In 1881 Jeptha Homer Wade offered 75 acres of land along Doan Brook to the city of Cleveland for a park. It was one of the first large gifts of open space to the city. Cleveland’s Wade Park and the surrounding area—known today as University Circle—are home to more than a dozen museums and cultural institutions. It is a nationally and internationally respected cultural center. The role of the Wade family in the cultural and corporate growth of Cleveland continues to resonate today.
The Wade Project is an initiative at Western Reserve Historical Society designed to tell the Wade story, and to create an online model for studying individual family histories with a focus on institutional collaboration, research, and discovery. The Wade Project will encourage collaboration among scholars and the diverse institutions in the city holding Wade materials, explore best practices in inter-institutional collaboration, and to provide a model to enable access to records of other families who shaped the city’s culture and economy over time by giving plentifully to a wide variety of institutions—not merely a single institution. The uniquely American interpretation of “giving back” to the community determined the role and impact that cultural organizations would have in American cities.
The driving need of influential families to create cultural legacies characterized a particular aspect of American philanthropy. This practice determined the role and impact that cultural organizations and philanthropists would have in American cities. To a great degree, these nineteenth and twentieth century gifts built the cultural infrastructure of the arts in America.
Wade family gifts enabled Clevelanders to boast of prestigious cultural institutions located in public parks on par with those found in New York City and Boston. For the Cleveland Museum of Art, grandson Jeptha Homer Wade II provided additional land, endowment monies, and collections. His personal collection forms the core of the gem and mineral collection at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Additionally, CWRU, Lake View Cemetery, and Beech Brook figure prominently in the list of institutions supported by the Wades.
In 2013 the grandchildren of George Garretson Wade, (a son of Jeptha Homer Wade II) approached Western Reserve Historical Society with a request to make archival documents widely accessible online. WRHS, which holds the bulk of the family papers, was asked to serve as a resource and hub for collaborative projects with other Cleveland institutions holding Wade materials, and The Wade Project was born.