Early Development

There were few hints of urbanization or of a rivalry before 1830. The west side of the Cuyahoga River developed, much like the rest of the Western Reserve, as an agricultural area with little communal integrity.

Before any settlement was able to occur on the western side of the Cuyahoga, the area had to be effectively included in the development of the Western Reserve and to be free of Indian claim. A map of Cleveland in 1796 indicated that the only inhabitants of the other bank were Indians.4 The placement of the Indians is significant for "on the west side of the river opposite St. Clair Street where the Indians had a ferry, a trail led out across the marshy ground, up the hill past the old log trading post . . . to an opening in the forest, near the crossing of [what was to be] Pearl and Detroit Streets. In this pleasant space the Indians practiced their games [and] held their powwows."5 It was merely a meeting place, however; there is little evidence of contemporary Indian settlement. Ancient settlements did exist; a burial mound was discovered in 1819, located half a mile west of the river. Numerous bones and jewelry were found in the mound, which was sixty feet in diameter and ten feet high.6 However, the intertribal wars of the eighteenth century had effectively made the area a neutral zone by 1790.7

Even after the Western Reserve was opened for settlement in 1796, few whites seem to have invaded the area west of the river because the land open for sanctioned settlement was large and equally desirable. Finally, in 1805, a treaty signed at Fort Industry transferred more than two million acres west of the Cuyahoga to whites in exchange for money.8 Immediately the area was surveyed into townships and prepared for an influx of inhabitants. Like much of the Reserve, there was no flood of migration to range thirteen, township seven, which would become Brooklyn Township.9 No one was there in 1807 and, seven years later, a map drawn by Alfred Kelley showed only four structures on the west side.10

The first settlers were typical migrants to the Western Reserve: they were from a few Connecticut towns (East Haddam and Groton) and were from a small number of families. "With the exception of one family by the name of Chapman, [the township] was peopled exclusively with Brainerds and Fishes."11 Gradually, between the arrival of James Fish, the first permanent settler, in 1812, and 1818, the number of inhabitants grew. The increase was encouraged by two brothers-in-law, Samuel Lord and Josiah Barber, who owned much of the land. Barber set up an office on the west side in 1817 and offered house lots at reduced prices to attract new residents.12 The efforts were successful and, in 1818, the township was organized politically. Its name was debated briefly. Some wanted the label to reflect its chief speculative attraction, corn, by calling it Egypt; but finally Brooklyn was chosen because it "sounded well."13

The activities of a typical resident in this early phase of subsistence agriculture included clearing land and building housing. The few moments of leisure were often spent writing to relatives in the east. Edmund Foote (a nephew of Samuel Lord) wrote to his brother in East Haddam in 1819, "if you wish to know where I am suppose me in a log house, the store part, standing up to write."14 Two years later he lamented that his newer log house was not finished "but by the time you call on us [we] shall undoubtedly be comfortably settled in a neat little log hut 30 feet by 18 with a good cellar and a convenient well to it."15 Foote also participated in hunts motivated by the desire to rid the area of animals who were dangerous to people and crops. The two hunts in the winter of 1818-1819 netted one hundred and fifty deer, four bears, and five or six wolves, he reported. Two men were wounded and several balls "whistled by where I stood" because the hunters took positions on four sides of a clearing and fired at animals trapped in the middle.16 Most of the crops survived, partially because of these expeditions. By 1820 the township was dotted with pastures and fields which grew several crops simultaneously and had stumps growing in their midsts. Rough-hewn barns stood next to smaller log cabins in gradually expanding clearings.17

The population of Brooklyn Township in 1820, which included the west side of the Cuyahoga River, was also typical of the region. The federal census of that year shows that virtually every head of household was a farmer (ninety-two percent) and that the population was young – a characteristic of frontier groups.18 In fact, half of the residents were fifteen years old or younger (forty-nine percent) and only nine percent were older than forty-five. Also typical was the heavy concentration of adult males who preceded women into the Reserve. Fully two-thirds of all those older than fifteen were males in 1820. Moreover, the homogeneity of Brooklyn was even more pervasive since almost all settlers were native-born whites: only seven "foreigners" and one black were listed out of three hundred and forty-eight people.19

The early settlers of Brooklyn were young native white farmers who showed little sign of the later orientation of the west side. Their energies were generally limited to agriculture. When they looked at the village across the Cuyahoga, which had nearly twice as many people as their entire township, they must have thought in terms of a market for their produce.20 There were no signs of competition or rivalry in 1820. In fact, several investors, including Josiah Barber, applied for permission to build a toll bridge across the river.21 By 1823 one bridge was completed by subscription of a number of investors. The builders asked that the subscribers send their wheat, rye, and corn to various locations in payment of their shares.22 With this initial venture the relationship between the two sides was defined. The purpose was cooperation so that supplies from farms on the west could get to the east easily. During the next fifty-five years attempts would be made to find better, more durable links between the two sides but the limited technology of the period and the emergence of a rivalry doomed most of these efforts to failure. Failure was not in the minds or the account books of Western Reserve farmers when they learned of the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, which linked them with the East through Buffalo. This was the first of many systems which changed agriculture in the region from subsistence to surplus because it provided new markets. What really changed prospects for the mouth of the Cuyahoga was the construction of a canal south along the river and then to the Ohio River, which began several years before the opening of the Erie Canal. By 1827 the first canal boat arrived from Akron, although the entire system was not completed until 1834.23 The Ohio Canal changed development at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River from one stop on the Great Lakes to an entrepôt which transferred goods from lake ship to canal boat or vice versa on their way either to the West or to the Atlantic. Therefore, Cleveland became a commercial center with little interest in industry. This emphasis allowed industrial firms to develop uncontested on the Brooklyn side of the river.

The canal also raised the first of many questions concerning the merits of the east and west sides of the river. The debate, which concerned the location of the canal terminus, retarded development of the west side and forced its evolution in another direction.24 Late in 1825, a Cleveland newspaper indicated concern whether the northern terminus of the canal would "be continued on the east side of the river, or a dam built across the Cuyahoga a few miles from its mouth, and the canal taken over and brought to its termination on the opposite side." The paper then added, "the public opinion cannot be mistaken. It is decidedly and unquestionably in favor of the eastern route."25 Of course, Cleveland wanted the canal on its side but engineers who studied the problem concluded the west side route would be cheaper than the east side one if the dam was replaced with a wooden aqueduct which would take the canal across the river four miles below Cleveland.26 Finally, public opinion won and, by December 30, 1825, the decision was made to keep the canal on the east bank.27 One can see that if Cleveland had been bypassed, the west side would have developed much more quickly.

With the canal site fixed, Brooklyn’s future still looked positive because of the new traffic which would appear. By 1828 the beginning of navigation on the lake and in the canal brought the "welcome, though not very musical, ‘ho yeo’ of the sailor at the wharves . . . [and] the bugle of the boatmen on the canal . . . [indicating that] this is destined to become a port of commerce and the seat of manufactures."28 It may already have been destined to become a manufacturing center but steps were occurring in Brooklyn to bring the changes on more rapidly.

Industrial development in the Reserve, as in the entire country, was often limited to the use of water power in the early nineteenth century. The significant change before 1860 was the gradual introduction of steam power, which took the factory away from the water source and made it less dependent on rainfall. The transition began in the 1820s, when a few steam engines appeared in the region, and was completed only after the Civil War, when twice as many factories were steam-powered as were water-powered.29

Typically, local industry on the west side began with the construction of saw and grist mills. Even before Brooklyn was formally organized, Philo Scovill built the first sawmill; two other mills appear before 1820.30 These establishments were part of the agricultural economy and did not signal any break with the past. Several other enterprises did suggest the economic direction of at least part of the township. In 1822 a paper mill appeared on the west side of the Cuyahoga and three years later a "Tin and Sheet Metal Manufactory" was established "opposite Cleveland."31 Although the paper mill was unusual, it apparently found enough market for its products because it helped the township enter a new phase of industrialization in 1829. The "Brooklyn Steam Paper Mill" was open again after the owners "substituted a powerful Steam Engine for the insufficient water power used in carrying on their work. . . ."32

At the same time steam power was introduced in manufacturing it was also adopted by another industry which was to become the backbone of Ohio City’s economy. A "steam boat is about to be built . . . to ply on the lake the ensuing season," announced the Herald in 1824.33 It is significant that the boat was steam-powered and was to use the lake.

These two commitments from important investors set the west side apart from Cleveland. Of course, these distinctions were not evident in the 1820s but the preliminary work had been done to define the area’s unique focus. Industry, on the west side, with few exceptions, was based on agricultural needs. Few saw that the potential of the area near the river was in the direction of the lake and not the canal and was with heavy industry rather than farming. The hints were there but numerous other directions could have been taken as well. Also, the rudiments of local institutions like churches and schools existed but in most cases they were only rudimentary. The social context would gradually fill out in the years to come. It was enough to have established the base before 1830.