Staff and Administration
Clifford A. Neff: A Founder of Bratenahl Village and the Bratenahl School
Over six weeks in late 1904, three separate elections created and organized the new Village of Bratenahl. After separating from the Village of Glenville, the new territory, the former ward four of Glenville, was initially organized by law as Bratenahl Township. On November 8, 1904, Bratenahl Township voters chose new township trustees. Two weeks later, on November 21, 1904, the same voters unanimously decided to become a village. Finally, on December 13, 1904, the first village officers were elected. Among the slate of officers chosen, Liberty E. Holden became the first Mayor, and Clifford A. Neff was elected Clerk.
The newly elected officers of Bratenahl had a lot of work to do. A new government needed to be formed and operated. Decisions needed to be made regarding the raising of revenue, the employment of workers, and the purchase of goods and services: policies, procedures, forms, and laws needed to be drafted and enacted. As the new village clerk, Clifford Neff managed many of these activities.
Early in his term, Neff wrote the first letter still in existence, referencing the Bratenahl Village School District. On April 21, 1905, Neff sent an urgent letter to the Ohio Commissioner of Common Schools regarding the “the proper method and the regulations concerning the first election of the School Board.” At that time, Ohio law provided that the creation of Bratenahl Village automatically created the Bratenahl School District.
On April 29, 1905, Edmund A. Jones, Ohio Commissioner of Common Schools, wrote Neff stating simply that the same petitioners who arranged for the incorporation of the village could call a similar meeting “for the purpose of fixing a time and place for holding a special election for members of the board of education of the village district.”
With this information, Neff and other village leaders acted quickly. An election to select the members of the first Bratenahl Board of Education was held on June 7, 1905. Five days later, on June 12, 1905, the first meeting of the new Bratenahl Village School Board was held. The Board’s first order of business was the election of a clerk for the new school system. The selection was unanimous. Clifford A. Neff, a clerk of Bratenahl Village, was chosen to simultaneously serve as the first clerk of the Bratenahl school system. He now held two pivotal positions in the Bratenahl community. And he would hold both offices for the next fifteen years.
Who was Clifford A. Neff?
Clifford Alfred Neff was born in Savannah, Georgia, on May 5, 1867, the son of Colonel Edward W. S. Neff and Estelle Fechet. His father, Colonel Neff, served during the Civil War on the staff of General George Thomas, one of the principal commanders in the Union Army. After graduating from Kenyon College in 1888, Neff married Kathryn Young of Mount Vernon, Ohio. They had no children.
After college, Neff studied law with Sherman, Hoyt & Dustin, a Cleveland firm specializing in business law. The law firm’s major partners served as counselors and directors of several steamship companies, railroads, banks, and manufacturing firms. After passing the Ohio bar in 1890, Neff was a sole practitioner until 1908, when he joined the law firm of White, Johnson, Cannon & Neff, becoming a partner in July 1913.
In 1897, Neff organized the Baldwin University Law School along with Willis Vickery, Arthur Rowley, Charles Bentley, and Frederic Howe. At the same time, Frances Howe founded the Cleveland Law School. The schools merged in 1899 and incorporated as the Cleveland Law School. It was the first law school in Ohio to admit women. (In 1946, the Cleveland Law School merged with the John Marshall Law School to become the Cleveland-Marshall Law School.)
Neff was well respected in the Ohio legal community. In 1920, the journal of the Ohio State Bar Association published the following:
“His mind was distinguished by the clearness and accuracy of its reasoning, and the expression of his thoughts was, therefore, logical and convincing. . . . He was fair, candid, and upright, not merely in the practice of law, but in every department of life.”
His name appears continuously through the records and journals of early Bratenahl, diligently and accurately recording the proceedings of the village council and the regular meetings of the school board. Mayors, council members, school board members, and school superintendents changed from time to time, but Neff was regularly re-elected to successive terms as village clerk and as clerk of the board of education. The caliber of his work can be judged by the fact that he always ran for office unopposed.
Clifford and Kathryn lived for a time at 536 East 105th Street, before acquiring the property at 343 East 105th Street to build a new home. Construction was completed in early 1919, but Neff would not have much time to enjoy it. Following a three month illness, Clifford A. Neff died on August 25, 1919. He was only 51 years old.
Lawyer, public servant, and community leader, Clifford A. Neff deserves recognition as both a founding father of the Village of Bratenahl and a founding father of the Bratenahl School.