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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

SUBURBS - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

SUBURBS. The history of suburban development is long and complex. Some Cleveland suburbs are nearly as old as the city; they range from industrial (LINNDALE) and entertainment centers (NORTH RANDALL) to small, exclusive residential villages (HUNTING VALLEY) and large blue-collar cities (PARMA). Within commuting distance of a city, suburbs initially housed urban workers. Often dependent on city amenities, they remain administratively separate. In contrast to cities, most suburbs have more middle-class residents, lower population densities, and higher rates of homeownership. Several forces encourage suburbanization (growth at the city's edge), including the influence of the rural ideal, urban flight, transportation technology, overcrowded and environmentally unpleasant urban conditions, and private and public policy at local, state, and federal levels. Despite the diversity of Cuyahoga County suburbs, each community is inextricably tied to the history of the core city. This suburban history has 5 overlapping periods: 1) the urban ring, 1850-1900; 2) electrified streetcars and the first suburban rings, 1890-1930; 3) urban decentralization and the first automobile suburbs, 1920-1950; 4) automobile suburbs and suburban supremacy, 1950-80; 5) freeway construction and in/out county developments, 1970s-1990s. Each period produced different suburban landscapes and communities, while local geography, immediate historical context, and residents themselves account for suburban differences among suburbs of the same period or region (east, west, south).

Before 1850 Cleveland had several rivals and was surrounded by a series of independent rural townships, villages, and settlements. Lacking an inexpensive and reliable transportation system, it remained a dense settlement in which residents walked to work and shop. With continued population growth, Cleveland approached its geographic limits by the 1850s. New transportation technology encouraged the first suburban developments. In 1859 the EAST CLEVELAND began construction of a horse-drawn streetcar line (see TRANSPORTATION and URBAN TRANSPORTATION). During the 1860s and 1870s, other companies laid tracks to outlying areas, while dummy railroads like the Lakeview & Collamer on the east and Rocky River on the west brought vacationing urbanites to rural retreats. In the 1880s the Nickel Plate Railroad (see NICKEL PLATE ROAD) purchased and upgraded the dummy lines and began limited commuter service. The horse-drawn street railways opened nearby suburban land for residential development up to about 3 miles from downtown, where more affluent urbanites constructed large homes. Township and county governments could not match the city's educational facilities, paved and lighted streets, and fire and police protection. To gain these amenities, new, suburbanites formed villages: the first EAST CLEVELAND (1866), GLENVILLE (1870), West Cleveland (1871), COLLINWOOD (1883), BROOKLYN (1889), SOUTH BROOKLYN (1889), and NOTTINGHAM (1899). They, too, found the costs staggering. Ultimately, most 19th-century suburbanites chose to join Cleveland to gain the best of both worlds: the bucolic suburban ideal and urban services. Expansion-minded Cleveland sought these mergers, initially absorbing the remainder of Cleveland Twp. (1850), its leading rivals, OHIO CITY (CITY OF OHIO) (1854) and NEWBURGH (1873), and parts of neighboring townships (Brooklyn, Newburgh, and East Cleveland). Cleveland then annexed its neighboring villages: the first East Cleveland (1872), Brooklyn (1890), West Cleveland (1894), Glenville and South Brooklyn (1895), Corlett (1909), Collinwood (1910), and Nottingham (1913).

Electrified streetcar development in the late 1880s transformed the metropolis. Three times faster than horse-drawn streetcars (15 vs. 5 mph), they permitted radial suburban development up to 10 miles from the city center. The new technology arrived as Cleveland confronted a series of challenges: huge migrations from Southern and Eastern Europe; industrial and business expansion into residential neighborhoods; pollution from new industries; and corrupt government. Urbanites looked to the suburbs as both rural haven and escape from urban disorder. Unlike previous suburban developments, streetcar suburbs deliberately distanced themselves from the city. Privately owned, franchised electric streetcar companies (often controlled by land developers) laid out tracks on EUCLID AVE.. (to Lee Rd. by 1893), Euclid Hts. Blvd. (to Edgehill by 1897); Detroit Ave. and Clifton Blvd. (to the Rocky River by 1894 and 1904, respectively). Almost immediately after completion of these lines, residents of outlying areas took advantage of Ohio's permissive incorporation laws and established villages: East Cleveland (1895), LAKEWOOD and CLEVELAND HEIGHTS (both in 1903). Rapid population growth quickly raised them to city status: East Cleveland and Lakewood in 1911, and Cleveland Hts. in 1921. Nevertheless, Cleveland's first streetcar suburbs grew most quickly between 1910 and 1930: East Cleveland added 30,488 new residents, Lakewood's population increased by 55,328, and that of Cleveland Hts. by 47,990. A second suburban ring, linked to the downtown by streetcar or rapid transit, also formed. Made up of the older independent villages (BEDFORD and BEREA) and new suburban developments (EUCLID, GARFIELD HEIGHTS, MAPLE HEIGHTS, Parma, ROCKY RIVER, and SHAKER HEIGHTS), these communities all obtained city status by 1931. In addition, 52 new villages incorporated.

Streetcar suburbs remained independent. With Cleveland overwhelmed by its own population growth, the new suburbs benefited from additional time and the scale of their own growth to establish services expected by urban dwellers. New suburbanites also sought to keep out unwanted urban elements; anti-annexationists often painted CLEVELAND CITY GOVERNMENT as corrupt (despite muckraker Lincoln Steffens's claims that it was one of the nation's best-run cities). East Cleveland rejected merger with Cleveland in 1910 and 1916 because "saloons might be established . . . we could not endure bar-rooms next to our houses" and because of the fear of immigrants and their institutions (see IMMIGRATION AND MIGRATION). A dry Lakewood rejected annexation in 1910 and 1922 because it already had "ample school facilities, police, fire, city planning, zoning, and sanitary protection." Shaker Hts. developers strictly controlled access to community property and, through explicit deed restrictions even prohibited new immigrants and AFRICAN AMERICANS. After 1910 few suburban communities, save WEST PARK and Miles Hts., chose to join the city. Despite a population growth of almost 2.5 times between 1900-30, Cleveland's share of the county population dropped from 87% to 75%.

While the Depression and World War II greatly slowed the pace of urban and suburban growth, events set the stage for an even greater transformation. Cleveland's population grew by less than 13,000, Lakewood lost population, while Cleveland Hts. grew by 9,000. The newer cities of Bedford, Garfield Hts., Rocky River, and Shaker Hts. all experienced substantial growth. By 1950 Cleveland's share of the county population had slipped nearly another 10%. Even before 1900, factories had found suburban sites close to rail lines, where land was cheap and taxes low. Street and highway construction during the 1920s and 1930s freed suburban development from the linear form imposed by rail lines, while greater use of trucks and electricity opened new sites for industry. Private and public decisions on industrial and institutional location aided this decentralization. Industrial corridors expanded along Brookpark Rd. and in Euclid. In retailing, Sears, Roebuck stores on Lorain and Carnegie avenues represented the beginning of decentralization; the development of SHAKER SQUARE as Cleveland's first suburban shopping center provided a clearer model for the postwar period. (See BUSINESS, RETAIL.)

To aid the Depression-devastated housing market, the New Deal Federal Housing Authority (FHA) and later the Veterans Administration (VA) developed programs for homebuyers that provided the means and patterns for the American suburban explosion. Their home loan guarantees supported construction of, single-family homes in new suburban areas and adopted guidelines from real estate and banking industries that required racial segregation (enforced through developer-instituted restricted covenants). By reinforcing existing segregation practices, these programs effectively blocked African American access to suburban housing. Although the U.S. Supreme Court struck down restrictive covenants in 1948, the FHA continued to require them. They were common in suburban tracts of the 1940s and 1950s, especially in Garfield Hts., Parma, PARMA HEIGHTS, and Maple Hts. Government programs subsidized white, middle-class residents who wished to leave the city, but effectively locked black residents into the ghetto. Finally, the Depression and World War II slowed housing construction, resulting in overcrowding and a severe housing shortage. When prosperity returned after the war, Clevelanders who had rented or doubled up with relatives sought their own homes. The demand, along with public policy, helped create the suburban explosions of the late 1950s-1970s. Unlike streetcar suburbs, which housed mostly skilled and white-collar workers, these post-World War II developments provided homes for industrial workers as well. During the 1930s, workers founded new unions, especially the UNITED AUTO WORKERS and UNITED STEEL WORKERS OF AMERICA, under the banner of the Congress of Industrial Organizations. Following the war, these unions gained for their members liveable wages and job security that made suburban home ownership possible.

While automobiles date to the 1890s, they became dominant by the 1940s. In 1940 64% of all Cuyahoga County families owned an automobile. Most striking, in Shaker Hts., where the pioneering off-grade rapid-transit system provided the county's best public transportation, nearly 75% of principal income earners traveled to work in automobiles. Although some streetcar routes continued until the 1950s, overexpansion, congested routes, declining ridership, financial problems, and competition from automobiles doomed the streetcar.

The post-World War II period witnessed the most massive residential construction and suburban growth in Cleveland history. While significant population increases in the second ring of streetcar suburbs (Bedford, Euclid, Garfield Hts., Maple Hts., Rocky River, and Shaker Hts.) made these communities transitional automobile suburbs, the most spectacular growth took place outside older suburban communities. The first ring of automobile suburbs included the new cities of BAY VILLAGE (1950), LYNDHURST, and FAIRVIEW PARK (1951). Parma's 1931 population of 14,000 nearly doubled by 1950; the next decade added 54,000 new residents, making it the county's second city. A second ring of automobile suburbs experienced their greatest period of growth during the 1960s and 1970s; all save MAYFIELD HEIGHTS (1950) gained, city status at the beginning of the period: Parma Hts. (1959); BROOK PARK, NORTH OLMSTED, WARRENSVILLE HEIGHTS (1960); and BEDFORD HEIGHTS and SEVEN HILLS (1961). Population figures reveal suburban growth dynamics from 1940 to 1970, when the county's suburban population reached its peak. While Cleveland lost 127,457 residents, county suburbs grew by 631,042; the suburban share of the county's population jumped from 28% in 1940 to 62% in 1970. Collectively, suburban population exceeded the city's during the 1960s and the gap continued to grow, although more slowly (1990, 64%).

These figures mask another important shift in suburban population dynamics. From 1970 on, the county's suburban population began to decline; by 1990 it had shrunk by 63,000. While most county suburbs lost population or stagnated, growth remained strong on either side of the county's borders. Within Cuyahoga County, NORTH ROYALTON, SOLON, STRONGSVILLE, and WESTLAKE all registered significant growth from 1960-1990. Since 1970 the surrounding counties have experienced the most rapid suburban growth.

While peripheral suburban growth continued, older streetcar suburbs and the inner ring of automobile suburbs began to undergo aging and transformations. The population declined and changed as the more affluent left for newer homes and less affluent residents moved in. Older communities began to confront urban problems: an aging population and infrastructure, increased need for social programs, and an eroding tax base. At the same time, new construction began to alter the face of these communities; high-rise apartments and office buildings replaced older homes and business structures. As businesses increasingly chose suburban locations, streetcar suburbs such as Lakewood began to merge their older function of bedroom community with that of specialized satellite city for the metropolitan area.

The suburban explosion left a fragmented governmental structure in its wake. By 1994 one county, 38 cities, 19 villages, 2 townships, 31 school districts, 13 municipal court districts, 10 library districts, and regional authorities such as the CLEVELAND METROPARKS governed some aspect of the area. Since at least 1919, some residents expressed concern about this growing fragmentation. During the 1920s and early 1930s, reformers working largely through the CITIZENS LEAGUE OF GREATER CLEVELAND sought city-county consolidation. Nevertheless, voters failed to approve county charter reform proposals in 1934 and 1959, but streetcar suburb residents who had earlier opposed annexation overwhelmingly supported both measures; resistance to REGIONAL GOVERNMENT came from the newer suburbs.

Streetcar and automobile suburbs developed very, different landscapes and both have been modified over time. Despite considerable variation, streetcar suburbs produced a smaller and more dense environment. Cleveland's 3 streetcar suburbs averaged only one-fourth the size of the newest automobile suburbs: 5 vs. 21 square miles. In 1930 East Cleveland, Lakewood, and Cleveland had similar population densities; by 1990 these suburbs (10,000 residents per square mile) were more densely settled than Cleveland (6,600), and even more so than other suburbs: first-ring auto suburbs, 4,000; second-ring, 3,000; and third-ring, 1,000. Streetcar suburbs featured vertical, 2 1/ 2-story, single and double houses on narrow lots with front porches and detached garages. Automobile suburbs had wide lots with horizontal, 1-story or split-level, ranch-style homes, attached garages, rear decks, and patios replaced front porches. In streetcar suburbs, shopping was usually a short walk away in stores that lined the streetcar routes; small groceries, bakeries, butchers, and fruit and vegetable stores hugged the sidewalks of these arteries. Extensive apartment development and even hotels (ALCAZAR HOTEL in Cleveland Hts., Lake Shore in Lakewood) added to the streetcar suburbs' density. The huge tracts of auto suburbs, often divided into cul-de-sac streets, restricted stores to strip development and new malls located along major arteries: access to them often required an automobile. While apartments were less typical in the early years of automobile suburbs, both suburban types have undergone significant new apartment construction. By 1990 only 37% of Lakewood's housing units were single-family; in Solon they made up 87%. In recent years, high-rise and cluster apartments/condominium construction have significantly increased the density of automobile suburbs. The most remarkable change on the suburban landscape has been the emergence of edge cities along interstate highways 71, 77, 90, 271, and 480. These new centers attracted mixed uses: blue- and especially white-collar employment, retail shopping, and entertainment. Most prominent are the new corporate headquarters and plants (AMERICAN GREETINGS CORP. and PLAIN DEALER in Brooklyn) housed in modern, campus-style or high-rise structures, although new shopping malls (Great Northern in North Olmsted, Randall Park in North Randall), institutional headquarters (FIRST CATHOLIC SLOVAK LADIES ASSN. in BEACHWOOD) also grace this environment. Motels and hotels are the most ubiquitous element. Increasingly, edge cities attract businesses and employment away from Cleveland, other suburbs, and small towns to this decentralized urban-like environment.

Suburban regions and individual suburbs have distinct identities, some assiduously cultivated and others imposed by outsiders. The 1836-37 Bridge War between Cleveland and Ohio City (see COLUMBUS STREET BRIDGE) represents a beginning of, the spirited battles that spread east, west, and south within suburban development. A rich suburban folklore has grown up around these divisions and important differences do exist. Most social elites and many of their institutions gravitated to eastern suburbs, fewer went west and very few south. By 1931 66% of CLEVELAND BLUE BOOK entries lived in BRATENAHL, Cleveland Hts., East Cleveland, and Shaker Hts.; Cleveland claimed 28% and Lakewood 6%. By 1981 84% lived in 10 eastern suburbs, 9% in Cleveland, and 7% in 3 western suburbs. Early on, Cleveland Hts. and East Cleveland adopted city manager governmental forms, while Lakewood overwhelmingly rejected the reform measure. While eastern and western suburbs housed mostly white-collar workers, southern suburbs, surrounding major industrial employment centers, acquired significant number of blue-collar workers.

Ethnic clusters have also shaped suburban landscapes and lifestyles. Groups tend to migrate out of the city along nearby major arteries. The first Jewish migrants to 19th-century Cleveland settled in central city neighborhoods; eventually the center of Jewish population moved successively into Woodland, Glenville, and Kinsman. Despite restrictive covenants, Jews eventually transported their communities to the eastern suburbs; by the 1950s, Cleveland Hts. became the center (see JEWS & JUDAISM). By 1987 it had moved further east, with Jews dominating the populations of two communities, Beachwood (95%) and PEPPER PIKE (59%), and significant proportions of UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS (47%), Shaker Hts. (30%), SOUTH EUCLID (27%), LYNDHURST (24%), Mayfield Hts. (22%), and Cleveland Hts. (14%). While there were 25 synagogues on the east side, the west side had only one fledgling congregation. African American migrants also entered the city's central districts and moved east through Kinsman and HOUGH. Both within the city (Collinwood and Broadway) and in the suburbs, blacks confronted more significant barriers than Jews and other white ethnic groups. By 1970 black suburbanites made up a majority of only 1 suburban city (East Cleveland, 59%), and a significant minority in one other (Shaker Hts., 15%). The black population in Cleveland Hts., Euclid, and Maple Hts. was then less than 3%; it was minuscule in western suburbs. By 1990 African Americans dominated 3 suburban cities (East Cleveland (94%), WARRENSVILLE HEIGHTS (89%), and BEDFORD HEIGHTS (53%)) and made up significant proportions in Cleveland Hts. (37%), Shaker Hts. (31%), Euclid and Univ. Hts. (16% each), Garfield Hts. and Maple Hts. (15% each). Access remained difficult to western and outer suburbs: FAIRVIEW PARK had 42 black residents, Rocky River, 39, Bay Village, 23, Independence, 20, and Highland Hts., 19.

Americans of Polish, descent have scattered more widely across the county. While some remain in SLAVIC VILLAGE/BROADWAY, many have reaggregated in the southern suburbs of Garfield Hts., Maple Hts., and Parma, as have some of the key institutions of Cleveland Polonia. SLOVAKS and their institutions have also played important roles in Parma and Lakewood. Similarly, nationality halls and organizations, once common only to inner city ethnic enclaves, now grace suburban landscapes, suggesting their persistence in and adaptability to new environments.

Although less heterogeneous than Cleveland, no suburb is homogeneous. Most have discrete neighborhoods, but few are as diverse as Lakewood. From its suburban beginnings, Lakewood drew residents from every class--in 1930 the city had census tracts in the lowest and the highest income groups. Lakewood residents created a complex social geography of different landscapes based on economic status and ethnicity. Among these are several working-class neighborhoods, including the BIRD'S NEST, a working-class, Slavic urban village in the southeast; 3 neighborhoods of elites, including CLIFTON PARK in the northwest; and middle-class landscapes of single- and double-family homes in central Lakewood. Apartments along Clifton, Lake, and Edgewater roads in eastern Lakewood house others including singles, childless couples, and gays (see GAY COMMUNITY).

Suburbs also vary in terms of layout. While all suburbs exercised some form of planning, ORIS AND MANTIS VAN SWERINGEN†'s development of Shaker Hts. is unique for its extensive control over virtually every aspect of the community. In contrast to Shaker's carefully laid-out, curvilinear streets, segregated shopping district, and off-grade rapid-transit system, libertarian suburbs, such as Lakewood, reflect more utilitarian concerns with grid street patterns, high densities, and mixed land uses. Suburban history, then, is very dynamic; conditions can change rapidly, although once a pattern is established it can persist for some time. Technology, migrations, housing costs, employment, and the state of the areawide ECONOMY will continue to shape Cleveland's suburban history in the coming decades.

James Borchert

Cleveland State Univ.

Schauffler, Mary. "The Suburbs of Cleveland: A Field Study of the Metropolitan District outside the Administrative Area of the City" (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Chicago, 1941).

Civil Subdivisions of Cuyahoga County, 1843 ( 99 Kbytes )

Civil Subdivisions of Cuyahoga County, 1903 ( 110 Kbytes )

Civil Subdivisions of Cuyahoga County, 1928 ( 139 Kbytes )

Civil Subdivisions of Cuyahoga County, 1995 ( 138 Kbytes )

Population of Cuyahoga County, 1910 ( 167 Kbytes )

Population of Cuyahoga County, 1930 ( 147 Kbytes )

Population of Cuyahoga County, 1980 ( 180 Kbytes )

Population of Cuyahoga County, 1990 ( 190 Kbytes )

Last Modified: 08 Jul 1998 10:10:25 AM

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