Geology and Local History
Brandywine Falls is one of the most popular sites in the National Park. Carved by the Brandywine Creek, a tributary of the Cuyahoga River, the Falls cascade over a 65-foot cliff composed of high-quality “Berea” sandstone, which is common in Northeast Ohio. Underneath the layer of sandstone sit several layers of shale, formed on the mud floor of ancient oceans that covered the region 400 million years ago.
The Falls proved culturally significant beginning in the early 1800s, when the area along the Cuyahoga River was first settled. In 1814, local entrepreneur George Wallace built a sawmill at the top of the Falls, and grist and woolen mills followed soon after. Over the next decade, the community of Brandywine Village sprung up and became one of the first permanent settlements to exist in the valley.
From the historical perspective, the importance of communities like Brandywine Village cannot be overstated, though it is all too often overlooked. In fact, the significance of the Ohio & Erie Canal, another key historical feature in the Park, cannot be properly appreciated without first considering the region’s industrial history from the turn of the 19th Century through about 1850, which had its epicenter at the Wallace Brothers’ Mills in Brandywine Village. The ingenuity of early settlers, who took advantage of natural features like the Falls, established a reputation for high quality manufacturing in Ohio, New York, and New England.
Though the Canal in the 1830s and the Railroad in the 1850s left small, specialized towns such as Brandywine Village in ruins, industrial infrastructure in Northern cities was left in place. Meanwhile, trade networks in the South were underdeveloped, and no industrial base existed, trapping the southern states in an agrarian system. This ideological divide contributed more than anything else to the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861. Thus, the case could quite easily be made that the story of early manufacturing is as important as that of the canals to the broader narrative of American history. Sadly, what little remained of Brandywine Village was destroyed by the construction of I-271, but the James Wallace House, home of George Wallace’s son, remains.
The Falls can be accessed from the parking lot on Stanford Road, just off Brandywine Road in Sagamore Hills. A wooden boardwalk leads from the road to the Falls.