby is a quaint town in Northeast Ohio, home to around 22,000 people according to the U.S. Census Bureau. While some may see it as an ordinary small town, Willoughby’s rich history and tradition prove otherwise.
Settled in 1798, the town was originally called Chagrin for the river which runs through it. In 1834, the town was renamed Willoughby after Willoughby Medical College, which opened its doors in November of that year. This medical school, the first in Northern Ohio, was named for Dr. Westel Willoughby, Jr., president of the Fairfield Medical College in Herkimer County, New York. Two of Dr. Willoughby’s students had established medical practices here in 1813 and 1819.
Drs. John M. Henderson and George W. Card led the push for a medical college which taught with great success here until the mid 1840′s when faculty disputes, poor economy and student grave robbing led to the abandonment of the Willoughby site and eventual formation of what are now the medical colleges of Case-Western Reserve and Ohio State University. The present Lake Erie College in Painesville also had its start here as the Willoughby Female Seminary until 1856.
Other interesting tales include The Girl in Blue who reposes in Willoughby Cemetery and the colorful history of the numerous 19th century buildings that line Erie Street downtown. Garrett Morgan, inventor of the traffic light, first tried out his device in the heart of Willoughby in the 1920′s.
The Cleveland, Painesville and Eastern Railroad (the CPE), an interurban electric train that ran from Cleveland to Ashtabula County was powered and serviced in Willoughby. Local restaurants, Gavi’s and Willoughby Brewing served as power plant and repair shops in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Each year a festival, “Last Stop Willoughby”, celebrates this part of Willoughby’s history.
Today, Willoughby is home to many additional festivals, shops and attractions including a car cruise-in, ghost walk, arts fest, boutiques and antique shops. The town truly has something for everyone of all ages and interests.
With contributions from Dr. Ronald Taddeo