West Side Development:1854-1870s

The implementation of the agreement began with a series of optimistic signs. William B. Castle, president of the Cuyahoga Steam Furnace Company, was the last mayor of Ohio City and the first mayor of the combined City of Cleveland. The bridge problem was solved temporarily with the construction of several temporary bridges made by linking scows together.151 A local paper reported: "The union between the east and west sides would seem to be pretty well established, if we may judge by the communication between them . . . while the Center St. bridge was open for fifteen minutes to permit passage of two vessels, 71 vehicles accumulated, waiting for the bridge to close: 41 were on the west and 30 on the east."152 On another occasion one hundred and fifty teams per hour crossed the same bridge. Numerous accolades for the west side shipbuilding industry seemed to prove the wisdom of the union: "Vessel tonnage in Cleveland last year [1855] exceeded all other ports on the lakes both as to the number built and their tonnage."153

The west side continued to grow and to expand its economic contributions to the area between union and the 1870s. One important shift for shipbuilding was an expansion of its market. Firms began to secure contracts with eastern customers because ships could be built more cheaply in Cleveland. By 1861 the lowland development of the west side spilled into the flood plain of the Cuyahoga River called "the flats." Mills and factories were built to meet the demands of the ongoing Civil War.154 Especially important to the transition from commerce to heavy industry was the appearance of the Cleveland City Forge and the Northern Ohio Iron Company, both completed in 1864.155 As a result of this expansion the west side’s population increased to more than seventeen thousand. Of course, industrial and demographic expansion was not limited to the west side. The city as a whole had grown to more than sixty thousand with the aid of the emerging oil industry and other industrial growth.156

One of the major reasons new firms built in the flats was the large number of skilled workers available within walking distance from the west side. For a brief period the number of new jobs put such pressure on housing near the flats that, for instance, would-be renters found no houses available during much of 1863.157

After the war, changes took place which had begun in the 1850s. Railroads found the lowland areas suitable for depots and yards. Consequently, they began to purchase large areas for these purposes. The old river bed changed as well. Shipyards which had lined the channel were removed to make way for railroad development.158 On a positive note, some of the yards simply moved but others seem to have disappeared.159 The railroads, in turn, built docks along the river bed to be used "for the loading of coal for lake shipment."160 In this way rail and ship transportation worked in harmony on the west side. The transition from commerce to manufacturing was symbolically complete (although lake traffic would always be important) when the city was the site of the first annual meeting of the National Manufacturers’ Association in 1868.161

Economic change unfortunately did not bring the projected increase in value to west side real estate. Some of the same comments and analysis which were used to convince Cleveland to annex Ohio City were still being used in the 1860s and 1870s to encourage settlement there. "The west side has many attractions," said a newspaper in 1867, "as a place of residence and must in the future increase rapidly, and will doubtless, at none very distant day, become to the business portion of Cleveland what Brooklyn, Hoboken, Jersey City and Williamsburg are to New York City, a place of residence for the toiling thousands, and perhaps millions."162 Three years later a concise statement summarized the reality of the relationship of the west side to the rest of the city. It said the west side was prosperous but was "treated as a mere suburb by the east side."163 The value of a house, a city lot, or a business block on the west side, despite the hopes of unionists in the 1850s, had not increased. Similar property in East Cleveland, four miles from the business district, sold for more. The report continued by praising west side neighborhoods, especially the one near Franklin and Clinton Streets, but concluded there was "one damaging fact that they are on the West Side,"164 which neutralized every other advantage. The recommendation was an often repeated one - more communication between the two sides was needed immediately. In short, little had changed. The Ohio City area was still prosperous but was somewhat isolated and possibly ignored.

There were some attempts by private industry to improve communication between the two sides. Cleveland city council granted a permit in February 1863 to the West Side Railroad Company and by September the section from Superior Street to Pearl Street opened.165 The inauguration of a street railway was required because the bus service which had started in operation in 1852 was overtaxed and too slow. The steep hills presented construction problems since they were steeper than any hills used for railways in the country. The obstacles were overcome but only with financial commitments which were reflected in the rate structure. Fares were twenty percent higher "because of the steep hills along its lines."166 Furthermore, the street railway only served a few passengers. The basic problem of easy access remained.

The relative isolation of the west side did not stop the growing population from further differentiation. Numerically the entire city including the west side had four to five times as many residents in 1870 as it had in 1854. The new residents were similar to those in the pre-union period in most respects. On the west side the native-born inhabitants continued to decline until by 1870 they comprised fewer than one-fourth of the heads of households.167 On the east side an influx of natives resulted in a reversal of the trend when the proportion o f native-born household heads grew to more than one-third in 1870. Part of the explanation for the disparity between the banks lies in the age of the east side’s ethnic population, which by 1870 was producing native-born second generation households. Another factor was that the ethnic identity of some west side neighborhoods literally drew specific groups across the river.

The proportion of Irish and Germans grew significantly on the west side. By 1870 three-fifths of the heads were from either homeland but the ranking had changed since Germans outnumbered Irish in both 1860 and 1870, which is also true of the east side. The trend toward more ethnic identity in the area was even more dramatic in some wards. The eighth ward included the lowlands and the side of the hill leading onto the heights. In 1869 two-fifths of the heads had been Irish but by 1870 two-thirds were. This led the area to be called "Irish-town." In the ninth ward, which covered the area south along the river from the eighth ward, virtually equal proportions of Germans, Irish, and natives lived. It was an area in transition. Some of the Irish lived on the crest of the hill while some middle class natives lived near Franklin Circle. By far the most popular subdivision for native-born residents was the tenth ward, which stretched west. But even here only one- third were native. The last west side ward housed as heavy a concentration of Germans as the lowlands did of Irish; about two-thirds were German-born.

An analysis of the occupations of west side residents shows the move toward industry and away from shipbuilding. Fewer than two percent of the workers in the old Ohio City area were employed in ship trades by 1870, for instance. Probably the most dramatic distinction was the almost complete isolation of various ethnic groups in certain jobs. In spite of the fact that Irish immigrants came earlier than the Germans did, they were unable to break out of the lowest occupational category. In 1870 nearly all laborers, including stevedores, in the area were of Irish birth. Moreover, there were virtually no native-born laborers. The advantage which natives had achieved by the earlier immigration was retained, in other words. They made up more than half of the professional and skilled positions available. Another phenomenon emerged. In the Irish neighborhoods half of the businesses were owned or operated by natives and the rest by Irish. In the German area, on the other hand, most of the owners were also German. It seems that the twentieth-century view of a ghetto was true of the Irish neighborhoods but not of the German sector, for members of the group controlled a good deal of the wealth in their portion of the community. Also, more Germans were skilled workers, especially in the trades of carpenter and cooper. Therefore, by 1870 the trends of the 1850s had become more distinct while the ethnic f1avor of the west side became more engrained.

Voluntary associations were formed in large numbers to keep the ethnic identity of each group. German residents managed to found a German school in 1856, for instance. More indicative of the period was the proliferation of religious and cultural groups. In the space of fifteen years two Roman Catholic churches, St. Patrick and St. Malachi, were dedicated on the west side within two miles of each other. The German Protestant population founded three church groups. The cultural organizations demonstrated the community’s maturation because they went beyond helping fellow country- men survive in the new environment to preserving their heritage. The Irish founded the Irish Literary and Benevolent Association in 1869. German-born residents formed singing societies, book unions, and shooting groups.168

Members of these cultural societies were generally from the middle class since their incomes allowed them the leisure time and the cultural consciousness suited to these groups. Not all residents were so fortunate. In order to make living conditions better throughout the city but especially in poorer sections, the city appointed a health officer and a team of health police in the early 1870s. A report filed by Dr. Kitchen, the health officer, in 1873, described Center Street as one of the worst in the city.169 Its gutters were filled with stagnant matter and garbage and left to the exclusive possession of flocks of ducks. On Mulberry Street springs used to drain privies emptied out onto the streets "forming stagnant pools and poisoning the whole atmosphere." Families by the dozen were reported crowded into houses on Main Street in the lowlands. Also along the side of Detroit Street hill over to the Columbus Street bridge there were several hundred shanties which needed to be demolished. A newspaper account filled with passionate phrases concluded that some sections had "straggling, half white-washed houses, filthy rags, dirty-faced, half-naked, white-headed children, poorly-clad women, hundreds of cats and dogs, and millions of flies."170 Fortunately a year later another tour of the west side found much improvement; standing water was filled in, gutters and backyards were clean, and on the "west side ‘proper’ affairs [were] in very good shape.171

The health police were only one sign of the city’s response to changing urban problems. Just after union the Kentucky Street Reservoir was opened to supply water. "Henceforth, the wells of hard and milky mineral water were abandoned, pumps were no longer jerked, and cisterns of black and stagnant rain water were closed."172 Unfortunately the system broke down in 1870 when the main pipe from the pumping station on the old river bed to the reservoir ruptured. The entire city was without water and factories closed. The recommendation was for a new reservoir to be built on the east side so that such a disaster would be averted.173 While the immediate problem was solved within several days, the system had clearly been overtaxed. Another sign of the interest in health was the introduction of a sewer system in the 1860s. By the early 1870s more than five thousand feet of sewer pipe had been installed on the west side.174 A final sign on the increase in public services was the introduction in 1867 of gas lines which supplied street lamps and public buildings with light.175 A year later, more than one hundred and eighty gas street lamps were in the old Ohio City area.176

Despite all these improvements and the larger police and fire departments, the essential problem of communication between the two sides remained.177 One observer in the 1870s found it took an inordinate amount of time to go from the west side to the east side because the only links were "two or three drawbridges, to be reached by a perilous walk or drive down a slippery hill over a group of railroad tracks." Several frustrated travelers reported waits of as long as one half an hour while trains were "made up" and of even longer waits while drawbridges were opened.178 Congestion along the routes and too few bridges were the reason for long delays. It was almost as though the flood plain had been industrialized with no thought to the need for others who were not residents of the lowlands to get back and forth.

In 1870 a movement began to solve this problem which had plagued west siders for four decades. A citizens committee was formed and recommended a high level bridge be built above the flats. Consulting engineers from the Cuyahoga Steam Furnace Company said the project was possible and that it would "aid travel to the west side, as well as that of the area beyond."179 Series of mass meetings were held during the next several years to rally support for the high level bridge. Even farmers from the region west of the city supported the bridge because "more than half the hay, fruit, milk, and produce generally which is used in the city comes across the river [to the east side]."180 Opposition from the east side was described in 1871: "Cleveland sits idly by sucking her thumbs, while 40,000 of her citizens are practically cut off from the main part of the city merely because a few fogies think that Cleveland has grown about as much as it ever will, and fear that the building of a bridge adequate to our needs might possibly reduce the rental of property in our eastern suburbs."181

Several important steps were taken to facilitate the project. State permission was granted and land had been purchased by 1873. In September of that year a huge rally was held in Franklin Circle. The estimated seven thousand present included not only west siders but farmers and important east siders. The signs displayed at the meeting demonstrate the depth of feeling the issue generated. One placard indicated that political pressure would be brought to bear on those not supporting the viaduct by saying, "No Bridge, No Patronage!" More to the point, the frustration of most residents and sympathizers was indicated by a sign which showed a slave bending in the dust and crying, "Oh, Massa Cleveland, gib us a bridge." At the other end of the canvas a man said, "Get up you fool negga, what you doin dar, prayin for what belongs to you."182

On December 27, 1878, the "citizens turned out en masse to celebrate the completion of the great stone viaduct. By their authority had been built this bridge 3211 feet long, 42 feet wide, containing 1,994,355 cubic feet of masonry, 12,500 tons of iron, and costing $2,170,000."183 Finally, after forty-three years, the west side did not have to be a suburb but could become an integral part of Cleveland. Whether the intervening time had already made that reality impossible was not clear in 1878. The future was bright and unclouded by events.