German Americans of Cleveland

Cleveland Press Articles

Germans Came Here Early, Played a Vital Role

"100 Years of Nationalities in Cleveland"
Fifth of a Series
By Theodore Andrica
Cleveland Press, September 28, 1950

The Germans began coming to Cleveland just in time to add their bit to their mushroom growth of this community, which began to develop as the building of the Ohio Canal progressed.

Cleveland's population in 1820 was 606 and that of Brooklyn (Ohio City), west of Cuyahoga, 348, a total of around 1000. Land was becoming expensive for those days.

A two-acre lot at the corner of Superior St. and Public Square, where the Federal Building stands now, sold for the then-high price of $266.50.

Historically speaking, the very first German who came to Cleveland, or, better say, to the spot which later became Cleveland, was John Heckewelder, a Moravian missionary of German descent.

In 1786, 10 years before Moses Cleaveland and his surveyors arrived here from Connecticut, Heckewelder established a small settlement on the Cuyahoga River, near what is now Bedford.

This group stayed less than a year and Heckewelder journeyed eastward, never to return.

Because he made no serious efforts to establish a permanent settlement, Heckewelder cannot be rightfully considered as THE pioneer German immigrant

. Unfortunately for the historians, the permanent German settlers, who began coming here after 1820, were more concerned with making a living and establishing some sort of a home than to make sure that their names were left to posterity.

Came in Sailing Boats

From contemporary accounts we know that the Germans who came to America in the 1820's came by sailing vessels from Hamburg or Rotterdam and after months of sailing arrived at some eastern port, New York, Boston and at times, Quebec.

By stage coach or sailing vessel they would find their way to Buffalo, then by boat to Cleveland. Of course, there were some who walked hundreds of miles.

"The Cleveland Gazette and Commercial Register" of Aug. 8, 1818 published this news with a Rochester, N.Y., date line.

"Within a few days four or five families of emigrants from Germany passed through this village. They traveled on foot, the women carrying large bags on their heads. Their condition appeared miserable, but their countenances bespoke health and contentment. They came via Quebec."

Worked on the Canal

By 1829 about 300 immigrants arrived in Cleveland weekly to work on the canal. Most of these were Irish and Scotch, but there was a goodly sprinkling of Germans among them.

In 1830 local historians took note that "German immigrants began to settle along Lorain St. on the West Side and in the vicinity of Superior and Garden streets in the east."

From the very first of their arrival here in appreciable numbers, the Germans began to play a vital role in the economic, cultural and social development of what is now known as Greater Cleveland.