A Brief History of Cleveland
Cleveland was founded in 1796, when a survey party from the Connecticut Land Company arrived at the mouth of the Cuyahoga to map out the so-called Western Reserve, a 3-million-acre tract to which the company had recently purchased title. The city was named after the leader of the party, Moses Cleaveland (the name of the city was soon shortened by one letter). General Cleaveland paced out a ten-acre Public Square in the style of the New England villages, and the major street running east was baptized Euclid Avenue.
Cleveland’s population took off when the Ohio and Erie Canal was completed in 1832, and again after a burst of railroad construction 20 years later. The Civil War brought economic prosperity to the city, and in the post-war period it quickly rose to be a major American industrial center. The city was not only a transportation crossroads between the Great Lakes and the Ohio/Mississippi river system, but was also well situated to benefit from the sudden “Oil-Dorado” petroleum boom in western Pennsylvania.
Crucial to this new growth were the refinery operations of a Cleveland entrepreneur named John D. Rockefeller, but banking, steel, manufacturing, and railroads were also major industries.� Residents ogled at the mansions on Millionaire’s Row, large companies made great fortunes, and immigrants from many countries provided much of the labor force for this rising Great Lakes city.
By early in the new century Cleveland was a colossus of heavy industry and, at nearly a million residents, the fifth largest city in the United States. But after the Second World War, Cleveland entered a period of decline. It largely shed its industrial roots and began to down-size; the city is now less than half a million, and the metropolitan area, at 2.9 million, making it the sixteenth largest city in the country. In 1969 an oil slick caught fire on the Cuyahoga River. The city became infamous for its pollution, and the butt of jokes of late-night comedians.
But a lot has changed in the last forty years! Although much remains to be done, a 2008 EPA survey found 40 species of fish in the stretch of the river between Akron and Cleveland, including steelhead trout and northern pike. Lake Erie, which almost choked to death on algae in the 1970s, is mostly clear again, to the joy of walleye fishermen. A smaller Cleveland is turning largely to service industries, specializing especially in health care, education, tourism and leisure activities.
The immediate neighborhood of the conference hotels is fascinating. The Terminal Tower Complex is filled with art deco details that anticipated features of Rockefeller Center and the Empire State Building. When it opened in 1928, the 700-foot structure was the second tallest building in the world. The railway terminal over which the office tower sat now serves a light rail rapid transit system, but Tower City also hosts retail shops, an eleven-screen cinema, and an extensive food court.
In the first years of the twentieth century the Chicago architect Daniel Burnham directed a building program of monumental structures on a mall near Public Square, including the Cuyahoga County Courthouse (1911), the Cleveland City Hall (1916), Public Auditorium (1922), the Cleveland Public Library (1925), and the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland (1923).� The Arcade (1890)–locals call it “The Old Arcade”–at Euclid and East Fourth Street is one of the country’s oldest indoor malls.� It was modeled after the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele in Milan, and is another architectural treasure of Cleveland.
Just west of Progressive Field (the Cleveland Indians baseball stadium) lies the Hope Memorial Bridge (1932) across the Cuyahoga, which boasts art deco pylons depicting the city’s industrial and transportation history.� The bridge was named to honor William Hope, Bob Hope’s father, a stonemason who helped build the structure.
See a map of downtown Cleveland (PDF) here.
See these Websites for more information about the history of Cleveland:
Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University
Western Reserve Historical Society