Clifton Park, a big diamond in Lakewood’s tiara, had its beginnings in 1866 when a group of nine men envisioned a large-scale summer resort at the mouth of the Rocky River.
They were real estate developers Elias Sims, John H. Sargent, Thomas Dixon, Josiah Barber and Ezra Nicholson; coal operator Daniel P. Rhodes; lake captains George W. Jones and John Spaulding, and banker and surveyor George E. Hartnell.
In 1869, they signed articles of incorporation for the Clifton Park Association. Soon, attractive picnic groves, beer gardens, clean bathing and a scramble of boating activity drew great numbers of summer fun seekers from Cleveland. Many came via the single-track Rocky River Railroad created as part of the promotion package.
By 1874, attention turned to Clifton Park as a residential community, and subdivision of about 80 lots was formed there. The first home was that of William J. Starkweather at 17866 Lake Road. It has 19 large rooms, seven fireplaces and mahogany woodwork throughout. William died there in 1899, and the home was razed in 1969.
Many of the older homes were summer places, according to Clifton Park chronicler Blythe Gehring of Lakewood. Most were designed to be operated by servants and had special quarters to accommodate them.
Just before the turn of the century, a bathhouse was built on Clifton Beach for park residents. It burned to the ground in the winter of 1956.
A wooden building that stood near the bathhouse was the home of the Lakewood Yacht Club, organized in 1900. T.R. Morgan was elected first commodore in March of that year.
The Clifton Club was incorporated as a social organization in Clifton Park in May 1902. Its site at 17884 Lake Road was leased from the Clifton Park Association at $1 a year for 14 years and then purchased outright by the club.
One Sunday morning in January 1942, the club, like the old bathhouse, was destroyed by fire. In 1950, the current club building was put up on the same site as the original.