A Different Part of Ohio

Contributed by John J. Grabowski, Ph.D., Historian/Senior Vice President for Research and Publications.

It’s relatively easy to find a good definition of the Western Reserve on various websites (including that of the Western Reserve Historical Society) that detail its origins. Suffice it to say that the Western Reserve is that area of Northeast Ohio comprised of those trans-Appalachian colonial claims that the State of Connecticut “reserved” for itself upon the creation of the United States. Other former colonies ceded land claims in the west at that time, but Connecticut retained about 3.3 million acres stretching 120 miles westward from the Pennsylvania border. If you need a quick detailed overview, read this. But, there is much more to the story of the Reserve other than the legalities of creating “new Connecticut.”

The Western Reserve was, and arguably, still is a “place apart” in Ohio. Given its Connecticut origins, many of its original settlers were from that state or from other states including New York, New Hampshire and Vermont. When they came, they built upon a landscape that had been inhabited for nearly 10,000 years by Native Americans. That original landscape was defined by rivers and trails and not by the logic of the surveyors’ lines that Moses Cleaveland and his party impressed upon the land. Those trails still exist – for example, travel the first segment of the new Opportunity Corridor out of University Circle and you, in part, are following a Native American path that early settlers used to travel from what became Doan’s Corners to the township of Newburgh.

Those early settlers, however, brought a mindset and culture to the area that stood apart from, for example, southern Ohio. It is physically evident in the numerous town squares in the Reserve, including Public Square in Cleveland. In essence the settlers replicated the New England town square where one would find the church (usually Congregationalist or Presbyterian), the meeting hall or courthouse, and numerous small businesses (for a view of a town square that echoes that distant past, drive east on Route 87 and explore Mesopotamia). Their religious beliefs also echoed those of the early settlements in New England and which for a number of early settlers set them firmly against slavery. That is why Cleveland and Oberlin became major stations on the Underground Railroad. But, it is important to remember that opposing slavery did not mean that all or many of that mindset envisioned full equality between Black and white. But compared to southern Ohio, the Reserve was a place apart and one that voted wholeheartedly for Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and 1864. Much of this story is now told in the Underground Railroad Center in the Cozad-Bates House in University Circle.

It can also be argued that the Protestant tradition of stewardship of a community also set the area apart and, perhaps, provided the foundation for a deep, rich, and ever evolving philanthropic tradition of Cleveland and northeast Ohio. Indeed, it is a tradition that expanded and diversified as Cleveland evolved from what was a small, farm-centered mercantile community, into a multi-ethnic industrial city in the years after the Civil War. The descendants of the early settlers, in large part, embraced and prospered because of this change – but the change itself challenged them. For example, there were questions whether railroad travel was proper on the Sabbath, and there were issues when confronted by new ways of celebrating Christian holidays. When the congregants of a German Evangelical Lutheran Church displayed a Christmas Tree in their sanctuary, some Protestants characterized it as a “heathenish custom, this groveling before the shrubs.” Attitudes toward gambling also remained strong – that is until the state took over the lottery business and, of course today, there’s a casino on the Public Square of Cleveland.

Certainly, northeast Ohio is not “new Connecticut” anymore. It is a combination of many groups – some people estimate that nearly 130 “identities” can be found in northeast Ohio, and the region hosts a global set of religious beliefs. But here one could argue that this transformation occurred because the region has held promise for many people over many years – from the first people, to the early settlers, to those who came to work in a burgeoning industrial economy, and today for those seeking refuge, education, or positions in an evolving “med-ed” metropolis.

One could, of course, argue that the past has been totally eclipsed, but that is wrong for history is a cumulative process. Each change depends upon that which preceded it – Native American trails become roads; stewardship becomes philanthropy; and social justice links to a deep history of reform. However, more Interestingly that cumulative process has, in an economic sense, created a new Western Reserve – that being region we today call Northeastern Ohio

Irishtown Bend

Photo of Irishtown Bend in Northeast Ohio
When the first Irish immigrants began to arrive in Cleveland in the 1830s, they settled in a neighborhood that would come to be known as Irishtown Bend, which was part of a larger area known as the Angle. Situated along the river east of W 25 th  Street and south of Detroit Avenue, this neighborhood encompassed a total of 22 streets. However, Cleveland’s Irish population quickly outgrew the bounds of the Irishtown Bend neighborhood, particularly with the influx of refugees from the Potato Famine in the late 1840s. By 1853, the St. Patrick Parish was established on Bridge Avenue to help serve the rapidly expanding population, and in 1868, St. Malachi’s Church was established in the center of Irishtown Bend.
Unfortunately, many residents of the neighborhood struggled with extreme poverty and were especially susceptible to diseases such as cholera, scarlet fever, and diphtheria. As families became more prosperous, they began to move away from the neighborhood, seeking to distance themselves from the impoverished area. By 1900, most Irish residents had moved on, and the neighborhood was resettled by Eastern European immigrants. Sadly, the neighborhood began to decline, and by the 1980s, no commercial or residential buildings were left in the area.

History of St. Patricks Day in Northeast Ohio

History of St. Patricks Day in Northeast Ohio
The public celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in Cleveland has a longer history than we once thought. The very first Parade that we know about in Cleveland was organized in 1842 by the city’s third resident Catholic priest, Rev. Peter McLaughlin. Fr. McLaughlin was a proponent of “temperance,” or abstinence from alcohol, and his St. Patrick’s Day celebration began with mass at St. Mary’s on the Flats—the only Catholic church in Cleveland’s city limits at that time—continued with a Parade of the Catholic Temperance Society, and concluded with a banquet attended by friends and family members.
Various organizations have sponsored and participated in the Parade at different times over the Parade’s 175-year history. Sometimes it was organized by explicitly Catholic groups, such as the Fr. Mathew Total Abstinence Society, the Catholic Central Association, or the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a Catholic fraternal organization, whose 19th century membership rosters are housed at Western Reserve Historical Society. At other times, the Parade was organized by groups more specifically interested in the cause of Irish nationalism, such as a local militia known as the Hibernian Guards, the Fenian Brotherhood, or the Irish Literary and Benevolent Association. In more modern times, the Irish American Civic Association organized the Parade from 1935-1957, and the United Irish Societies of Greater Cleveland has managed the Parade from 1958 through today.
The structure of the United Irish Societies was formalized with the sole aim of running the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The concept was, and is, that independent, constituent organizations would come together, headed by an Executive Director, to take mutual responsibility for raising the money for the Parade and for developing and implementing the guidelines for the Parade. At its founding, member groups were the only Irish organizations that were allowed to march in the Parade.
A treasure trove for more recent Parade history can be found in the papers of Raymond “Rip” Reilly (a longtime Parade director and publicist) at  WRHS!

Women Making History | Margaret Wong

Margaret Wong

Contributed by John J. Grabowski, Ph.D., Historian/Senior Vice President for Research and Publicationsusing resources from WRHS’s collections & archives.

The history of assisting new immigrants in Greater Cleveland is linked, in many ways, to the work of women who have used their skills, as lawyers, agency directors, and volunteers to assist newcomers to our city over the past century.

Margaret Wong and Associates, one of the nation’s foremost immigration-focused law firms had its beginnings, so to speak, in Hong Kong.   That is where Margaret Wong was born. Her father was Hwang Mien Lin, a newspaper publisher and her mother Kuan Kuo Hua, a journalist. Margaret’s goal was to study medicine, and in order to so she obtained a student visa to the US.  She and her sister Cecilia arrived in 1969 with four suitcases, several hundred dollars, and with some rudimentary English. She studied initially at Ottumwa Heights College in Iowa and then graduated from Western Illinois University. However, her plans would change when she decided to, instead, study law. She graduated with her JD in 1976 from the SUNY Buffalo Law School where she was one of only four women in the class.

Her search for a legal position was difficult, made so by biases against women and immigrants.   She persisted and eventually came to Cleveland where she found a position at Central National Bank as a credit analyst. Yet, her desire was still to practice law, and given her own experiences as an immigrant, she wanted to focus on immigration law.   She did so by starting her own law firm in 1978. Today Margaret Wong and Associates is one of the premier immigration law firms in the nation, a feat made possible by Margaret’s incredible work ethic and her desire to assist those who are confronted by an unbelievably complex body of rules, regulations, and case law that today govern immigration to the United States.   Headquartered on Chester Avenue in Cleveland, and with offices in New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, Memphis, Nashville, Minneapolis, Columbus, and Raleigh, the firm now has three partners, nine associates, and a number of paralegals. For many immigrants, Margaret Wong’s dedication and that of the members of her firm have provided new, secure lives in the United States.

Margaret Wong’s story is, perhaps the most recent of those that relate to women who have helped immigrants in our city and nation. The history of one of Cleveland’s premiere immigrant aid organizations clearly reflects that connection.

In September 1916, the Young Women’s Christian Association of Cleveland established its International Institute “…for the protection and welfare of immigrant girls.”   Margaret Fergusson would head the Institute from 1926 until 1954 when it merged with the Citizens Bureau to form the Nationalities Services Center. Both institutions had, up to that time, assisted over one hundred thousand immigrants and refugees. Lucretia Stoica, the daughter of Romanian immigrants and formerly a case worker at the International Institute, would become the Deputy and then the Executive Director of the merged agency, serving as its head for twenty-six years until her retirement in 1988. Algis Ruksenas would become director in 1988. Renamed the International Services Center in 1994, it would again be led by a woman, Karin Wishner, after Ruksenas’ retirement in 2006. Karin who had previously worked with the Center’s educational programs would then oversee its merger into the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants in 2016. She would retire in 2019. Today Dylanna Grasinger heads both the Cleveland and Erie, Pennsylvania offices of the USCRI.

Then & Now | Presidential Inaugurations

Photograph of President Abraham Lincoln's 2nd Inauguration

Contributed by John J. Grabowski, Ph.D., Historian/Senior Vice President for Research and Publications, using resources from WRHS’s collections & archives.

The Western Reserve Historical Society’s collection of political memorabilia is of national significance. Much of it is comprised of campaign material which is often on display during an election period. But it is deeper than the buttons and badges representing candidates and political parties that most people see. As we reflect on the inauguration of a new President it is important to note that that event, a peaceful transition of power –one of the most powerful and symbolic events in our nation, is also represented in the collections. As we move toward this year’s inauguration, it is well worth looking at two other inaugurations – perhaps the most important pair in the nation’s history, for which the Historical Society holds several major and rare items.

Abraham Lincoln’s election to the Presidency in 1860 would, in many ways, eventually reshape the nation, not only because of an ensuing Civil War, but also because it would ultimately bring about the end of slavery. The election of 1860 was a fraught affair. Four candidates representing four parties ran for the office. The controversy over slavery split the Democratic Party and resulted in southern and northern candidates. A third party, the Constitutional Union Party, which opposed secession, tried to bridge that gap. The Republican Party, of Lincoln was the candidate, opposed the extension of slavery, but included a number of people who strongly advocated its immediate abolition. No matter its stance the Republican Party was portrayed by its southern opponents as a “black” or “abolitionist” party. Lincoln would not win a single slave state and no ballots for him were distributed in ten southern states.

Nevertheless he won with 180 electoral votes, but only 40 percent of the popular vote. He received the news in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois, and began to make plans for his inauguration which would take place on March 4, 1861. He was to travel to Washington by train and almost immediately he received invitations to stop at cities along the route. George B. Senter, the Republican mayor of Cleveland sent a letter to Springfield.

The reply to that letter is one of the icons of the Society’s collection. Written by one of Lincoln’s secretaries but signed by Lincoln it confirmed Lincoln’s acceptance of the invitation. The President-elect came to Cleveland on February 15 where he spoke to a large crowd from a balcony at the Weddell House where he spent the night. For many years his room was preserved as a museum at the hotel. When the hotel was demolished, a desk purportedly from Lincoln’s room, became part of the Society’s collections.

One of Lincoln’s last stops on the route to Washington was in Philadelphia. There he participated in a flag raising in front of Independence Hall on February 22. The flag had 34 stars, one being new and representing the admission to Kansas to the Union. His remarks were somewhat hopeful, “… I think we may promise ourselves that not only the new star placed upon that flag shall be permitted to remain there to our permanent prosperity for years to come, but additional ones shall from time to time be placed there….” By this time seven southern states had seceded and Jefferson Davis installed as provisional president of the Confederacy. A rare original photographic print of Lincoln speaking from the platform in front of Independence hall is another piece of Lincoln’s inaugural story held in our collections.

It was during his stay in Philadelphia that Lincoln received reports of a plot to assassinate him when he changed trains in Baltimore to travel to his destination Washington. The reports seemed credible, particularly given Maryland’s status as a slave state and because of the number of threats that Lincoln had received since his election. Detective Alan Pinkerton who had discovered the plot convinced Lincoln to change his travel plans. He did, and in partial disguise, he arrived in Washington safely, but was soon lampooned by the press for sneaking into the capital. It was not a good start in a long difficult journey.

On March 4th he gave his first inaugural address at a heavily guarded Capitol. In that address he tried to convince the South to remain in or return to the Union, but hinted at consequences if it didn’t. Near its end Lincoln said: “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to “preserve, protect, and defend it.” It was, according to one observer an “iron fist in a velvet glove.” James Buchanan, his predecessor as President and who had done nothing to stop the secession of southern states attended the inauguration.

The attack on Ft. Sumter the following month began four years of war, the bloodiest conflict that the nation has ever fought. Near the end of that conflict, Lincoln had his second inauguration. The event in March 1865 was captured by the camera of Alexander Gardner. For many years it was believed that there was no clear image of Lincoln giving his second inaugural address, a short one in which he asked the nation to stay firm and focused at a time when the war was nearly ended. His image was blurred or not fully visible in the prints that were known to exist.

Abraham Lincoln Inauguration

In the early 1970s, Lincoln photographic scholar Lloyd Ostendorf, a noted expert on Lincoln and particularly on photographs of Lincoln, visited the Western Reserve Historical Society to review its collection, which was then being sorted and processed. He came across several images of the second inauguration and found one he had never seen before – it showed a clear, crisp image of Lincoln seated near the lectern at Capitol. The discovery made national news, even appearing in Life magazine. It is, indeed, a treasure of our institution.

Yet, the items we hold relating to Lincoln and his inauguration are not merely treasures – they are evidence of a time when the nation was at a crossroads – free or slave, unified or divided. That crossroads led to a journey that ended up costing hundreds of thousands of lives, including that of Abraham Lincoln who would be assassinated a mere six weeks after his second inauguration, and after the rebellion in the South had been defeated. In December of 1865 the Thirteenth Amendment which ended the unspeakable practice of slavery was passed and two further amendments would begin to reshape the rights of all Americans. It was a difficult time, one considered by historians as a second American Revolution. But it was one that helped and continues to help shape our nation. As we watch the inauguration this year, we should remember that the past never fully repeats itself, but it bears many lessons for the present.

Then & Now | Inauguration Balls

Presidential Inaugurations are parties to celebrate a new leader but also a place for the country’s movers and shakers to see and be seen.

Contributed by Patricia Edmondson, Museum Advisory Council Curator of Costumes & Textiles, using resources from WRHS’s collections & archives.

George Washington celebrated his presidency with a ball, and the first official inaugural ball took place in 1809, honoring James Madison. In 1913, Woodrow Wilson cancelled the party, considering it too extravagant. Unofficial events continued until 1949 when Harry Truman revived the tradition. Some presidents choose to hold several small balls, and others accommodate thousands of people in one night. Bill Clinton holds the record with fourteen balls for his second inauguration. Many Clevelanders have attended these celebrations, treasuring both the clothes and the memories that come with them.

Inaugural Ball Gown, ca. 1868. Gift of Lucy and Olive Moody 42.4270

Mary Kirtland Mansfield of Poland, Ohio wore this dress to Ulysses S. Grant’s first inaugural ball. Both of Grant’s balls were relative disasters. In 1869, the small venue left little room for dancing and the coat check clerks lost several items. Grant constructed a larger, temporary building for the 1873 ball, but the lack of insulation forced guests to wear coats, eat cold food, and watch caged canaries freeze to death.

Evening Dress, 1980. James Galanos (1924-2016). Gift of Lindsay J. Morgenthaler 93.27.1

Presidential Inaugurations are parties to celebrate a new leader but also a place for the country’s movers and shakers to see and be seen. Clevelander Lindsay Morgenthaler purchased this ensemble for Ronald Reagan’s 1981 inauguration, and the festivities that year were slated to be elaborate. Proceeds from ticket sales, merchandising, and donations totaled about $6 million to cover the costs of the parade, events, and coverage of the inaugural day.  Although the country was in the wake of economic depression, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies requested semi-formal attire (rather than the standard politician’s business suits), even specifying colors and details to be considered. Later that evening, with guests in formal attire, there were no other rules.  Lindsay’s dress is made from a shimmering silver silk satin, and reveals an open back beneath the jacket. The lace topper makes a statement with powerful padded shoulders and swinging layers of lace. In choosing the American designer James Galanos, Lindsay supported her country’s artists and gave a nod toward the First Lady—who loved Galanos and also wore one of his designs to the ball.


Equal Rights Amendment Pennant, 1980. Gift of Deborah L. Neale 2017.19.2

Cleveland lobbyist Debbie Neale attended Reagan’s 1981 inaugural ball at the height of the struggle to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. The amendment would have secured equal rights for men and women, along with methods for Congress to enforce them. Neale carried this pennant with her to the Swearing-in Ceremony on the West Front of the Capitol, but was required to leave it at the entrance. She made sure to retrieve it when she left Capitol Hill.


Ask a Historian | The Modern World

Lili asks, “How would you define the modern world and when do you believe it began?”

“Historians date the “modern” era to the late 1700s with two pivotal events:  The French Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution each of which began a significant alteration of society — one relating to  hierarchies of power and governance, and the other to the means of production and consumption.  These changes have been ongoing since then.   However, some now argue that we are in a “Post-Modern” world in which these changes, usually seen as progressive, are now being questioned or seen as having reached an end..
Historians also look at an “early -modern period”, beginning in the late 1400s with the Renaissance and the consequent rise of independent inquiry, the challenge to religious systems (e.g. the rise of Protestantism), and the beginning of the age of exploration.
Of course, both of these periods largely reflect a focus on “western civilization” and neglect changes taking place in China, and the Indian subcontinent.
So, my tendency, like many others, is to see “modernity” as things that are new and innovative, but core shifting styles and technologies really rests on the major changes that I’ve noted above.”
John J. Grabowski, Ph.D.
Krieger Mueller Associate Professor of Applied History  CWRU
Historian/Senior Vice President for Research and Publications, Western Reserve Historical Society
Editor, Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

Dinner Under the Dome

One of the most remarkable examples of adaptive reuse in Greater Cleveland stands at the southeast corner of East Ninth and Euclid — there a Heinens grocery store has been transplanted into the main rotunda of the former Cleveland Trust Bank headquarters, one of the city’s most striking interior spaces.

Designed by noted architect George P. Post, the building was completed in 1908.  The domed structure instantly became a landmark.   By the 1920s, it and three other large buildings – the Schofield, the Hickox, and Union Trust Bank occupied corners on what was, perhaps, the busiest urban intersection in the nation’s fifth largest city, one whose fortunes rested on industry, banking, commerce, and transportation.

Downtown Cleveland bustled.  But seventy years later the city’s economy had shifted and diminished and Cleveland Trust had become part of what is now KeyCorp.  Banking operations ceased in 1996 and the Post building stood empty until, in what has been characterized by author Lauren Pacini, the “renaissance on East Ninth” took place.   The entire Cleveland Trust complex along East Ninth was transformed into a hotel, apartments, offices, and the Heinens store housed in the former banking rotunda.    One can now grocery shop and dine under the dome in an area which for nearly nine decades was the site of financial transactions, large and small, that shaped the fortunes of the city and its citizens.   The lower level vaults in which those fortunes were stashed now are home to a cocktail lounge named (you guessed it), “Vault.”

Slavic Village – What’s in a Name?

By John J. Grabowski, Ph.D.

Slavic Village is one of the neighborhood names in Cleveland that gives a hint of the city’s diversity.  However, the name is a creation of the late 1970s when the area along Fleet Avenue was rebranded in order to create a new, more marketable identity.   At that time Little Italy was well on the way toward its evolution from an insular ethnic enclave into a tourist attraction.   In 1977 Teddy and Donna Sliwinski and Kaszimier Wieclaw formed Neighborhood Ventures Incorporated to transform the commercial stretch along Fleet into a more recognizable entity.  Wieclaw designed distinctive Polish Hylander style facades for many of the commercial buildings to provide a more uniform and identifiably “ethnic” look.   A Harvest Festival (now the Village Feast) was initiated to attract people from outside the area.


The renaming seemed to make sense – the area had been populated by “Slavic” peoples since the late nineteenth century.   Poles concentrated along the eastern part of the street centered on E. 65th and Czechs on the western end near E. 49th.   But the rebranding, then and now, raises a number of questions.   Who is empowered to name a neighborhood – particularly one that had existing names with origins that stemmed from the community itself?  The Czech’s called their area “Karlin” after a district in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic.    That was natural given that the city’s main Czech neighborhood, just to the north at E. 55th and Broadway was called “Praha”   The Poles called their area “Warszawa” after the largest city in Poland.  That fit too, given that Warszawa was the largest Polish neighborhood in Cleveland.   There was pushback on the renaming.   One person living on Fleet Avenue had a large banner on the porch reading something like “Waszawa” not Slavic Village”.


Now over four decades later, “Slavic Village” has become “the” name of the area – and, indeed, the area has expanded around North and South Broadway.   What was once “Krakowa to the south on the border with Cuyahoga Heights is now part of the village and so is Praha.  Jackowa sits on the border with the Garden Valley neighborhood but it is often considered part of Slavic Village given its Polish roots.


Yet, this process of choosing and changing names opens other interesting questions.  In addition to the authority to choose a new name there is the question as to “whose” history the name might reflect.  Should it be the “current” resident community, the recent past residents or a deeper historical past. There were Irish and Welsh in Slavic Village before the Czechs and Poles arrived, and before them, native Americans – did they have names for area that we no longer know?  A century from now, will “Slavic Village” and “Little Italy” still resonate  as place names with the residents of Cleveland?