Born near Wooster, Ohio, brothers Oris Paxton and Mantis James Van Sweringen moved to Cleveland around 1890. After their first real estate venture failed, the two purchased 1,399 acres of land formerly belonging to the North Union Shaker Community east of Cleveland in 1905 to develop Shaker Heights, a planned community for wealthy Clevelanders looking to escape the crowded and polluted city center. Starting in 1909, the Van Sweringen brothers began to amass property and railroads in order to create the Shaker Heights Rapid Transit line for those commuting from Shaker Heights to Downtown Cleveland. In 1920, the line began operation, and by 1930 the two had opened the Union Terminal Complex near Cleveland’s Public Square, which included a rail passenger station, office buildings, and the 52-story Terminal Tower.
After the stock market crash of 1929, the two lost much of their impressive $3 billion empire which encompassed 30,000 miles of railroad. Never marrying and living markedly reclusive lives, the Van Sweringen brothers resided together at their mansion known as Daisy Hill in the Hunting Valley suburb. They died within one year of each other (1935 and 1936) at the ages of 57 and 54 and are buried at Cleveland’s Lake View Cemetery.