Thursday, May 17, 2018
Above, a map (modern) showing the location of two Irish neighborhoods in Cleveland, "The Angle" and "Irishtown Bend". Also, a map (from 1927) showing Irishtown Bend as it was.
If you read the Local Paper, Irishtown Bend is described as a "former Irish shantytown". Well, frankly -- it wasn't.
Large numbers of Irish immigrants settled in Cleveland to work on the Ohio & Erie Canal in 1825. Anti-Irish discrimination was strong, and the Irish were forced to settle on Whiskey Island, an easily-flooded and malaria-ridden part of town at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River. It stank, there was a lot of noise and people unloading ships, and sailors and drunks rampaged through the settlement. In the 1830s, as more Irish settled in the area, many Irish moved up onto higher ground to the south -- creating the neighborhood known as The Angle.
Irishtown Bend emerged as a third community for Irish immigrants in the 1850s after the 1848 Irish Potato Famine caused a massive wave of Irish immigration to the United States. The city laid out 80 parcels, and immigrants -- predominantly unskilled laborers -- began building homes.
These were solidly built wood frame homes, built on level ground and many with concrete or stone foundations. Most homes were one or two stories, and some even had daylight basements with walls of dressed sandstone. Homes of working or middle class Irish on the Bend often had facades of manufactured brick. Descriptions of the area as a "shantytown" appear to be rooted in anti-Irish sentiment, rather than fact. Many of the homes were handed down from one generation to the next.
Beginning in 1880, Irish residents were displaced by immigrants from Eastern Europe, until fully half the residents of the area were of Eastern European descent by 1900.
In the spring of 1886, the New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio Railroad (NYP&O) extended its tracks across the base of the Scranton Peninsula, along Irishtown Bend, and across The Angle to reach and then bridge the Old Ship Channel. Docks were built on either side of Columbus Road on Irishtown Bend, and just north of where the tracks curved westward to pass under Detroit Avenue. Over the next 25 years, the railroad expanded its tracks on Irishtown Bend until it had a railyard eight tracks wide.
Beginning about 1898, Irishtown Bend began to be abandoned as residents moved into better homes elsewhere and strict national immigration rules limited the number of immigrants available to replace them. A third of all residences had been demolished by 1912. That year, the railroad built a new dock near at Detroit Avenue. The new dock was demolished in 1914 and moved 200 feet upstreadm when construction began on the Detroit-Superior Bridge. The 80,000-square-foot Lederer Terminal Warehouse opened at 1530 Riverbed about 1920.
By the time the Great Depression hit in 1929, roughly half to two-thirds of all homes on Irishtown Bend had been demolished. Just 31 homes and businesses remained below Franklin Avenue, and another 42 between Franklin and W. 24th Place. Many of the structures that remained were in dilapidated condition. More of these residences were demolished in the 1930s, and a tarpaper shanty-town for the homeless and destitute grew up.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers widened the Cuyahoga River at Irishtown Bend by carving away part of the south bank in August 1940. Steel sheet bulkheads were driven vertically into the riverbed at the shoreline to help hold back the land above. World War II delayed completion of the project until 1958, when the south bank was widened and bulkheaded again.
Only five homes still stood in the area in 1952, and all of these had long been vacant. What was left of Irishtown Bend was razed in the mid to late 1950s. In December 1959, the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority purchased 22 acres of land on Irishtown Bend and opened the 15-story Riverview Towers in January 1964. Another 15 three-story "garden apartments" were built around Riverview Towers shortly thereafter Extensive fill dirt was placed on the slope from the late 1950s to the early 1960s, wiping out the flat area between W. 24th and Franklin Avenue and turning it into a steep slope.
The intersection of Franklin Avenue and W. 25th Street was moved farther north in 1965, and Riverbed Street widened from one lane to two in 1985. The new eastern lane covered the main line of the now-removed railroad track.
Below are some historic photos of Irishtown Bend here in Cleveland.
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This photo was taken in January 1922 while standing on W. 24th Place. The view is to the north, looking down on Franklin Avenue and the Irishtown Bend community. The buildings depicted are about 100 feet west of the Cuyahoga Viaduct railroad bridge.
This photo was taken in May 1922 from the north bank of the river, where Hart Crane Memorial Park is now. The street just visible to the left, descending to the water, is Hunt Street, which is where the Cuyahoga Viaduct railroad bridge would be built in 1929. The NYP&O docks are visible at the water's edge. That's St. Emeric's Church in the background, built in 1904 and which still exists today.
This photo was taken in May 1922 from the same sight-line, just further inland and maybe 100 feet downstream. See St. Emeric's up there? See the docks?
This photo was taken in May 1922 on the south bank of the Cuyahoga River, facing south-southeast. The photographer was standing about where the NEORSD sewer interceptor is located today. Two of the three NYP&O railroad tracks are in the foreground. The building is 2163 Riverbed (parcel 62); the stairs can be seen in the 1927 map at the top of this page.
These two photos were taken in November 1926. In this upper image, the photographer was standing in Hart Crane Memorial Park beneath what would later be the north end of the bridge as construction begins on Pier No. 4 of the Cuyahoga Viaduct. Those stairs led up from the docks to Franklin Avenue, where those houses are.
In this lower image, the photographer was standing on Columbus Street on the south bank of the Cuyahoga River, looking west as construction begins on Pier No. 4 of the Cuyahoga Viaduct. You can see the NYP&O docks on the water's edge, and extensive substantial housing on Franklin Avenue.
This photo is from February 1927. The photographer was probably on Columbus Street again, facing west and watching construction on the Cuyahoga Viaduct again.
This photo is from August 1928. The photographer was probably on top of a house above Franklin Avenue, just below where Bridge Avenue turns into W. 22nd Street. That's Franklin Avenue in the lower right. The Cuyahoga Viaduct is pretty far along.
This is an aerial photo of Cleveland from December 1937. North is up. Irishtown Bend is in the lower left. There's a ship just passing beneath the Cuyahoga Viaduct in bottom-center. Two ships are docked at the NYP&O coal docks near the Detroit-Superior Bridge (you can just barely make out the coal tipple). Look at how built-up Irishtown Bend still is. Yeah, downstream, near the Detroit-Superior Bridge, it's mostly warehouses and big-box factory buildings. Although there's been some demolition in the residential section, a lot of it is still solidly-built construction.
This photo is from 1951. The photographer was probably on the hillside just below where Riverview Towers would be, looking north-northeast. The Detroit-Superior Bridge is in the background. See the Huron Cement silos? Those still exist. To the far left, just visible, is the Lederer Terminal Warehouse. You can see that two railroad tracks still exist between Riverbed Street and the water's edge, and are still in use.
This aerial photo is from 1963. West is up. That big building is Riverview Towers. All around it are three-story garden apartments -- now demolished. (Ohio City Farms now occupies that site.) You can see how Franklin Avenue has been moved uphill, and connected to W. 25th Street. Look at how the hillside has been scraped down, and loose, uncompacted fill earth is being pushed down the hillside. That's gonna cause immense problems 30 years later, as that earth begins to subside and sink down the hill into the river. The lone structure left on Riverbed Street is a concrete garage, built about 1954. (It'll be demolished in the 1960s, I'm guessing.) Juuuust visible upper right are the foundations of the old Lederer Terminal Warehouse. Riverbed Street is still a single lane; the two railroad tracks between the road and shore won't get pulled out until 1985.