It might be obvious to note that Cleveland has a rich history, but for students of the Great Depression era, its resources are especially inspiring. Both art and history were greatly enhanced during that time.
Did you know that Cleveland was a birthplace (of sorts) of the Historical Records Survey of the WPA? Although this Depression-era work-relief program (which gave jobs to unemployed archivists and historians) was a Federal project, much of its inspiration and philosophical support derived from the ideas of a local professor, Robert Binkley of Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University). The Annals of Cleveland – an annotated index of early Cleveland newspapers that was a joint project of the Historical Records Survey, the Cleveland Public Library, and the Cuyahoga County Recorder’s office – continues to be an invaluable resource for the history of Cleveland and its people. Hard copies of the Annals are available at the Cleveland Public Library and many local academic libraries. Digital copies are also available, with direct links from many genealogy and history sites, including Ancestry.com, Access Genealogy (which links to the Digital Case repository at CWRU), and the HathiTrust
Nicknamed the “Mother of Presidents,” Ohio is home to eight U.S. presidents, several of whom hailed from Northeast Ohio. While you are visiting, be sure to fit in a trip to one of the presidential historic sites, birthplaces, or museums listed below!
Icabod Flewellen was born July 6, 1916, in Williamson, West Virginia. His passion for Negro history began as a young man reading J. A. Roger’s Negro newspaper articles. After discharge from the army in 1945, Mr. Flewellen believed that everyone should have the opportunity to see the accomplishments of Africans and those of African descent. His dream was to build an Afro-American museum in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1953, while working as a Veterans Administration messenger and a maintenance person at Case Western Reserve University, Flewellen started collecting material to build his collection for the Afro-American Cultural and Historical Society. He traded, purchased, and bartered for items pertaining to known and unknown African American events and people. In 1964, the Cleveland “Parade of Progress” exhibition proclaimed Flewellen’s Negro history collection of one of the largest in the country.
The closed Cleveland Public Library’s Hough Branch became the home of the African American Museum. Unfortunately, managerial and financial debacles forced Flewellen out, and he had to return the documents and historical items to his home. In 1999, Flewellen donated his 400 cubic feet collection to the East Cleveland Public Library.
In 2005, the Cleveland Foundation awarded funding for the processing of the collection. Presently, 90% of the collection has been inventoried, cataloged, and is available online through a finding aid.
In 1993, Flewellen obtained a degree in history and became the oldest graduate from Case Western Reserve University. He continued to research and lecture on everything regarding African Americans until his death in 2001.
The above photographs are courtesy of the Flewellen Collection, East Cleveland Public Library.
Other Cleveland African Americans featured in the collection include:
Rev. Glen T. Settle, pastor of Gethsemane Baptist Church, whose Wings Over Jordan Choir was the first professional black choir in the United States that preserved Negro spirituals, receiving the Peabody Award.
John Malvin, a free man born in 1795 in Dumfries, Prince-William County, Virginia of a slave father and a free mother, who worked with an organization to obtain land in Canada so that Negros could move away from Black Laws. While in Cleveland, he became a successful canal boat captain, a civil liberties fighter, and established a colored children’s school. In 1880, he was buried in an unmarked grave in Erie Cemetery. Icabod Flewellen worked with the John Malvin Foundation of Cleveland to obtain funding for a headstone for Malvin’s grave.
George C. Jones, who owned a brass foundry on Central Ave. in Cleveland, where he made street car trolley wheels. His wheels were considered the best of their time and marketed by the Holland Trolley Supply Company of Cleveland throughout the world.
Parks, green spaces, whatever the name, Cleveland has 167 parks, not including the Metro parks (Emerald Necklace) or State Parks. In the downtown area there are 11 parks/ green spaces from 0.09-acres on East 9th and Rockwell Avenue to Public Square’s 4-acre green space in the center of downtown. These are great places to have lunch (in most cases food trucks will be in the area), enjoy the lake’s cool breeze, people-watch, relax, reflect, and release. There are historical parks, like the 1796 Settlers Landing on the Cuyahoga River at the end of St. Clair Avenue where Moses Cleaveland landed. Public Square, which was also created at that time, contains the Perry Monument and the Soldiers’ Sailors’ Monument along with its many changes in 1976 and 1986. Public Square is also the site of a completely new green space for 2016, so please, pardon our dust!
Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. you can read, take a load off, relax, or people-watch while enjoying lunch at the Cleveland Public Library Eastman Reading Garden on 325-525 Superior nestled between the two library buildings in the heart of downtown. Dedicated in 1937 in honor of Linda Ann Eastman (1867–1963), Director of the Cleveland Public Library from 1918 – 1938, this small green space was turned into a quaint slice of heaven after the building of the Louis Stokes library addition.
Public Square may be in the rebuilding stage, but Tuesday is “Beats and Eats,” and food trucks will be across the street from the Square near the Old Stone Church. The First Presbyterian Church, later known as the Old Stone Church, grew from a Plan of Union Sunday school established in 1820, then incorporated as the First Presbyterian Society in 1827. It is the oldest structure on Public Square and one of Cleveland’s few early churches remaining in its original location. The sandstone church was the second church within the Cleveland limits, built at Ontario St. and Public Square during the early 1830s.
The Ralph J. Perk Plaza Park on 12th and Chester/Walnut is near the food truck available on Walnut Wednesdays, 11 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. It is named after Cleveland’s 52nd mayor and first Republican to win a countywide office since the mid-1930s. The park was redeveloped in 2012 to accommodate the increase of the downtown residential population.
Voinovich Bicentennial Park hosts the food trucks’ Lunch by the Lake on Thursdays from noon – 2 p.m. Located behind the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and the Great Lakes Science Center at the end of the 9th street pier, this quaint park provides a place to take your dog for a walk or simply relax in the shade. Major events like the Cleveland Wine Festival have taken place here along with music events and other events. It is a great place to have lunch, enjoy the cool lake breezes, and watch the people and various boats that pass by.
Willard Park consists of 0.72 acres of green space located on East 9th and Lakeside Avenue next to Cleveland City Hall, a few blocks from where the lake offers Food Truck Fridays 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. On Lakeside Avenue sits Oldenburg’s Free Stamp that was commissioned by the Standard Ohio Company (SOHIO) in 1982. Originally, the sculpture was to be displayed in front of the new SOHIO headquarters in the Public Square area; unfortunately British Petroleum (BP) acquired SOHIO, and the project was canceled. In 1991 BP agreed to continue the project but not to have the stamp in front of BP headquarters. After additional negotiations between the city and the artist, an agreement was made to place it in Willard Park, not standing upright but laying on its side, with the words “free” visible.
Travel and Leisure called Cleveland one of the best places to travel in 2015. Fodor’s 2015 Go List features Cleveland as well; its rust belt chic comparable to the natural wonders of Patagonia, Chile, the otherworldliness of Iceland, and the beaches of Uruguay. With culinary kings like Michael Symon, one of the top orchestras in the world, and stunning museums like the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland is the place to be in 2015. And with a mandate from Council and the membership-at-large to experiment with new ideas, SAA is shaking things up for its 79th Annual Meeting in Cleveland! The most obvious change is the venue itself: SAA will meet in a convention center rather than a conference hotel. The Cleveland Convention Center was just completed in 2014 and is a sleek, beautiful space, located just steps away from the three conference hotels and a vibrant downtown district.
And getting here is easy! Cleveland sits within a 500-mile radius of nearly half of the U.S. population! Upon arrival, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) links busy travelers through four RTA rail lines that snake all over the city and to the airport, connecting with 69 different bus routes. For just $5, visitors can snag a one-day Cleveland Pass that allows for unlimited rides. The slick, modern HealthLine Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) secured an Excellence in Engineering award, connecting downtown hotspots to hospitals and restaurants. Once downtown, take advantage of the city’s free RTA trolley network, bring your bike, or use your feet. The website Walk Score names Cleveland the 16th most walkable largest city in the U.S. Everything you need during your stay in Cleveland will be only moments away!
No trip to Cleveland is complete without a visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum—lucky for all of you this year’s All-Attendee Reception will be held there! The Rock Hall experience includes four theaters, multiple interactive stations, and seven floors of exhibits that tell the story of the world’s most powerful art form through handwritten lyrics, colorful costumes, history-making photographs and videos, and iconic albums that make rock and roll a religion for some, and a force for social change throughout the world. And don’t forget to plan a visit to the Museum’s Library and Archives, located in the Tommy LiPuma Center for Creative Arts on the Cuyahoga Community College Metro campus.
In the Cleveland Metroparks, more than 21,000 acres and 18 reservations surround Cleveland like an “Emerald Necklace.” The reservations follow the rivers and creeks that flow throughout the region, while the Metroparks include hundreds of miles of walking, biking, and horse riding trails as well as numerous picnic areas, nature education centers, golf courses, and countless fishing spots, as well as the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.
The Cuyahoga Valley National Park includes 33,000 acres along the Cuyahoga River between Cleveland and Akron that are administered by the National Park Service. The park has many hiking and biking trails, such as the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail, which follows a former stretch of the 308-mile Ohio and Erie Canal, and offers a number of examples of nineteenth and early twentieth-century sustainable farming and pastoral or rural living, as well as art exhibits, outdoor concerts, and scenic excursions and special event tours on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.
Cultural Heritage Institutions
Cleveland and the surrounding areas are home to a number of museums, universities, and other cultural institutions just awaiting your discovery!
Keep an eye out for information on repository tours, coming soon!
Want to know more about Cleveland history? One of the top 10 largest U.S. cities between 1890-1960, Cleveland has a storied past and much is still on display for visitors with an eye for history. Two comprehensive websites full of interesting essays and images are the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History and Cleveland Memory. Cleveland Memory features collections such as the Cleveland Press morgue, and many exhibits including “Notable Blacks of Cleveland,” “Ethnic Women of Cleveland,” and “Elliot Ness.” Want to see a timeline of everything Cleveland? How about historic sites by neighborhood on a Google map? The Encyclopedia offers these and more. And if presidential history is your thing, Ohio isn’t called “The Mother of Presidents” for nothing. With eight presidents, you’ll find presidential sites around the state, including in northern Ohio.