Irish Americans of Cleveland

History of the Cleveland Irish

The Early Irish Neighborhoods

from The Irish Americans & Their Communities of Cleveland
by Nelson J. Callihan &
William F. Hickey

We noted previously that in describing the initial impact of the Famine Irish upon the city of Cleveland in the years 1845-1853, original Yankee population of the city Ceded by withdrawal to the Irish certain sections of what is today the downtown commercial and industrial city. A description of these areas which become Irish ghettos in the 19th Century seems to be in order. This is in no way to be construed as a census tract study, but rather an effort to locate and give some flavor to parts of our city which are quite different today from the neighborhoods where Cleveland's early Irish lived.

1) North of Superior most to the bluff above the lake. In this section the Irish Catholics built their Cathedral which stands today on the same ground as it did when it was first begun in 1849. The Cathedral was remodeled in 1947, long after the neighborhood had ceased to be a residential area. But at one time this church and its school were the most populous in the Diocese. Today's Chancery Building, once the Cathedral School, was for many years the largest school in the Diocese of Cleveland; between 1867 and 1890, the enrollment of boys and girls, all of Irish parentage, numbered over 1,000. The families of these children lived in tightly packed A-frame houses, none of which survive today, on streets such as Rockwell, Lakeside, Hamilton and St. Clair, a sight hard to visualize as one beholds the vast parking lots which now occupy the same land. Babies were born in these homes, the elderly died in them and an Irish neighborhood thrived amidst the squalor of poverty born of an immigrant ghetto. To recapture the way these people lived, one must go to the picture collection of the Cleveland Public Library and there find the scenes known to Clevelanders a century ago. By 1890 commercial buildings and warehouses had begun to change this neighborhood; the children of these Irish immigrants had no intention of remaining behind in the old neighborhood. They sought and built new housing, moving out Superior, St. Clair, and Euclid to the streets east of East 55th.

2) The area bounded by East 22nd Street, south of Prospect and north of Woodland extending east to the city limits at East 55th Street. This was St. Bridget parish, once the home of the Irish of moderate wealth. It lasted as an Irish neighborhood until about 1900. These homes in many cases still stand. They are to be found on Cedar and Central Avenues and the numbered streets running perpendicular to them. One finds it difficult to visualize on Central Avenue, however, the fact that fine lawns and gardens on this street once caused it to be called Garden Street. Cleveland's first street cars ran along Central, at first drawn by horses and later powered by electricity. They turned around at their eastern terminal at East 89th Street. This form of public transportation, quite popular in the 1870's and 1880-1s, caused the area it served to prosper as a residential development. this phenomenon gave the impetus to the Van Swearanger Brothers to build their new development in Shaker Heights in the 1920's. However, St. Bridget Parish did not last as an Irish enclave much more than one generation. The children of the neighborhood never resettled here; rather they moved east, first to the new developments around St. Agnes Church at East 79th and Euclid and then to the Heights, where their children are generally to be found even to this day. And St. Bridget parish plant, once the heart of this neighborhood, fell first into decline, then was merged with the Italian parish of St. Anthony, and finally was torn down in 1961 to make room for the Inherbelt freeway.

3) On the West Side was St. Patrick, on Bridge Avenue, the mother parish of the Irish, as has been already noted. The Irish settled here as early as 1850, as they found the area conveniently within walking distance of the iron ore docks on Whiskey Island, where most of them worked. Here, as we have already pointed out, a different style of neighborhood developed. It was much more closely knit; its work force was much poorer than its counterpart on the East Side and it was much more consciously Irish. The homogeneity of the neighborhood lasted right up to the end of World War II. Upward mobility, better jobs or housing were not regarded as desirable goals for the children and even grandchildren of the original settlers. Some of the third generation St. Patrick people began to relocate in the western suburbs, especially in Lakewood and later in Rocky River and Bay Village, but enough remained behind to give the area an Irish caste until very recently when Puerto Ricans began to occupy hundreds of Irish-built A-frame houses on Fulton, Franklin, Carroll and the numbered streets running off them. Perhaps the richest Irish heritage in Cleveland emanates from St. Patrick's. It is, however, rapidly being forgotten. One suspects that this is a pity.

4) "The Angle," located north of Detroit, east of West 28th Street and down Washington Avenue to Whiskey Island, which it included. More flamboyant than the area around St. Patrick's, this neighbor" hood centered around St. Malachi Church, built in 1868, destroyed by fire in 1943 and rebuilt in 1945. Here was perhaps the truest Irish ghetto, secretive, closely knit and proud in spite of its poverty. Tom Patton, future President of Republic Steel, was born and raised in The Angle, as was the boxing champion, Johnny Kilbane. So were countless numbers of professional men, doctors, lawyers, priests and politicians. The early Irish settlers here also worked on the ore docks, to which they could walk from their homes. Many of them also worked on the ore docks, to which they could walk from their homes. Many of them also worked on the harbor tugs, a business which their grandchildren still control. Often they began their life in the United States living in tar paper shacks on the side of what is still referred to as Irishtown Bend on the Cuyahoga River, just south of Detroit Avenue and east of West 25th Street. The shacks are all gone at Irishtown Bend; they are gone too on Whiskey Island where an exciting style of Irish frontier life existed between 1865 and 1910. The neighborhood gave way to warehouses and, in 1938, to the government housing in Lakeview Terrace. Yet of all the early Irish parishes, St. Malachi is the healthiest today. It is kept alive by old timers with roots there who return in great numbers from their homes in Lakewood and elsewhere to worship weekly. St. Malachi is also the only officially approved Community Parish where any person, regardless of his national background or parish affiliation, is free to join. St. Malachi School also prospers, aided by constant grants and fund raisings under the title Urban Community School. One is tempted to add that few Cleveland neighborhood parishes are more intriguing than St. Malachi and at the same time so little researched. A few of the original houses in The Angle still remain. Should one seek merely to document the history of the people who lived in them, Cleveland urban history would be much enriched. In The Angle, there are outhouses still extant and functioning beneath the Main Avenue Bridge and within sight of the Terminal Tower.

5) The area from West 58th Street to the Lakewood City Limit (West 117th Street) from Lorain north to Lake Erie. After 1880 this was St. Colman Parish. Its great stone church, built in 1916 on West 65th Street, still stands, as do most of the houses where the people of this once densely Irish neighborhood lived. But since 1950 the Irish have nearly all move ' d out, mostly to the western suburbs, and the neighborhood is today predominantly composed of people recently moved to Cleveland from Appalachia, St. Colman School, in 1920 the largest in the Cleveland Diocese, closed in 1974 due to a lack of students. One might romanticize the past at St. Collman, but one is also reminded that the poverty of the original Irish there was quite similar to the poverty of the Appalachians there today.

6) The area of the old city of Newburgh centered around East 93rd and Broadway and extending from Kingsbury Run on the North to the Cuyahoga River Valley on the South and from East 77th Street to East 116th Street. This was Holy Name Parish; it flourished from 1865 until 1960. Many of the original houses built by the Irish still stand ' but are in dreadful disrepair, and are lived in by black people today. The Newburgh Irish settled there to be close to the Newburgh Rolling Mills where they worked until they were isplaced by Poles who were willing to labor for cheaper wages at the Mill in the 1880's. These Irish left the Mills for good at that time and were, for many years, the backbone of the Police and Fire Departments of the City of Cleveland. Today most of their descendants live in the Heights. They seem to recall their Newburgh heritage only dimly.

7) The area north of Superior Avenue between East 30th and East 60th Streets. Again, the heart of this neighborhood was a parish, that of the Immaculate Conception. The modest stone church built by this Irish neighborhood in 1881 still stands at East 41st and Superior. There is a flourishing school next to the church. Some few descendants of the original Irish families live in the neighborhood, but Immaculate Conception had pretty well ceased to be an Irish parish by the turn of the present century. Actually, it was a very early parish, founded in 1855 to accommodate those Irish in the East End who found it too far to travel to the Cathedral. Most of the early settlers in this neighborhood were from the East and South of Ireland, quite unlike their counterparts on the West Side, almost all of whom were at first from County Mayo. The houses built by the Irish founding families of the neighborhood generally still stand. Few reflect any sort of wealth. But here, too, there was a peculiar pride of neighborhood, one suspects, and yet the neighborhood as an Irish enclave lasted less than 50 years.