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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

HISTORIES OF CLEVELAND - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

The HISTORIES OF CLEVELAND provide evidence of different intentions on the part of their authors. A general, if imperfect, trend can be described, leading from celebratory, even "boomerish," full-scale general histories to more limited analyses of specific historical segments. There have also been differences in authors' expectations of audiences, ranging from sophisticated history for an educated elite, to history intended for school use, to more popular accounts--with or without illustrations sufficient to merit ascription as "coffee-table" books. At the same time, attitudes and assumptions within the historical profession about the significance of local history have changed. In mid-19th-century America, when the first history of Cleveland was published, local and regional history was a respected field of endeavor. However, in the 20th century local history came to be considered fit only for amateurs and antiquarians: supposedly, serious historians needed at least the national canvas to frame significant questions about the past. Then, with the development of the "new" social history, local arenas again seemed particularly appropriate, as testing grounds for many historical hypotheses.

The economics of publishing have also determined the nature of the city's histories. With sales usually limited to interested residents, local histories traditionally depended on subsidies as well as sales. Some, if not most, pages of the older multivolumed histories of Cleveland are devoted to biographical sketches and/or photographs of significant subscribers. Corporate public-relations efforts are visible in recent popular histories in the inclusion of sketches of the commercial or industrial enterprises which provided funding. In all, there appear to have been 3 more or less distinct eras of writing and publishing histories of Cleveland: 1) the pioneer period (the second half of the 19th century), "between Whittlesey and Kennedy," in which talented men and women--though not professional historians--laid down the basic political and economic narrative about the city's past; 2) the first half of the 20th century, "from Orth to Rose," in which historians and others continued to produce general histories of the city, incrementally adding length to the narrative and increasing attention to cultural and social history; 3) since 1950--or "since Rose"--no full-scale documented general history of Cleveland has been published. Popular accounts continued to appear, as did monographs and studies of specific topics.

Before describing the histories and historians of these eras, a note should be added about other sources of Cleveland history. Sometimes very substantial information about Cleveland's past was incorporated into histories of the county, region, or state. Examples are histories of Cuyahoga County, such as Crisfield Johnson, comp., History of Cuyahoga County (Philadelphia: D. W. Ensign, 1879), and WILLIAM R. COATES†, A History of Cuyahoga County and the City of, Cleveland (3 vols., Chicago & New York: American Historical Society, 1924), described below. There are also histories of the WESTERN RESERVE, such as Harriet Taylor Upton's 3-volume History of the Western Reserve (Chicago & New York: Lewis Publishing Co., 1910). Upton treats each of the Western Reserve's 12 counties separately, but she provides topical chapters, too, and emphasizes the experience of women. There is also a history of the "north coast," Randolph Downes, History of Lake Shore Ohio (3 vols., New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., Inc., 1952), and histories of the state, including the 6 volumes CARL WITTKE† edited, The History of the State of Ohio (Columbus: Ohio State Archeological & Historical Society, 1941-44). All of these include information about Cleveland's past.

The undoubted "father" of Cleveland history was CHARLES WHITTLESEY†, a professional geologist and first president of the WESTERN RESERVE HISTORICAL SOCIETY. He published Early History of Cleveland, Ohio, Including Original Papers and Other Matter Relating to the Adjacent Country. With Biographical Notices of the Pioneers and Surveyors (Cleveland: Fairbanks, Benedict & Co., 1867). This 400-plus page history blends archeology and geology, beginning with a description of "Pre-Adamite History"--or the geology of the Cleveland area--and ending with a section on "Fluctuations in the Level of Lake Erie." In between there is the substance if not the form of history, or, as another Cleveland historian described it: "disconnected facts collected from original and widely diverse sources." But that same critic asserted that "no history of Cleveland can be written, in all time to come, that is not primarily based upon . . . the intelligent labor of Col. Whittlesey." Whittlesey set down an embryonic chronological structure that his successors borrowed, in whole or in part.

Twenty years after Early History of Cleveland was published, W. Scott Robison produced a 500-page History of the City of Cleveland: Its Settlement, Rise, and Progress (Cleveland: Robison & Crockett-The Sunday World, 1887), including a biographical segment describing 44 persons. This volume has Robison listed as editor; some chapters or parts thereof were written by other, identified, authors. The publishers' preface states their endeavor to present "a book that could be sold at a price considerably less than that of the average local work of this kind," explaining that "voluminous and elaborate local histories, with their proportionately high cost, have not proved commercial successes." Robison's volume claims to avoid "prolix statements of facts, long comments, expanded theories and tedious discussions" as well as "the history of the Indian tribes which inhabited this region. . . ." Robison's story extends from the organization of the CONNECTICUT LAND CO. to 1887; he, shows concern for culture and PHILANTHROPY as well as politics and economic circumstances, complementing Whittlesey's earlier volume. In 1893 a very different and, for its time, a very unusual perspective on Cleveland's past appeared with the publication of MARY BIGELOW INGHAM†'s Women of Cleveland and Their Work (Cleveland: W. A. Ingham, 1893). The book, divided into 30 chapters, is basically a biographical account of women who were active in institutions such as churches, asylums, sewing, and temperance organizations. But there are some descriptions of those institutions and organizations, too.

In 1896 the centennial of Cleveland's founding was marked by the publication of 2 histories. Clara A. Urann published a brief (120-page) Centennial History of Cleveland (Cleveland: J. B. Savage, 1896), undocumented but containing considerable primary-source quotations emphasizing social and cultural developments in the city, with less attention to economics and very little political history. Considerably larger in scope and purpose was JAMES HENRY KENNEDY†'s A History of the City of Cleveland: Its Settlement, Rise, and Progress, 1796-1896 (Cleveland: Imperial Press, 1896). Seven years earlier, Kennedy, a Cleveland journalist, had collaborated with Wilson M. Day in producing The Bench and Bar of Cleveland (Cleveland: Cleveland Printing & Publishing Co., 1889), a compilation of biographies of lawyers. Day was then editor of Iron Trade Review; he later headed the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce and served as director-general of the city's centennial celebration. Kennedy's illustrated and indexed history of Cleveland is documented but addressed to the general reader; it was intended to explain Cleveland's rise and progress.

During the first half of the 20th century, 5 "general" histories of Cleveland were published. The authors were, in order of their publications, SAMUEL P. ORTH†, ELROY M. AVERY†, William R. Coates, WILFRED H. ALBURN† and Miriam Russell Alburn, and . As a group, these histories are more comprehensive, more "scientific," and more satisfying than their predecessors. Yet all of them now seem old-fashioned and inclined toward a rather naive faith in the march of Cleveland's progress. The first of these works was Samuel P. Orth's A History of Cleveland Ohio with Numerous Chapters by Special Contributors (3 vols., Chicago-Cleveland: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1910). This history followed a standard format: the first volume, history, and the 2 that followed, biography, although Orth distanced himself from the publication's commercial aspects by informing his readers that he "has had no connection with the biographical volumes, and has no interest of any kind in them." Orth asserted that his history was not to be "a mere narrative in, chronological sequence of the city's achievements," that it would "dwell particularly upon the sociological and the political city, rather than upon the commercial and industrial city." Orth divided his massive (815-page) historical volume into 10 divisions, including "The Geographical and Physical Relations of the City," "Population," "Governmental and Political," and "Social Life," with each topic divided into chapters, in most cases chronological. His collaborators included faculty members from the Cleveland Normal School, Case School of Applied Science, and Western Reserve Univ. (see CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY.), as well as local physicians, dentists, engineers, and cultural, religious, and philanthropic leaders. Orth's broad definition of history, though no less celebratory of Cleveland's progress than the centennial-year histories, is more inclusive. Almost a century later, it can still be consulted with profit.

Orth's successors faced the challenge of improving on his History of Cleveland. The first to try was Elroy McKendree Avery, a man who, like Orth, combined academic and civic activities. He published A History of Cleveland and Its Environs: The Heart of New Connecticut in 3 volumes in 1918 (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co.). Avery explains his general lack of documentation: "For the sake of the reader, I have made very sparing use of footnotes. . . ." His first volume (the "history" part) divides into 2 parts: the first 21 chapters (340 pages) are arranged chronologically; the rest of the 727-page volume is divided topically into chapters. Other writers contributed some chapters, especially H. G. Cutler, the general historian of Lewis Publishing, who, Avery explains, "came from Chicago to Cleveland and, for several weeks, was my genial and able assistant." The chronological segment spans the 19th century; only 2 chapters describe Cleveland between 1896-1918. The chapters range across educational, professional, literary, and religious topics, ending with "Trade, Commerce and Industry." While the writing is generally direct and concise, much of the information is derivative. Avery seems to sense the circumstance, for he indicates that he found Kennedy's 1896 history especially helpful; that "as Mr. Kennedy and I were continually dipping our buckets into the same wells of information, identity of matter is not conclusive proof of plagiarism."

William R. Coates offered his 3 volumes of local history in 1924, A History of Cuyahoga County and the City of Cleveland (Chicago & New York: American Historical Society). Like Orth and Avery, Coates divides his work between 1 volume of history and 2 of biography. Romantic and nostalgic, he "anticipated it will be a pleasant task to review the past as well as to take stock of the present." The first 23 of Coates's 38 chapters cover the history of the townships other than Cleveland that constitute Cuyahoga County in specific, even trivial, detail. After nearly 300 pages, Cleveland's allotted space is, reached. A brief excursion from township through village through city organization rapidly gives way to topical chapters on churches, schools, bench and bar, physicians, newspapers, colleges, etc. The volume ends with a chapter on Cleveland in the world war, one of the first attempts to record the impact of World War I on the municipality.

In 1932 Wilfred H. and Miriam Russell Alburn, who operated a syndication service for newspapers, published This Cleveland of Ours (4 vols., Chicago-Cleveland-Indianapolis: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1933). This "last of the dinosaurs" was divided into 2 volumes (1,233 pages) of history and 2 volumes of biography. Almost as ambitious in structure as Orth's earlier work, this history represents well its place in time--years punctuated by the collapse of the American economy. It emphasizes Cleveland's industries, although the Alburns recognize the bleakness of such celebration as of 1932 (the year their narrative ends), pointing out in their foreword that "if the `Technocrats,' with their pitiless charts and graphs, are right in their conclusions, a new generation may find curious reading in this portrayal of a virile American community in the heyday of private enterprise." The Alburns added an emphasis on the industrial and commercial aspects of Cleveland's development to earlier histories and extended the narrative of the city's development past 1896.

The final offering in this group, and the last attempt to construct a general history of the city, was William Ganson Rose's Cleveland: The Making of a City (Cleveland: World Publishing Co., 1950; reprint 1990, Kent State Univ. Press in cooperation with the Western Reserve Historical Society.). This effort differs substantially from all others. Inspired by the city's sesquicentennial celebration in 1946, it is a single-volume (1,272-page) chronological compendium, relentlessly arranged by decades, with a 153-page triple-columned index. At once frustrating and indispensable, this is, in the words of another Cleveland historian, "a volume that is more a collection of facts than a history," with no analysis or interpretation of the past. The quantity of data is enormous, and, of course, covers the 2 decades since the Alburns' history. Yet "history" of this sort gives the genre its reputation for inducing boredom. If Rose represents the culmination of almost a century of general histories of Cleveland, maybe rejoicing rather than regret should mark the demise of the species. Even so, in 1990, years after Rose's book went out of print, it appeared in a reprint (Kent: Kent State Univ. Press) with a useful new introduction by John J. Grabowski, placing the book in its historical context.

There were, of course, other efforts expended during the first half of the 20th century, including ELBERT J. BENTON†'s Cultural Story of an American City: Cleveland; "During the Log Cabin Phases, 1796-1823," "During the Canal Days, 1825-1850," and "Under the Shadow of a Civil, War and Reconstruction, 1850-1877" (Cleveland: Western Reserve Historical Society, 1943-46). A professional historian and director of the WRHS after his retirement from WRU, Benton retreads the familiar terrain of Whittlesey and successors, but emphasizes the city's cultural development. Benton found that "a cultural history like a social history is difficult to define; both are fields less clearly established by custom than that of political or military history. Let us say that whatever contributes to refinement in manners and taste, whatever improves the moral and intellectual nature of man, is a cultural force or agency." He describes churches and libraries, newspapers and the lyceum, schools and colleges--as well as steamboats and RAILROADS, banks and currency. Despite the definitional problems, Benton's study is carefully constructed, written with economy of words and considerable charm. The volumes provide a bridge of sorts between the older, comprehensive histories and the monographic literature that would characterize the writing of Cleveland's past in future decades.

Since 1950 histories of Cleveland have differed markedly from earlier works. The only attempts to treat the full narrative of the city's story have been "popular" in nature--undocumented, generally written by journalists rather than professional historians, intended to find a reading audience in the "lay public." The most successful of these, probably, have been those written by George E. Condon: Cleveland: The Best Kept Secret (Garden City: Doubleday & Co., 1967) and Cleveland: Prodigy of the Western Reserve (Tulsa: Continental Heritage Press, Inc., 1979). Although attractive, well-written, and reasonably reliable, these works indulge in questionable historical explanations. There also have been histories designed for classroom use in public schools. F. Leslie Speir's Cleveland: Our Community and Its Government (Cleveland: Cleveland Public Schools, 1941) is a relatively informative overview of Cleveland's history and polity. In 1955 Harlan Hatcher (author of a history of the Western Reserve) and Frank Durham published Giant from the Wilderness: The Story of a City and Its Industries (Cleveland: World Publishing Co.). These authors present a hymn to urbanization and industrialization--as the title implies--but also incorporate cultural and ethnic information about the city and its people.

Sophisticated monographs have also appeared, providing institutional histories and analyses of the city's ethnic communities. Institutional histories have focused on the city's cultural and educational institutions, especially during anniversary years. Carl Wittke, The First Fifty Years: The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1916-1966 (Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art, 1966), commemorated that institutions's golden anniversary; Donald P. Gavin, John Carroll Univ.: A Century of Service (Kent: Kent State Univ. Press, 1985), celebrated the centennial of the founding of JOHN CARROLL UNIVERSITY; and CLARENCE H. CRAMER†, Case Western Reserve: A History of the Univ., 1826-1976 (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1976), marked that institution's sesquicentennial. All are admirable accounts by professional historians, as is Cramer's Open Shelves and Open Minds: A History of the Cleveland Public Library (Cleveland: Press of Case Western Reserve Univ., 1972). EDMUND H. CHAPMAN†'s Cleveland: Village to Metropolis: A Case Study of Problems of Urban Development in Nineteenth-Century America (Cleveland: Western Reserve Historical Society and Press of Western Reserve Univ., 1964) describes the city's built environment up to the mid-1870s, and ERIC JOHANNESEN†'s Cleveland Architecture, 1876-1976 (Cleveland: Western Reserve Historical Society, 1979) carries the story into the 20th century. These might be augmented by another 1979 publication, Roderick Boyd Porter, ed., Sacred Landmarks: A Selected Exhibit of Existing Ecclesiastical Structures in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland: Board of Cuyahoga County Commissioners and the Cuyahoga County Archives, 1979).

The history of ethnic Cleveland has a history of its own. The first attempts to explain the varieties of Cleveland's population coincided with the assimilation efforts of the World War I era. Brief accounts, such as ELEANOR LEDBETTER†'s The Czechs of Cleveland and Charles Wellsley Coulter's The Italians of Cleveland, were produced in 1919 by the city's Americanization Committee. A second turning to ethnic Cleveland accompanied the New Deal Writers' Program of the WORK PROJECTS ADMINISTRATION. A compendium describing ethnic groups, from Albanians to UKRAINIANS, formed the unpublished manuscript "The Peoples of Cleveland," 1942. This alphabetical survey offered a little Old World description, a little history, and an inventory of each ethnic group in Cleveland in the late 1930s and early 1940s. A more comprehensive and systematic survey of the ethnic communities of the city, the Cleveland Ethnic Heritage Studies Monograph Series, was directed from CLEVELAND STATE UNIVERSITY by Karl Bonutti. It began in 1975 with some general volumes, followed by works devoted to particular ethnic groups. These books combine the history of the particular Cleveland ethnic community with native-land history, folk and art customs, and traditions (see IMMIGRATION AND MIGRATION, also specific ethnic groups).

Several other monographs of high quality, significant because of their methodologies and/or analyses, were directed to other audiences. Josef J. Barton's Peasants and Strangers: Italians, Rumanians, and Slovaks in an American City, 1890-1950 (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1975), uses European-language sources in a sophisticated manner and interprets Cleveland, statistics of social mobility (occupation, property) and structures within the larger social-science literature. Lloyd P. Gartner, History of the Jews of Cleveland (Cleveland: Western Reserve Historical Society and Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1978), fully documents the history of Cleveland JEWS & JUDAISM from 1840-1945. Sidney Z. Vincent and Judah Rubinstein extended Gartner's work in Merging Traditions--Jewish Life in Cleveland: A Contemporary Narrative, 1945-1975, A Pictorial Record, 1839-1975 (Cleveland: Western Reserve Historical Society and Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland, 1978). Kenneth L. Kusmer, A Ghetto Takes Shape: Black Cleveland, 1870-1930 (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1976), analyzes the growth of Cleveland's black ghetto in intelligent fashion. Four years earlier, RUSSELL H. DAVIS published Black Americans in Cleveland: From George Peake to Carl Stokes, 1796-1969 (Washington: Assn. for the Study of Negro Life & History in cooperation with the Western Reserve Historical Society), a more general compilation (see AFRICAN AMERICANS).

In the 1980s, a different approach to explaining Cleveland's past began to appear--collaborative efforts which combined the skills and understandings of different historians. These included David D. Van Tassel and John J. Grabowski, eds., Cleveland: A Tradition of Reform (Kent: Kent State Univ. Press, 1986), and Thomas F. Campbell and Edward M. Miggins, eds., The Birth of Modern Cleveland: 1865-1930 (Cleveland: Western Reserve Historical Society, 1988). But the major collaborative effort was the writing and publishing of The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana Univ. Press, 1987), edited by David D. Van Tassel and John J. Grabowski, a project that enlisted the talents of more than 200 persons. The Encyclopedia had a continuing life after publication. To conserve space for text entries, the illustrations in the volume had been limited to charts and maps. That deficiency was in part overcome with a series of illustrated volumes on selected topics, all under the general editorship of Van Tassel and Grabowski and published by Indiana Univ. Press. These included Carol Poh Miller and Robert Wheeler's Cleveland: A Concise History, 1796-1990 (1990); John J. Grabowski's Sports in Cleveland: An Illustrated History (1992); Holly Rarick Witchey's Fine Arts in Cleveland: An Illustrated History (1994), co-written with John Vacha; and Marian J. Morton's Women in Cleveland: An Illustrated History (1995). Additional volumes are planned.

Meanwhile, additional monographs on various topics continued to appear, expanding our understanding of the city's history. Among these might be mentioned Gary Edward Polster's Inside Looking Out: The Cleveland Jewish Orphan Asylum 1868-1924 (Kent: Kent State Univ. Press, 1990); Mark Gottlieb's The Lives of Univ. Hospitals of, Cleveland (Cleveland: Wilson St. Press, 1991); and Diana Tittle's Rebuilding Cleveland: The Cleveland Foundation and Its Evolving Urban Strategy (Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 1992); and Marian J. Morton's And Sin No More: Social Policy and Unwed Mothers in Cleveland, 1855-1990 (Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 1993).

History, of course, is everywhere. This survey has taken no notice of the ways in which biographers and autobiographers skillfully recreate and preserve the past; it has not included the history that exists in structures (landmarked or not) or in the extraordinary artifacts of the past faithfully preserved in institutions such as the Western Reserve Historical Society. Nor can the assessment end with a sure-fire prediction of what will come next. Nonetheless, it does seem apparent that the current emphasis on social history and demography will continue to motivate historians to attempt to understand the cosmopolitan nature of the Cleveland community. Analysis of similarities and differences among Midwest, Great Lakes, "Rustbelt," or "Snowbelt" cities should enhance our understandings of population shifts, economic changes, social policies, and similar phenomena of modern urban life. And in 1996, the bicentennial year of the city's birth, we will probably see more celebratory histories of the way Cleveland got to be the way it is.

Carl Ubbelohde

Case Western Reserve Univ.

Last Modified: 26 Nov 1999 09:45:56 AM

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