Visiting my Hometown

This week I am starting a departure from all things English (gasp) to spend some time closer to home.

I live in Cleveland, Ohio. I was born here, and have spent well over half my life here. Living in “the Mistake on the Lake,” especially during the 1970s , gave one a bit of an inferiority complex. We had a river that actually caught fire. We had the “boy mayor” whose municipal mismanagement made us the laughing stock of the world–I remember visiting Canada when I was a kid, and the waiter in a Chinese restaurant said, “Ah, you’re from Cleveland. Don’t you have that crazy mayor?”

Growing up, I had been vaguely aware of the city’s history–the landscape is dotted with gorgeous old buildings in varying stages of decay, and my own high school was built in 1926, so it was hard to be completely oblivious–but I never gave it much thought.

Cleveland Heights High School, c1930, from The Cleveland Memory Project

In recent months, however, I’ve been doing some exploring of my fair city’s background, and it is a little bit amazing.

Charles Brush mansion, built in 1884, from The Cleveland Memory Project

In 1885,  half the world’s millionaires lived in Cleveland, most of them on one street–Euclid Avenue, once famously known as “Millionaires’ Row.”

These millionaires included John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil Company; Samuel Mather, who with his daughters and their husbands founded many Cleveland institutions, including Trinity Cathedral and University Hospitals; Francis Drury, who founded the Cleveland Playhouse; Isaac N. Pennock I, inventor of the first steel railway car in the US; arc light inventor Charles F. Brush; Amasa Stone, one of the founders of what is now Case Western Reserve University; John Hay, who served as personal secretary to Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State under William McKinley; Jeptha Wade, founder of Western Union Telegraph, any many others.

Euclid Avenue postcard, from The Cleveland Memory Project

Euclid Avenue was described in the 1893 edition of Baedeker’s Travel Guide as “one of the most beautiful residence-streets in America.” Incredibly hard to believe now, as the vast majority of these beautiful homes were demolished, and the magnificent trees lining the street were devastated by Dutch Elm Disease.

Euclid Avenue, c. 1905, from The Cleveland Memory Project

Eventually the millionaires moved out to the country, which became Cleveland’s suburbs, went broke, or left Cleveland entirely, and their homes were demolished. But for awhile, Cleveland was truly a magnificent place.

In future posts I’ll touch on some of the stories from Cleveland’s heyday, including the one of the woman who tried to swindle Andrew Carnegie. In the meantime, if you’re so inclined, take a look at the website of the Cleveland Memory Project, which has all the photos I posted today and thousands more. Also consider visiting the site of Dan Ruminski, whose wonderful presentation I attended a couple of months ago sparked my interest.