Paw Paw Lake History



How It All Started

Paw Paw Lake was the idea and development of Wade McIlrath. It was originally intended to be for summer cottages and plans called for forty-five one-acre lots: 44 for home sites and on set aside for the water supply, a huge flowing spring having been found on that spot after being surveyed. The remaining fifty acres contained the lake and surrounding land that became common park property belonging to the homeowners association.

Plotted on January 19, 1921, a group of five lot owners, together with McIlrath, formed a company that incorporated under the laws of the State of Ohio and was known as The Paw Paw Lake Home Company.

Each lot owner is a stockholder in the company that entitles the owner to the privileges of the lake and park property. Each stockholder is assessed an amount annually set according to the needs of the company, in order to maintain the lake, park, water system and roadway.

To complete the tranquil get-away setting, the early stockholders paid for electric lines to be brought out Bell Road from Chagrin Falls to the subdivision, a distance of about four miles. A three-inch cast iron water main was laid throughout the subdivision, a water tower erected and pumps installed in a large pump-house, all to carry water to all the homes from the natural deep spring.

Paw Paw Fruit

Why Is It Called Paw Paw Lake?

Great question….

First, what is a Paw Paw (Papaw or Papaya the more correct spelling):

1. [n] fruit with yellow flesh; related to custard apples
2. [n] small tree native to the eastern United States having oblong leaves and fleshy fruit

Synonyms: Asimina triloba, papaw tree, pawpaw, pawpaw

is a tree of the custard apple family.

Wade McIlrath chose to call it Paw-Paw Lake because of its close proximity to a large grove of the not-too-commonly known fruit trees.


The Detailed History Of Paw Paw Lake

Paw Paw Lake in Geauga County in Ohio is a place where, “People of moderate means … have it as nice as those with much more”. These are the words of Wade McIlrath; Paw Paw Lake was his idea. 

Let’s refer to the “Pioneer and General History of Geauga County, published in 1953. Would such a history be complete without a chapter on Paw Paw Lake? Of course not. Here is the chapter, exactly as written by Mrs. Lester Green who lived right here in Paw Paw Lake.

A boyhood sentiment for paw-paws, a love for the scenic beauty of the valley area, and a desire for a recreation spot for people of moderate circumstances -­ of such came the perfection that is now Paw Paw Lake.

Born of the World War I dreams of Wade Mcllrath, who had observed and been much affected by the deprivation of the children from the poor families in France, this lake and home development has more than repaid in happiness and fulfillment the unselfish efforts of an individual to provide for his fellowmen. Having lived only a short distance from the present lake area previous to his service in the war, Mcilrath visualized the possibilities of a body of water developed around and utilizing a small stream called Silver Creek, and several small springs, all of which provided the source of the main tributary of the Chagrin River.

Despite the protests of many who insisted there was not enough variation in the topography to make possible more than a big puddle, Mcilrath procured surveying instruments and proved there was enough drop to allow water of a depth up to twenty feet at the north end, providing a dam was built. So it was not long before work was started to clear out the trees and undergrowth, a difficult undertaking since there were no bulldozers or other modern equipment available at that time, but only the diligent efforts of three men with a wonderful objective. After the possibilities of a lake and subdivision were proven, a man named Fiedler was hired to survey the land and prepare a plat for the allotment, which Wade Mcllrath planned to include 45 one acre lots: 44 for homesites and one to be set aside for the water supply, a huge flowing spring having been found on that spot. This plat was recorded on January 19, 1921. 

The remainder of the tract, comprising over fifty acres, contained the lake and surrounding land which later became park property belonging to the corporation.

As the beauty of this new little lake increased (McIlrath chose to call it Paw Paw Lake because of its close proximity to a large grove of the not too commonly known fruit trees), many private individuals and real estate dealers tried to purchase the tract of land, but Mcilrath, though in financial difficulties because of personal investments in the property, was adamant in his determination to keep it as natural as possible; to have fewer homes, with each family owning enough 1a.nd to plant trees and gardens; and to contribute generally to the beauty of the surroundings. 

In order to proceed with the next steps (the roadways and dam) Mcllrath found it necessary to sell some of the lots to obtain the funds needed. On January 20, 1921, a group of five lot owners, together with Mcilrath, formed a company which was incorporated under the laws of the State of Ohio and was known as the Paw Paw Lake Home Company. A set of bylaws were drawn up by Mell rath, with the assistance of Thobeben, who at that time was the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor. At approximately the same time, Mcilrath deeded to the company, for a consideration of ten dollars, all the remaining allotted land of which he was still the owner. Each lot owner was issued one share of stock in the company, which entitled the owner to the privileges of the lake and park property. It was determined that the business of the company be conducted by a board of directors. Seven in number, they are elected at the annual meeting of the stockholders, to serve terms of three years. The Board of Directors have the management of all the affairs of business of the corporation, also the regulation and upkeep of park property and lake, and of all the activities and improvements thereon. Each stockholder is assessed an amount annually which is set according to the needs of the company, in order to maintain the lake, park and water system.

The present peace and tranquility of this lovely spot was not achieved in a day, nor without many difficulties which beset the early stockholders. Electric lines were brought from Chagrin Falls, out Bell Road to the subdivision, a distance of approximately four miles, most of the cost being paid by the company through assessments. A three inch cast iron water main was laid throughout the subdivision, a water tower erected, pumps installed in a large pump house on lot 45 to carry water to all the homes from the natural deep spring. In March, 1942, a sudden cloudburst destroyed the original dam. This was rebuilt a year later with other general improvements such as a new sand beach, an island to provide a nesting place for the swans, a new diving platform and swimming floats. These again were paid for by assessments against the stockholders.

Difficulties of this kind always incur hardships, but they are more than offset by the recreational opportunities made possible to the property owners. The lake is well stocked with fresh water fish, and due to an experimental program sponsored by the Board of Directors, the lake is practically weed-free making possible a lake-wide swimming program. Many owners have boats of differ­ent types, yet no boathouse or bui 1 ding of any kind has been erected near the water, nor anything that might mar the natural beauty of the setting; there are only a few narrow and inconspicuous boat docks. 

Located in the village of South Russell, which is in Geauga County, the children of Paw Paw Lake homes have the unusual distinction of attending schools in Cuyahoga County at the Chagrin Fa 11 s Exempted Vi 11 age Schools. School buses furnish transportation direction from the homes to the schools.

Approximately eighty percent of the wage earners who reside at Paw Paw Lake the entire year (several of the first buildings were intended only for summer cottages) are employed or have their own businesses in Cleveland, Ohio; the remainder travel only the four miles to their occupations in Chagrin Falls.

This may be more than you want to know about Paw Paw Lake, but it will be appreciated by your great-great grandchildren when they trace their roots. For their sake, there’ s still more.

In 1981, Paw Paw Lake residents Charles Ismond, Clinton Taylor, Betty Mcilrath and Ralph Croaning compiled another short history of Paw Paw Lake. The following is their report from Paw Paw Lake records and recollections:

At the turn of the century, there was a farm of approximately 200 acres, located approximately one-and-one quarter miles east of Chillicothe Road on the north side of what was then known as Soules Road, later to become Bell Road. This farm was owned by a gentleman by the name of Matthews, the western portion later was to become the Paw Paw Lake development. The farm was subsequently divided into two parcels, the western part went to his daughter, Mrs. Jennie Robinson and the eastern portion went to his son, Ade;lbert Matthews. Adelbert Matthews built a home facing Be11 Road which is now located immediately east of Paw Paw Lake Drive. Mrs. Robinson built a home slightly to the north and on a piece of ground which was later Sublot #35 in the Paw Paw Lake development.

Just prior to World War I, Mr. Wade Mcilrath and his wife were staying with relatives on Music Street, immediately north of what is now Paw Paw Lake. Mr. Mcllrath hunted and traveled along the spring-fed water of Silver Creek and marveled at the beauty of the valley. While serving with the Expeditionary Forces in Europe during World War I, Mr. Mcilrath conceived of an idea of creating a development where, in his words, “People of moderate means could have it as nice as those with much more.”  His dream is evident in what we now call “The Paw Paw Lake Home Company”. Mr. Mcllrath formed a group of people, engaged an attorney and wrote the bylaws as we now know them. Later the corporation was formed by filing corporate papers with the Secretary of the State of Ohio.

The original people in the development of the Paw Paw Lake Home Company were from many walks of life, but they all belonged to the Masonic Fraternity. The membership has now evolved into a cross-section of middle class families. The development of the roads, water system, building of the dam and many other things were accomplished with some money, but primarily with the cooperation of many people. In those early days the residents of Paw Paw Lake had to pay the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company to extend power eastward to serve the community.

A review of some of the minutes of the stockholder meetings of years past will  reveal that the evolvement to our present situation was not an easy one. The stockholder meetings were he1d in a downtown hotel because the majority of the stockholders lived in Cleveland at that time. These same minutes will reveal some of the real trials and tribulations that went into the community as we know it today. The upkeep of the lake and grounds is today much the same as it was in the early stage of development. It has been necessary to expend money, but more importantly the labor of the residents, during the spring and fall work days, as well as time and effort in the maintenance and upkeep of the grounds and lake in between those work days.

Over the years, several major capital improvement projects have been completed, such as:

  • Rebuilding the Dam and Shoreline – 1943
  • Construction of a New Water Tank – 1964
  • Dredging the lake and Building the Silt Pond – 1970
  • Installation of the Permanent Concrete Bridge Over the Spillway – 1973
  • A complete Road Resurfacing – 1978
  • Lake and Silt Pond Dredging – 2012
  • Completion of New Pump House and Removal Of Water Tower – 2018
  • Construction of Government Approved Spillway – 2019

All of this was done through special, self-imposed assessments on each occasion.

The Village of South Russell probably would not be in existence if it had not been for the development of Paw Paw Lake. At that time, our area was part of Russell Township and the children attended Russell Township schools. The school at that time was a two-room building heated by a wood stove, grades 1 – 8 located at Bell Road and Chillicothe. Apparently there was a larger and more comprehensive school system in Chagrin Falls and that was the primary reason for the secession of South Russell Village from Russell Township and the joining into the Chagrin Falls School System. People of Paw Paw Lake and South Russell were paying school taxes to both Russell and Chagrin until the bond issues were paid off to the Russell school system.

In 1930 the lake overflowed its boundaries, rising on the property of L. H. Freeman. The Paw Paw Lake Home Company, for the benefit of ownership of its stockholders, purchased from L. H. Freeman a parcel of )and for $3,500.00 located on the west side of Paw Paw Lake and partly covered by water.

Sunset at Paw Paw Lake in Chagrin Falls, OhioIn November of 1949, the question was raised as to the advisability of purchasing additional land containing about three acres located at the northeast corner of Paw Paw Lake Home Company. This land contained another spring that would assure our water supply and at the same time would straighten out the property lines of the Paw Paw Lake Home Co. The corner had been omitted when the land was first purchased. The farmer wanted access to water for his cattle.

In December of 1949, the purchase agreement was approved and the Paw Paw Lake Home Company purchased about three acres of land for a sum of six hundred dollars from Mr. & Mrs. George Saylor. Judging from the other developments that have been formed into private lake communities since the inception of Paw Paw Lake, it is quite evident that the vision and dreams of Mr. Wade Mcilrath contained much wisdom and forethought.

To help you understand all of the above, know this:

If all Masons were masons, Paw Paw Lake might not have had to settle for an earth dam.

According to Webster, the preferred spelling of “paw paw”, the fruit of the “paw paw” tree is, “Papaw”. “Pawpaw” is an alternative. Paw Paw doesn’t even show. However spelled, it is (1) a papaya and (2) a tree of the custard apple family, growing in the central and southern United States and having an oblong, yellowish, edible fruit with many seeds. Its fruit, Papaw or pawpaw, Webster says, is from the Spanish papaya (fruit) and the Carib Indian papayo (tree). Botanists call the pawpaw Asimina Triloba. If Wade Mcilrath had been a botanist, your address might be Asimina Triloba Lake.