Growth of an Identity: 1840-1854

At the end of the next fourteen years the intentions of the founders of Ohio City were realized when the village was annexed by Cleveland. In the interim, however, Ohio City nurtured a separate identity. While the two communities developed side by side, they conferred when necessary and profitable but the separation and rivalry remained. One sign of their conflicting interests was the appointment in 1841 of a harbormaster for Ohio City when there was another for Cleveland who controlled some of the same water.90 This was one in a long list of duplicate positions which complicated simple matters.91

The key to the period before annexation was the economic expansion of Ohio City. Shipbuilding led the increased activity and helped create a distinctive character for the village. A letter to the editor, printed in the Ohio American (an anti-slavery paper originally published in both Ohio City and Cleveland) in September 1844, started by correcting a contention of the Cleveland Herald that the steamboat Empire was built in Cleveland.92 The author stated "that the Master Builder, and nearly all of the mechanics, are not residents of Cleveland, but lived and do live in Ohio City. Nearly all the timber and lumber was from this side of the river. The joiner work was done by Ohio City Joiners. The engine was entirely built in Ohio City . . . she may be said to be an Ohio City production." The writer then added that all ships, steamboats, and canal boats being built at "our port" were actually being built in Ohio City and "principally, if not exclusively, by Ohio City mechanics." Furthermore, there was not one boat yard in Cleveland and of all the vessels which Cleveland had claimed to have built "not one in ten have been built in that place; but on the contrary nearly all were built in Ohio City." The port at the mouth of the river should be called "Cuyahoga" and not "Cleveland," the author concluded, because Cleveland had no claim to that label for shipbuilding.93

The letter accurately represented the contributions of Ohio City. Newspapers reported at least seven firms built ships throughout the 1840s and 1850s. In fact, in 1848 a similar letter appeared in the True Democrat, which argued that out of three thousand eight hundred and forty tons of shipbuilding, one thousand eight hundred and forty-five were built in Ohio City and even the remainder was built by the "Ohio City Shipwright Company."94 The yards produced a variety of vessels from schooners and brigs averaging less than two hundred and fifty tons to propellers and steamers weighing more than four hundred tons. On average, at least fifteen vessels were produced from 1840 to 1854 and probably twice that number were repaired.95 The industry was a major employer in Ohio City. One worker in ten was a shipwright at mid-century. Other important occupations included carpenters of all types, sailors, and laborers. By 1854, three hundred workers were employed in the yards and another one thousand were dependent on them, according to the Forest City Democrat. Moreover, these workers were "desirable" because they were "temperate, healthy, and intelligent. They are noble-looking men [with] an air of cheerfulness and honesty in their features and in their manners, which distinguishes them from those engaged in more effeminate pursuits."96 Statements like these had two subtle purposes. First, lauding the workmen was an implicitly nativist statement since in 1850 virtually all shipwrights were born in the United States. Second, the effect of emphasizing one of Ohio City’s most important industries was one way to convince Clevelanders of the value of annexation, which was a current issue in 1854.

Other industries also added to the economic vitality of the village. In 1845 there were several edge-tool manufacturers and a tin and sheet iron factory. By far the major industry and employer was the Cuyahoga Steam Furnace Company throughout the pre-annexation period. The company continued to employ more than one hundred workers while adapting to the region’s changing needs for metal forms. In the 1840s it still produced mill gearing but was gradually moving into production of more steamboat engine shafts and steam pile drivers for the growing ship facilities of Ohio City. In 1842 it began to produce construction equipment for the railroads which had just begun to enter the Western Reserve. In 1843 the company changed its emphasis to producing engines. That year a screw-propeller called (significantly) the "Emigrant" was launched with a seventy horsepower engine built by the company. Six years later production was again expanded to include locomotives. The west side location complicated the process of getting the engine to the tracks, which in 1850 were on the other side. It had to cross a treacherous pontoon bridge. Once the trip began the engineer waited until the "last decisive moment . . . and with a shriek that might indicate defiance or despair, the throttle [was] opened and the engine [made] a dash at the bridge which feeling the weight [began] to sink deeper and deeper, as the spectators [held] their breaths."97 Finally, while the pontoons sunk behind the engine and the track in front pointed up, the locomotive lurched and reached the east bank. In order to avoid the constant fear that one would not make it safely a new plant devoted to locomotives was built on the east side.98

Construction of ships, engines, and buildings characterized this period of Ohio City. The trades connected with housing employed a tenth of the workers and another ten percent were probably employed as helpers. Part of the reason for the importance of building was the tremendous growth in the area. The Ohio Gazetteer stated in 1841 that Ohio City had "perhaps grown more rapidly for a few years past, than any other in the state."99 The growth continued: the number of residents grew from twenty-seven hundred in 1847 to approximately seven thousand in 1854. During the same period Cleveland had increased its population about one and one-half times rather than the two hundred and fifty percent increase of Ohio City.100 A view of the city in 1851 showed wharves and warehouses lining the river and ship channel. At the top of the hill numerous business blocks appeared, which included buildings housing stores on the ground floor and apartments on the upper levels. The residential section was gradually forced away from the crest of the hill so that by the late 1840s most new construction took place south and west of the intersection of Detroit and Superior Streets.101

One reason for the city’s continued growth was its relatively inexpensive real estate prices, compared with Cleveland’s prices. When the speculative boom ended in the late 1830s, prices dropped and desirable locations remained unimproved. By 1850 separate houses were available for most people and "nearly all had breathing room."102 The True Democrat reported the same year that a "large number of buildings were put up in Ohio City in the last four years by an excellent class of laborers and artisans."103 It added, "Men of small means [could] purchase lots and build on the west side of the river, as they are nearer business than they would be if they purchased out lots in Cleveland."104 A year later readers were advised to buy business property in Ohio City because it was closer and was only one-tenth the price.105 For these reasons building in the village continued to employ a significant proportion of workers.

Prosperity brought more people and they, in turn, influenced the social structure. Village society was becoming more complex with more distinctions. The two most important social changes were the emergence of neighborhoods and the influx of many foreign-born immigrants. In some ways the two developments went together. Since the immigrants were relatively poor, they tended to occupy the least desirable housing, for instance. Also, class distinctions often had ethnic overtones.

The Ohio City Exchange became a symbol of the changing patterns of city life. It had opened in a rush of enthusiasm. Its opulence was to be a symbol of boundless prosperity. In the early 1840s the Whigs held a grand ball there and on Saint Patrick’s Day in 1842 a temperance dinner was served at the exchange.106 However, by 1845 it was declining: "It must either go to waste as a ‘dive’ for low characters or be used as a place for the gathering of knowledge and virtue."107 The writer suggested a school was needed by the "children of the neighborhood, not a few of whom give promise that otherwise they will one day people the jail and poor-house."108 The positive suggestions fell on deaf ears apparently, because, by 1850, the walls were crumbling and it was inhabited by more than one hundred poor families who let pigs run on the upper two stories.109

Other areas, especially those in the lowlands and on the slope of the hill, housed poor residents. One of the constant problems of the era and the main reason that temperance groups were so active was the availability and consumption of liquor.110 Although not limited to the poor sections, overindulgence magnified the difficult lives of many of these people and sometimes brought them to the attention of civil authorities. Taverns were scattered throughout the city and were especially prevalent in the business districts. In an effort to reduce the problems created by drunken citizens, the Ohio City council passed an ordinance in 1852 against selling more than a quart of liquor to anyone at a given time and against any tavern keeper allowing reveling or drunkenness.111 There were other outlets throughout the city where liquor was sold. Several years earlier the council ordered the beer and apple stand "near the bridge" closed.112 Alcohol was readily available from numerous groceries like the one Marie Sherwood kept on the first floor of the exchange in 1852. Here she dispensed whiskey which she let her customers have sometimes but not, according to her testimony, when they were intoxicated.113

On the other end of the social spectrum were the leaders of the community, some of whom lived in splendor. Richard Lord’s home had a "beautiful garden and conservatory of tropical plants," for instance. Another house of the period was described as a mansion "surrounded by spacious grounds on which flowers and fruit trees grew in rich abundance."114 An imposing house on Detroit Street had a ballroom on the top floor, which was the site of the wedding between Cloe Lewis and Joseph Redington: "The banquet was illuminated with tall wax candles in silver and glass candlesticks, and served by colored waiters from one of the large steamboats plying between Cleveland and Buffalo."115 All of these activities and houses were on the heights separated from the squalor of the poor areas by several blocks and, in most cases, by the hill. Clearly by 1850 Ohio City had a distinct social structure with the two extremes well defined and the middle position occupied by skilled craftsmen.

Ethnicity became more important within this social context as annexation approached. The shift was dramatic and in some respects overwhelming.116 In 1820 and 1830 the proportion of foreign-born in Brooklyn Township was less than five percent. At mid-century, the flood of immigrants changed the context and the sounds of Ohio City. Brogue and Teutonized English were heard more and more often. Nearly two-fifths of the household heads were born either in Ireland or Germany whereas natives from New England comprised only one-seventh of the heads. As in the East, the Irish occupied the bottom of the occupational ladder. Half were listed as day laborers, which meant they had no steady employment but were hired by companies for short-term work. The remainder were scattered throughout the semi-skilled categories, such as sailors and shoemakers. A few were skilled workers, such as carpenters, shipwrights, and blacksmiths. Virtually no Irishman was a merchant, farmer, or professional. Given these limitations on their earning power, they generally lived in the poorer parts of the village near the hill and lowlands. In contrast, only one-quarter of the German immigrants were laborers. They seem to have acquired more skills before they came because one-third were either carpenters, coopers, blacksmiths, or butchers. They were more likely to work in house construction rather than in the port itself. They also tended to live away from the lake in a new residential area south of Bridge Street.

The percentage of immigrants in Ohio City was smaller than the percentage of foreign-born in Cleveland. In fact, more than two thirds (sixty-seven and two-tenths percent) of the household heads were not native on the east side of the river, compared with less than three-fifths (fifty-nine and eight-tenths percent) in Ohio City. The reason for the disparity was the proportion of skilled native-born workers who lived and worked on the west side.

The influx of immigrants caused an increase in ethnic consciousness. In the early 1840s, the Irish had a Fourth of July celebration and in 1843 Germans gathered to celebrate the Fourth. The Declaration of Independence was read in German and "Schubert’s band played several excellent tunes during the dinner . . ."; still, ten years later, the council of Ohio City turned down a request to establish a German public school.117 Although this attempt was unsuccessful the council did agree to have copies of an ordinance concerning dogs "to be printed in handbill form in both the English and German language. . . ."118 Another sign of the growing number of foreign-born was the formation of churches and voluntary societies designed to preserve old world ways or help less fortunate members of the group. By 1853 the United German Evangelical Protestant Church of Ohio City and the German Mutual Relief Society had been formed.119

Ethnic consciousness was not limited to the groups themselves. The Irish and, even more so, Germans on the streets of Ohio City were obviously different from natives. Their dress and speech identified them. A witness at a coroner’s inquest in 1849 said he saw a "German-dressed man" near Jones shipyard on the old bed of the Cuyahoga River. The man was dressed in a "black cloth vest, brown linen pants with narrow falls, a cotton shirt." He also carried a horn tobacco box with a crucifix stamped on the cover and wore "calf boots made in the German style."120 Other items used by new arrivals such as distinctive pipes and pocket-books identified them as different even before they spoke.121 Not all the implications of this identity were negative, however. In 1850 there were sections of the city almost exclusively Irish or German. These concentrations of country-men allowed ethnic consciousness to be a positive, comforting aid to new immigrants.122

Native-born residents benefited from the influx of European immigrants, who held lower occupations. Virtually all skilled positions in Ohio City’s heavy industry were filled with natives, including engineers, machinists, and shipwrights. In more prestigious categories like merchant, minister, physician, and boat builder, natives were also without competition. Some other jobs, less lucrative, including farmer, sailor, boatman, and fisherman, were also part of the native domain.

Just as natives benefited from their control of higher-ranking jobs, the experience of native youth and young adults reflected their more privileged circumstances. Native youth were able to stay in their parents’ households longer than Irish or German youth. In fact, native girls stayed four to six years longer. The reason for the disparity was that natives were able to continue their education while immigrant youth probably found school irrelevant, especially when it was taught in an unfamiliar language. When native males finally did begin to work, they remained at home into their twenties. Fewer Irish and Germans stayed home and those that did worked three to four years earlier. Another reflection of this trend was that few natives lived in boarding houses while many Irish did. In one case forty Irish boarders were housed in one Ohio City establishment. Because of their parents’ greater earning power, native youth were able to marry earlier and support themselves with better-paying jobs that would allow them to support themselves earlier in life. Immigrants married later because they did not have these advantages and because they needed some time after their arrival to become acquainted with the social context.

Within this new social context and the burgeoning economy a series of changes took place in the operations of city government. At the beginning of the period more water was needed for the growing number of residents and the council provided for a water pump for the public well at Pearl and Detroit Streets.123 Other responses to the increasing volume of economic activity included an ordinance passed in 1853 limiting wagons laden with hay or wood to the middle of several side streets well back from busy intersections.124 Most changes resulted from the large population and the social differentiation which accompanied it. Ohio City leaders found the relatively small watch force of the 1830s outmoded by the 1850s and formed a formal police department with various sections, including a strengthened night watch.125 Further- more, the police began to pay more and more attention to neighborhoods containing large numbers of immigrants since these also seemed to be crime areas. The volunteer fire associations were discarded in favor of a fire department.126

The appearance of a more obvious lower class forced other actions designed to keep its members out of the public eye and perhaps out of the city. An order of council in 1852 authorized the marshall "to remove all persons and their houses or shanties" if they were squatting in city streets.127 A year later two ordinances attempted to deal with a new social problem - vagrants. The first provided that anyone loitering near "saloons, dramshops, houses of ill fame" or who was without a residence would be put in the city jail on bread and water for as long as thirty days.128 The second ordinance fined anyone caught drunk in a street, alley, public hall, ballroom, grocery, or boarding house as much as twenty dollars or sentenced him to twenty days in jail.129 To discourage crime the council ordered street lamps along Pearl and Detroit Streets.130

Some expanded institutions were for the benefit of the residents rather than for their protection. On the eve of annexation there were more than eleven hundred students enrolled in five schools in Ohio City. Three of the buildings were newly finished. Each had five rooms and seats for three hundred and thirty-three students.131 The Kentucky Street School demonstrated the changing values of the more sophisticated city when its students produced the Acorn, a literary magazine.132 The Leader, a Cleveland newspaper, congratulated the staff for producing the "most excellent" publication.133 Other signs of a growing cultural and charitable awareness were the formation of the Ohio City Library Association and the work which went on to build a hospital. The library association not only exchanged books but also sponsored a lecture series.134 The effort to erect a hospital produced fairs like the one held at "Kelly’s hall" to raise funds. Finally, in 1852, Charity Hospital was erected and citizens who were legitimately poor and who had obtained a ticket from a church leader were admitted free.135

Against the background of these cultural, social, and economic changes Ohio City attempted to relate to its neighbor and rival across the river. The 1840s seemed to be a decade when the two municipalities were tentatively cooperative. As early as 1841 a series of commissions met on topics of mutual interest and control, generally dealing with the waterfront.136 The Ohio City commissioners approved a joint project two years later for a bridge over the Cuyahoga. Admitting the potential for disastrous confrontation, they asserted "it is highly desirable that the controversy and excitement on this subject should as far as possible be removed by pursuing a just and equitable policy in relation to all thoroughfares crossing the river. . . .137 A solution was reached by giving control of a replacement bridge to the commissioners of Cuyahoga County.138 Another cooperative step was the appointment by agreement of both city councils of a harbormaster for the entire harbor.139

Cooperation led to the inevitable attempt to join the two towns. The True Democrat argued the basic reasons for the union in an editorial printed in October 1851.140 The river would be entirely under one authority and the breakwater which was so important to the harbor would be funded by the national government. Several months earlier it echoed advice cited previously. It stated that lots in Ohio City were closer to the Cleveland business district and an investment of one or two hundred dollars would be returned quickly since the "two cities will soon unite and property will rapidly rise."141 For the residents of Ohio City there was little controversy - eighty- eight percent (three hundred and fourteen persons) voted in favor of union.142 However, a "set of naughty disunionists . . . decreed [there would be no union] by their votes" registered in Cleveland.143

The issue was not dead. Ohio City received more attention after the rejection by Cleveland papers which favored annexation. One suggested progress was "fast or faster than Cleveland" and that the west side might just vote down the next attempt.144 Perhaps more to the point was an editorial which attacked the willingness of Clevelanders to spend six million dollars for rail connections to Indianapolis when they constantly cut off intercourse with Ohio City which had a larger population and was only a "stone’s throw away."145

By 1854 the issue was back before the voters. Now the argument about property values was reversed. The union would produce taxes and exorbitant real estate prices in Cleveland.146 The Morning Leader asserted that no one would vote against union except a few "cold, selfish, grasping men . . ." who were opposed to "planked or paved roads, [and] good school houses. . . ." In fact, two major contributions were added to the earlier list of assets. First, annexation would be healthier. It would allow "fresh, pure water to gush forth at every corner" which would reduce dust clouds, reduce cleaning time, prevent fires from spreading rapidly and thereby reduce insurance costs, and allow cleaner streets, thereby reducing sickness and contagious diseases. Access to the west side’s water system would produce the "general adoption of luxurious health." Second, the new city would gain a number of prosperous industries such as "manufactories, iron works, machine shops, and warehouses."147 Whether all these claims were accurate is impossible to judge. One claim was certain: by combining the populations of the two cities the new municipality would rival all others on the lakes in size. On April 3, 1854, voters in both towns approved the merger. The vote was indicative of the wave of publicity which appeared in the newspapers. While clear majorities voted for merger in both Ohio City and Cleveland, the plurality in Ohio City dropped from eighty-eight percent in favor in 1851 to seventy percent in 1854. Some were convinced that the west side could remain independent. On the other side, eighty-three percent approved – a dramatic improvement from the earlier vote.148 Finally the long struggle begun in the 1830s was over.

The terms of the annexation were fixed within several months and the City of Ohio became the west side of Cleveland, comprising its eighth, ninth, tenth, and eleventh wards.149 One of the stipulations in the agreement was that a "bridge be built within two years which would ensure communication between the two sides. This item finally resolved the controversy of 1836, or so it seemed.

Why after all these years did the agreement come in 1854 and was it beneficial to Ohio City? Apparently the timing was dependent on the perceptions of Clevelanders that the population and economy of Ohio City were important to the progress of the area. Since west siders had always supported union, there was never any question for them. The positive consequences of the agreement were the simplicity of one government and the projected increase in property values. The promise of the bridge was important. Negative aspects of the annexation were the stipulation which reserved revenues and assets of each side before the union to that side exclusively. Therefore, because the west side had fewer people and assets it would find it difficult to change its inferior status in terms of schools and other services.150 In fact, much of the terms ensured west side dependence and slower improvement. It is ironic that what residents had hoped for during a twenty- year period may not have been the best solution. They had managed to build a prosperous town which was dependent on but not controlled by its older sister city. It gave up this leverage when it was united with the east side.

The east side of the river benefited from the combination instantly. Ohio City had much to offer economically to Cleveland. It was more modern in its commitment to the lake port and the industrial revolution than Cleveland. In contrast to the east side, it did not tie its fortunes to the canal, which was already in decline by 1854. Therefore, the annexation of Ohio City was the crucial step which helped, even propelled, Cleveland into the role of a manufacturing center and away from commerce.