The Village of Fairport Harbor is located in Lake County, Ohio, at the mouth of the Grand River where it enters Lake Erie. Part of the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence Seaway system, Fairport Harbor is about 100 nautical miles (180 kilometers or 112 miles) east of the Port of Toledo across Lake Erie. Fairport Harbor is also about 64 nautical miles (106 kilometers or 66 miles) southwest of the Port of Erie and about 26 nautical miles (45 kilometers or 28 miles) northeast of the Port of Cleveland, both of are on the southern shores of the lake. The 2010 US Census reported a population of just over 3100 people living in the Village of Fairport Harbor.
From 1662 until 1800, the Colony/State of Connecticut claimed lands in what is now Northeast Ohio. The lands were called the Connecticut Western Reserve, and the history of Fairport Harbor is tied to that of the Western Reserve.
This part of the Great Lakes region was home to humans for thousands of years. In the 15th and 16th Centuries, modern tribes began to form. Archeological evidence shows that the Erie, an Iroquoian-speaking people that lived in multi-family long houses in fortified villages, populated the area that would become Fairport Harbor.
However, the Erie had been displaced in the mid-17th Century when the Iroquois destroyed their villages. By 1656, the Erie did not exist as a separate tribe or Nation. Rather, they were killed or absorbed by the Iroquois. Some fleeing Erie were adopted into Ohio's Seneca Nation which was removed to the Indian Territory in the 1840s. It is possible that many of the Seneca living in Oklahoma today are descendants of Fairport Harbor's earlier Erie tribe.
The natural harbor at what would become Fairport Harbor was important in building the region, and it was a port of call for many boats bringing immigrants from Europe. In the late 1700s, the Connecticut Land Company sent surveyors, leading to sale of the lands to New Englanders seeking new opportunities.
While traders, trappers, and other explorers had been in the area before 1800, there is little documented evidence that Fairport Harbor was populated by Europeans before the 19th Century.
In May 1812, the town of Grandon was laid out on Western Reserve lands that had been deeded by the Connecticut Land Company to Samuel Fowler in 1798. A port and village began to grow at the mouth of the Grand River. In 1836, the town of Grandon was incorporated under the name Fairport Harbor.
Fairport Harbor was the first port facility on Lake Erie to be sponsored by the United States federal government in 1831. Fishing, ship-building, and transportation of goods brought growth and prosperity to Fairport Harbor. By the middle 19th Century, Fairport Harbor handled imports and exports, both with a value around $500 thousand.
Fairport Harbor's earliest residents were primarily from England and Ireland. When the ore docks were built, immigrants from Finland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia arrived. Modern Fairport Harbor still reflects this mix of cultures.
In the latter half of the 1800s, waterborne commerce increased in Fairport Harbor as large freighters delivered iron ore from mines in Michigan and Minnesota. From Fairport Harbor, the ore went to steel towns like Youngstown, Ohio, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Until 1912, the Fairport Harbor docks were the town's biggest employer.
In 1912, The Diamond Alkali Company began manufacturing soda ask, bicarbonate of soda, and caustic soda in Fairport Harbor, employing several thousand people from the town and surrounding area. Merging with Shamrock Oil and Gas Corporation in 1967, the company became known as Diamond Shamrock. Until the plant closed in 1976, "The Diamond" was a major contributor to the local schools. After the plant closed, a new tax was necessary to keep the schools operating.
At the beginning of the 1980s, the railroad tracks in Fairport Harbor's switch yard were removed. The land stood vacant for a decade before it began to be redeveloped into residential areas and recreational boating marinas. Today, Fairport Harbor still supports a limited amount of commercial traffic. Limestone, sand, and salt are the major cargoes moving through Fairport Harbor today.
Today, Fairport Harbor is primarily a commuter community for nearby Cleveland. The old Diamond Shamrock headquarters are now apartments, and the corporate campus now holds condominiums overlooking Lake Erie. A new sports resort, Lakeview Bluffs, is being developed on old Diamond Shamrock brownfields for IMG Worldwide.