Speculation, Enthusiasm, and Establishment: 1830-1840

During the next decade the immediate west bank of the Cuyahoga River was transformed from a farm area to a growing village with distinctly different emphases from the rest of Brooklyn Township. Economic prosperity led to investment in the area which, in turn, led to the incorporation of the City of Ohio in 1836. Once established, the town grew quickly in size and also stature and Cleveland began to compete with the rival. By 1840 some of the earlier enthusiasm had disappeared but the area had become a community with a refined economic, social and institutional structure.

In order for any of these dramatic changes to take place, two elements had to be present: first, a group of investors needed to gamble on the future on the mouth of the Cuyahoga River and, second, a suitable tract of land had to be ripe for exploitation. The latter element made the west side a likely candidate because the flood plain and old river bed were relatively unimproved since they were poorly drained and, therefore, were not suited to farming. In 1831 the other element, investors, appeared and purchased all the lowland south of the old river bed. It should be no surprise that the investors were from Buffalo. They had seen the impact the Erie Canal had on their city and, it is probable to suppose, on their profits. They were also aware of the impending link between the Cuyahoga and the Ohio Rivers. For them the same opportunity was present in 1831 in Brooklyn Township that had existed in Buffalo fifteen years before. The optimism was a product of their own experience. Of course, they could have over-estimated the opportunity and growth rate but their instincts and experience led them to develop the west side.34

The company was interested in making a profit on its investment but the precise direction of its endeavor is unclear. One possibility is that from the beginning a rival port was intended. It would be created by opening the old river bed so that vessels could load and unload in its protected harbor. Perhaps, in their most optimistic scenario, the investors saw a new city. A more realistic prospect, perhaps, was for the area to complement the growing village of Cleveland, which was soon to be a separate unit: if buyers realized how the value of their property would increase when the west side was included in the incorporation, they would buy quickly. If this failed, a rival village could be attempted to show Cleveland its own value and force union. In any case, the main purpose seems to have been profit and combination with Cleveland as soon as possible.

The Buffalo Company could only have been encouraged in that the amount of lake traffic had increased one hundred percent from 1830 to 1833. One report said, "the business upon the lake continues lively and profitable . . ."; seven steam-boats and twenty-nine schooners landed "heavily laden with cargoes of merchandise destined for the Ohio Canal."35 Progress was quick in the first several years. The population across the river from Cleveland jumped from two hundred and fifty in 1832 to eleven hundred by 1835.36 In fact, the expansion was so swift that a Cleveland paper noted in January 1834 that a bill would be introduced in the Ohio General Assembly to incorporate the "village of Cuyahoga. . . . This is a flourishing village on the opposite side of the river, now known as Brooklyn. This will be a place, at no distant date, of some importance. . . ."37

Of course, the Buffalo Company, and other investors in west side land, were most interested in rising real estate values. They were not disappointed. In the period before 1836 the price of lots in the lowlands and on the hill shot up dramatically. Edmund Foote told his brother in March 1835, "There has been considerable speculation in Brooklyn village property since you left."38 As proof, he told of a tavern which sold for nine thousand dollars and was resold the same day for twelve thousand dollars. He added that one "Phineas Shepard sold a little house, almost in front of where he lives" with a very small lot for twelve hundred dollars.39 Foote was impressed with the prices. Another indication of the extent of the speculation is the statement written by Charles Whittlesey in his Early History of Cleveland, published in 1867, that "in 1834-35 lots on the river bed commanded higher prices than they do now."40 The chance for quick profit encouraged some to come to the west side.

Others came to increase their wealth by improving the vacant lots. Hezekiah Eldredge, who considered migrating to the area from Buffalo in the early 1830s, was encouraged by his son and brother-in-law who were already in Cleveland.41 Eldredge was a master builder and his relatives realized the potential building market in "Cleveland and Brooklyn."42 In December 1833 a clear statement of the prospects was sent to Eldredge: "now is the time if you ever ever want your Fortune."43 The evaluation was effective and Eldredge did become a wealthy, well-known builder in Ohio City.

While Eldredge’s success was probably not typical, he came to the west side from upstate New York like many other migrants. Job opportunities were not limited to the building trades for these hopeful residents. The largest single employer on either side of the river was located on the west side. The Cuyahoga Steam Furnace Company, the first iron manufacturing factory in the county, was founded by Charles Hoyt in 1830 and chartered in 1834; its charter is the first to make note of the use of steam for this purpose in Ohio. By November 1834 the company employed thirty-six workers, who ranged in skills from engineers and molders to day-laborers. Two years later an annual average of fifty-seven men was employed. More significantly, the Steam Furnace Company employed more than three hundred individuals during the two years. The firm had a relatively stable force of skilled workers who brought family members into the company. The remaining three-fourths were transients; one-fourth only worked for one month and the remainder left before six months had passed. Either the company provided a cash stake for those who wanted to invest in the new village or it provided funds to continue travels. In either case, the Steam Furnace Company provided jobs and was the first heavy industry in the river valley. In short, it established the west side’s commitment to industry and provided a valuable source of income and promise for new arrivals through its need for employees.44

The rapid increase in population inspired by these job opportunities provoked a series of discussions in Cleveland. In the winter of 1835 a letter to the editor of the Cleveland Whig must have met with the approval of many west side residents. The author, "Amos," stated: "I cannot see any good and sufficient reasons why Brooklyn should not be included in the proposed corporation [of Cleveland]. The interests of one place are closely connected and allied with the interests of the other. Let the two villages be united; let their interests be consolidated; let there be no division, no dissensions - then we may see a city in a few years that shall be an honor to the state and an ornament to the lake."45 Through December the debate continued with one letter stating that a "majority of [Cleveland’s] citizens do not say unite."46 Finally, on December 30th, a large village meeting was held to prepare a charter for Cleveland. It was reported that the "point which excited most interest, was that of embracing the village of Brooklyn, across the river, in the limits of the proposed corporation of Cleveland. The proposition was rejected by the meeting."47 While some reasons for the rejection were not indicated, the main reason seems to have been the conviction that Cleveland did not want the west side to benefit from the larger population and tax base of the east side. Behind the pragmatic rationale was the conviction that to do so would be to leave Cleveland "to the tender mercies of Brooklyn, Buffalo, or even New York speculators, however strong may be their cry of unite.48

The rejection effectively established the rivalry between the two sides of the river and assured the separate political development of the west side. Despite the decision of the Cleveland meeting, there was much need for expansion. The population had increased five times between 1832 and 1835, while its rival’s had increased only twice.49 In just these three years the population had become one-fifth as large as Cleveland’s. More proof of potential expansion can be seen in the Map of Cleveland and Environs which was "surveyed and published" by Ahaz Merchant, the county surveyor, in 1835. The number of streets actually laid out by the efforts of speculators is quite large for a village of eleven hundred and fifty people. Merchant noted at the bottom that streets north of the "old bed" were "drawn on paper by direction of the property owners and not surveyed." What Merchant meant was that these streets did not exist but were placed on the map in anticipation that they would be needed. Even though the streets continue to appear on maps as late as the 1850s, all later maps show the area as undeveloped swamp.50

Soon after the map was drawn by Merchant the title was obsolete, for the "Environs" had become the City of Ohio. On March 4, 1836, a Cleveland newspaper noted that "our neighbors across the river had received their city charter and last evening celebrated the event with guns and blunder-busses, drums and thunder. Brooklyn that was, must henceforth be denominated ‘City of Ohio’."51 Several weeks later, the paper commented that the name was inconvenient and that the name "Brooklyn" should have been kept.52 The Ohio City Argus, a newly founded paper, answered the criticism by arguing that if the "future growth and prosperity shall bear any proportion to the zeal, activity, and enterprise of our population then will Ohio never have cause to be ashamed of having lent the grace of her name to one of her infant cities."53 The Argus itself was linked to the new city and looked at the "bustling scenes" of the village with a "glow of honest pride." The ultimate purpose of all this village activity was that a "mighty population be conjugated together . . . at the point where the Cuyahoga River unites its waters with Lake Erie [and] a vast city must be reared." However, for the moment, there were two cities "rising side by side on either bank of the river; Ohio City on the west and Cleveland City on the east. Cleveland is the elder of the two, and of course enjoys all of the advantages . . .; but we believe that it is universally acknowledged that the facilities for business which our location affords, are in some respects superior to those of Cleveland."54 So, while, in the future, a single city would emerge, for the time being the relationship between the two villages was to be competition.

Almost instantly the rivalry erupted into confrontation. The roots of the controversy were located in the rejection of union by Cleveland, the incorporation of the City of Ohio before Cleveland, and the view that each side of the river was fighting for the same business. The immediate issue was travel across the river and the battle continued for at least twelve months. At first it seemed a simple matter of repairing or replacing a float bridge which connected the two villages. Past experience had shown that cooperation was usual in these instances but by June 1836 the context had changed.55 Cleveland ordered the bridge removed because it obstructed navigation on the river. In retaliation "citizens of Ohio City began to drive piles for a new bridge" but they did it "on the Cleveland side."56 In response, Cleveland declared the bridge an obstruction and ordered the project halted. The Ohio City council then ordered the destruction of a draw to the new bridge. In addition, the "road [was] obstructed by logs and brush."57 The council was accused of "selfishness" by a Cleveland paper.58 The conflagration continued on the Fourth of July when "before daylight . . . a keg of powder [was placed] under the new bridge, with a view to blowing up that super-structure."59 The apparent reason for these attempts was that the bridge was placed on the extreme southern edge of Ohio City across from Columbus Street. This diverted traffic coming from south and west directly to Cleveland before it could pass through Ohio City’s business district. The real reason for the violence seems to have been more to assert the vitality and potential for dominance by each village. The final skirmish of 1836 took place on November 1st, when a group of people tried to saw the timbers of the bridge but were prevented by a number of Clevelanders who were reinforced by the county sheriff. According to the Argus, the mob only started to destroy the bridge after it was fired upon.60 It is known that each village subsequently established a watch to protect bridges and buildings.

During this period a series of meetings was called to attempt to quell the dispute. Whether these were effective or whether the coming of winter forced a temporary stalemate is unclear. With the late spring of the following year the Cleveland paper lamented: "When will our difficulties in regard to communication with Ohio City have an end? When we see a deep pit excavated immediately before the entrance to a bridge under the pretense of grading a cross street, the conclusion is inevitable that what has to be done, was for the purpose of destroying communication with Cleveland. . . ."61 The latest development had inconvenienced many because all traffic except footmen was "confined to a small ferry boat located at a point inconvenient, at the foot of Light House Street."62 A number of bridges eventually crossed the river so that the problem was resolved by giving traffic a series of choices of crossing. The controversy receded after a year but left scars which prohibited any talk of combination for a decade. It also left the bridge question as a symbol of the difficulties between the two sides and offered only a temporary rather than a permanent solution. For the present it was almost as if both sides had won: Ohio City was free to develop without much interference; Cleveland was free to ignore its competitor.

From its formation in 1836 until 1840 Ohio City became an important village of the Western Reserve partially because of the confrontations with Cleveland. The subjects of the first ordinances and resolutions passed by the city council illustrate the priorities which the founders had for the area.63 It is significant that the major steps taken were to begin basic services and to make the city more attractive to commerce. Services established quickly included a board of health, which was to enforce laws against "pestilential diseases" and to see that non-residents who had such diseases were removed from the town. The board could also order any standing water filled in and could force all slaughterhouses beyond city limits.64 In an attempt to reduce the possibility of fire, buildings were required to have chimneys of brick or stone and flammable material such as hay had to be kept a certain distance from fires. The fear of fire was real, for, on February 24, 1837, the city experienced "one of the most destructive fires that has ever occurred in that place." The entire Columbus block was ruined.65 To protect people and property a police watch was formed.66 The last basic service, the creation of a school system, was not instituted until October 1838, a clear indication of its relative unimportance from the municipal perspective.67

Undoubtedly the most important ordinance was passed on October 12, 1836. It provided that a "channel twelve feet in depth, be opened from the . . . old bed into the Cuyahoga River. . . ."68 This ship channel created the independent harbor the city needed to become the center of commerce and the location of the shipbuilding industry. A further excavation project gave the city the direct link with the canal which it had lacked since the decision in 1825 ended the canal on the Cleveland side. A canal was built from the newly completed ship channel, on the old river bed, south through Sycamore Street on the lowlands to the river. It emptied into the Cuyahoga side just opposite the Ohio Canal so that with only a few yards more travel canal traffic could reach the west side’s harbor and markets.69

The rapid changes which took place proved that speculators and those who purchased from them were willing to continue their project. The practically instant creation of services was accompanied by some complications since all could not be done well. One writer complained to the Argus that "in some of our streets the earth is taken away and the stumps are left, but for what purpose, I don’t know, unless it may be to stop passengers in the dark, when going too fast. . . ."70

There were other signs of the rapid change measured by the number of voluntary institutions and organizations formed before 1840. Two types of organizations were typical of the 1830s and of the importance which northern migrants placed on them. Almost immediately after the creation of the city, the Argus announced a meeting of the Ohio City Anti-Slavery Society.71 In 1837 the position of some members of the community on the slavery question was indicated by another announcement of a meeting, this time to form a local colonization society.72 Another important issue of the day particularly appropriate to a western town which aspired to be a port was temperance. The Ohio City Temperance Society was meeting by February 1837.73 Even before this notice a businessman committed to the same principles founded the Temperance Hotel, where he intended to operate "on the tee total plan . . . his public room [will be] well furnished with Soda and Mead fountains."74

Temperance principles were, no doubt, encouraged by the city’s Protestant religious groups. The most prominent was Saint John Episcopal Church, which had its roots in an Episcopalian congregation in Brooklyn Township. Between 1836 and 1840 the number of communicants grew from twenty to one hundred and twenty.75 The members expressed their confidence in the future of Ohio City when they constructed a magnificent church in the heart of the town. There were also Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist groups in the early years.76 No formal Roman Catholic churches existed on the west side because a majority of their members would come from Europe only after 1840.77

The people of Ohio City who attended these churches and belonged to the other organizations made up only a part of the emerging society. By 1840, according to the federal census, Ohio City had more residents than the rest of Brooklyn Township.78 Other comparisons reveal that Ohio City had fewer persons ten to fifteen years old and distinctly more inhabitants twenty-six to forty-five. The city, it is clear, attracted workers but had few families whose children were in their early teens. The village also had more females than males because it could support women with sewing and cleaning jobs unavailable in rural areas. The occupational concentration of residents in each area further demonstrates how far the gap between the two had widened in a few years. Even with the increasing need for more craftsmen in the farming areas of the township, three-quarters of the households were headed by farmers. Manufacturing and trades did make up almost one-fifth of the households. In Ohio City only one household in twenty farmed. Most household heads (sixty-nine percent) were involved in industry, or "manufactures and trades," to use the census designation. Another one-eighth were involved in commerce, compared with less than two and one-half percent in the rest of the township. In short, in ten years a group of investors was able dramatically to alter the composition of the west side of the river.79

Additional analysis shows that Ohio City had distributed its human and economic resources differently from Cleveland. The east side became the "depot of the produce exported from and merchandise received in return by a large fertile portion of the state. . . ."80 Therefore, one-quarter of its households were involved in "commerce" brought by the canal, or, twice the proportion of west side households. Cleveland was more interested in commerce and less interested in industry since only half of its households (compared with more than two-thirds in Ohio City) were employed in that economic sector. About the same proportion of persons in both villages were involved in navigation on both the canal and the lake. Ohio City had managed to carve out a niche which Cleveland had largely ignored.

This concentration on industry, especially on heavy industry and on shipbuilding, had a distinct impact on the composition of residents. Several notices appeared in the Argus for meetings of the Mechanics and Workingmen’s Union.81 Another sign of the large number of semi-skilled and skilled workers was the reputation that one of the best hotels in the region, the Ohio City Exchange, had as a favorite eating place for workingmen.82

Most of the workers were native-born but there were a few Irish and German immigrants who began to trickle into Ohio City. Some names in the Cuyahoga Steam and Furnace Company records suggest that a number of Irish worked for a while at the factory but few became long-term employees.83 Perhaps the citizens were influenced by a wave of the xenophobia then prevalent in the nation. The pages of the Argus give support to the suspicion. The paper sounded a hopeful note in June 1837 when it stated, "Lo! They’re coming! From two steamships, Five hundred Emigrants landed at Toledo. . . .84 In a subsequent issue, however, the paper copied the apocryphal letter of one Paddy O’Blunder, who wrote back to Ireland that America was wonderful because everything was free including room, food, and clothing. He encouraged his relatives and friends to come quickly to take advantage of these benefits. The letter ends with an editorial note saying that O’Blunder was accurate but that he was currently in jail.85 In August the paper’s ethnic preference became clear when it stated that "while our attention is diverted to the numerous shiploads of poor Irish that arrive at our ports, we are not unaware of the numbers of our own unadulterated Anglo-Saxon race that flock from Germany.86 There were enough immigrants from each group in the area to evoke these disdainful comments but neither made up a significant portion of the population.87

All elements of the population were interested in the changing face of the village. The city directory for 1837-1838 contains an accurate description of the village, which had about three hundred and seventy houses and more than two thousand people. They were distributed on "several good streets, the houses of which are all well built." The Episcopal church then under construction "when finished will be one of the best of the kind in the western country." In addition, the Ohio City Exchange stood on an "elevated site at the corners of Main and Centre Streets. It is a magnificent building of five stories, crowned with a noble dome - and having splendid balconies in front, supported by pillars of the Ionic order." The main "manufacturies" were the Cuyahoga Steam Furnace, which had a brick building two hundred and thirty-five feet by ninety feet and employed more than one hundred to produce gearing and wrought iron for mills, a baking soda manufactory, a steam-boiler factory, and a glue manufactory. Commercial establishments included "extensive forwarding and commission houses." More than half of the residents listed lived on Detroit, Pearl, Washington, Vermont, and Hanover Streets. Few residents listed business addresses in Ohio City and residential addresses in Cleveland, which suggests there was a good deal of isolation in this period.88

By 1840 Ohio City had become a viable urban area. In just a decade a growing economic community had been founded and started to prosper. The financial panic and depression of 1837 certainly dampened the enthusiasm of some investors and seems to have ruined the Ohio City Argus as well.89 It is significant that the depression was nevertheless not powerful enough seriously to damage the new town. Ohio City emerged with a developing social and governmental structure and an expanding economy. It was still basically a native-born community with a commitment to the industrial revolution.