Exterior view of the home of President James A. Garfield in Mentor, Ohio, ca. 1930-1960.
On May 28, 1867, the predecessor to the Western Reserve Historical Society, the Western Reserve & Northern Ohio Historical Society, formed in Cleveland, Ohio. The society was originally part of the Cleveland Library Association, but it eventually split from this organization in 1892. Charles Whittlesey, a geologist and historian, served as this organization's first president until his death on October 18, 1886. Whittlesey authored approximately two hundred books and articles, mostly on geology and Ohio's early history.
At first, the Western Reserve & Northern Ohio Historical Society focused upon collecting documents and artifacts related to Cleveland, northern Ohio, and the Connecticut Western Reserve. Originally, the society was located on the third floor of the Society for Savings Bank in downtown Cleveland. In 1892, with financial assistance from Rutherford B. Hayes and John D. Rockefeller, the society purchased the entire building, expanding the library and the museum. Six years later, the organization moved to a three-story building at East 107th Street and Euclid Avenue in Cleveland.
During the early twentieth century, the Western Reserve Historical Society dramatically expanded its holdings. It acquired Lawnfield, the home of former United States President James Garfield in Mentor, Ohio, in 1936. The society also acquired the Hay Home and the neighboring Hanna House. In 1939 and 1940, the Western Reserve Historical Society moved its operations to these two mansions located on East Boulevard in Cleveland. The society eventually constructed a three-story building between the two mansions to connect them together. The organization also acquired the Jonathan Hale homestead, which the society developed into a nineteenth century farm in Summit County, Ohio, and, in Canfield, Ohio, Loghurst, which might be the oldest surviving structure in the Connecticut Western Reserve.
The Western Reserve Historical Society also collected a sizable number of artifacts during the twentieth century. It established one of the leading costume and American furniture collections in the United States. The society also acquired historic aircraft and automobiles from TRW, Inc., in 1963. This collection eventually became the basis for the Frederick C. Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum near the Western Reserve Historical Society's headquarters on East Boulevard.
By the early 1980s, the Western Reserve Historical Society had become one of the largest private historical societies in the United States. In 1986, its library contained approximately 250,000 books and six million manuscript items.