Yes, this was prime farm country. Back in the 1920s, folks such as Samuel and Dora Dean were drawn to it, growing vegetables to sell in Cleveland.
“They might have sold at the West Side Market,” said Debbie Dean-Espie, their great-granddaughter.
“They were truck farmers,” added her dad, Larry Dean. “Before there were trucks, I believe they used a horse and wagon to get to market.”
Tucked back from the busy corner of Porter and Center Ridge roads, Dean’s Greenhouse is among a few surviving early agricultural businesses inCuyahoga County. Records in the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History show a county that once led Ohio in potato production (1909), the entire country in railroad-shipped table grapes (1870) and held a high national profile in “hothouse” tomatoes (1950s).
The Deans’ growing history, like a few others, has been unbroken over four generations.
Not that the times haven’t tried to break them, like a rutted road tossing around a loose melon in the back of the wagon.
More ruts are likely to come, but Larry, 68, his daughter Debbie, 43, and her brother, Scott, 41, keep moving.
“Any business has to change and adapt to the times,” said Debbie.
Here’s a look at what each Dean generation coaxed out of the soil, and what Greater Clevelanders wanted from them the most.
Hold onto your straw hat.
The first Deans
The beach ridges of prehistoric oceans made Westlake — and many other stretches of northern Ohio — a great place for farming.
“The sandy soil was good,” said Larry Dean. “My dad used to say that if you wanted to bring vegetables to market before everybody else, plant on the sandy side of the ridge. If you were first to market, you made more money.”
In 1924, Samuel and Dora Dean moved from Rocky River to Westlake in search of such a spot. At one point, they realized they could get to market even earlier by building coal-heated greenhouses. They went to work, constructing building after building of wood-framed glass panes. Total ground covered: four acres.
They grew tomatoes. Lots of tomatoes. At peak, the Deans were among 19 growers running a total of 350 acres under glass. Samuel helped organize a vegetable distribution center in Berea. According to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, the Cleveland Hothouse Vegetable Growers’ Cooperative Association covered the third-largest concentration of greenhouses in the world. Tomatoes were the main crop, with 10 percent in lettuce and another 10 percent in cucumbers and watercress.