"Pleasantly situated on the west side of the Cuyahoga River, on a site of commanding eminence, and directly opposite the city of Cleveland is Ohio City", announced a directory of residents and businesses published in Cleveland in 1837-1838.1 The description succinctly points to the advantages and disadvantages of the fledgling village which never became a true city until its merger with Cleveland almost two decades later. The advantageous physiognomy provided an impressive view of Lake Erie, well-drained soil, and clean air from the "commanding eminence" described in the directory. Below the heights the ancient river bed stretched west from the riverís modern mouth and provided a natural harbor safe from the changing moods of the lake. If Ohio City had been the lone settlement at the mouth, its prospects would have been unlimited - but it was not alone. Cleveland had been surveyed before the turn of the nineteenth century as the capitol of the entire Western Reserve while the land west of the Cuyahoga River remained Indian territory.2 Consequently, when Ohio City began to take shape in the 1830s, it was partially dependent on Cleveland. Even the topography of the river valley, which appeared so advantageous, became an impediment to the growth of the west side because its sides were not banks but walls limiting access to east side markets and people.3
Two components of the historical matrix, location and time, determined the parameters within which the west side developed. In spite of the handicaps, the area was fortunate because the lowland on the old river bed was as advantageously suited for commercial exploitation as the hill was for residential development. Also fortunately, Ohio City was able to create a separate identity because, unlike Cleveland, which looked down the river, it looked toward the lake, which was the economic future of the entire area.
Changes began in the 1830s when the population of the Western Reserve started to grow rapidly and when the completion of the canal system brought prosperity and inspired optimism. Only in this context is it possible to understand the successful attempt to begin a city opposite
Cleveland. Moreover, the founding date allowed a curious similarity to develop between Ohio City and older areas of the east coast. In spite of its inland location, the prosperity and optimism of the 1830s brought heavy industry immediately to the area when it was common only to the urban east coast. Also, because job opportunities accompanied industrialization, foreign immigrants made their way to Ohio City in numbers paralleling those of the east coast . Because it was founded in the 1830s, anti-slavery groups and temperance societies, atypical of a frontier area, coincided with the formal organization of the village. It is almost as if Ohio City had no real pioneer phase because it assimilated so many current trends at its inception. It was due to this early maturity that the west side created problems for Cleveland. The growth which Ohio City residents saw as long-term was treated more cautiously by the east side. By the 1850s west siders convinced the other side that their village was a significant part of the urban development at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River. By the 1870s west siders convinced
Clevelanders that it was in their interests to have easy access across the river. Throughout this period, residents of the Ohio City area were hampered in their development by their late start and by the inherently difficult problem of bridging the Cuyahoga. In some senses, even though they tried to become equal partners, they were relegated to an inferior status.
Pleasantly Situated is re-published in Crooked River with the permission of
the Western Reserve Historical Society.
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