Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Czech Settlements in 19th Century Cleveland, Ohio

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Czech Settlements in 19th Century Cleveland, Ohio

Article excerpt

By the year 1910, Cleveland, Ohio was one of the largest Czech cities in the world. Only the cities of Chicago, Vienna, and Prague had a larger population of citizens of Czech nativity and heritage than Cleveland (Ledbetter 1919). The Cleveland city directory for 1908 contains a full page advertisement for the Bohemian daily newspaper called the American proclaiming,

   Cleveland has 75,000 Bohemian Population (sic) ... Cleveland
   Bohemians are Prosperous. The Majority Owning Their Homes ...
   The "American" is the only Bohemian Sunday newspaper in the
   U.S. that has a colored Comic Supplement ... (Cleveland
   Directory, 1908).

It is somewhat surprising that studies of Cleveland's history and people devote little attention to Czech settlement and people as compared to studies of the more popular ethnic groups such as the Irish, Poles, Italians, African-Americans, and Jews. Indeed, Habenicht (1910) names thirteen distinct Czech neighborhoods in Cleveland before 1900 and federal census data indicates that only Germans outnumbered Czechs in this city that would soon become America's 'Sixth City' (United States Census, 1910).

The study of Czechs in Cleveland is limited to a handful of literature which includes the accounts and publications of Vlcek, Ledbetter, Stone, Habenicht, and a concise booklet prepared for the 1895 Prague Ethnographic Exhibition. Stone's work is especially useful for its treatment of labor unions and politics, as well as a succinct look at the powerful cleavage between anti-clerical Czech "Freethinkers" and Czech Roman Catholics. Habenicht's inclusive book (History of Czechs in America), recently translated to English, includes many personal names and devotes a majority of space to Roman Catholics parishes, churches, and clergy. Few of these studies devote any significant space to issue of location and settlements.

Czech immigration to Cleveland is important to study because it includes migrants from both the Old Immigration period (roughly 1820-1890) and the second wave of new immigrants from the early Ellis Island era (1890-1924). It is interesting to note that the first white settlers in the Cuyahoga Valley where Cleveland is situated came as missionaries in 1786 from the Czech crown land of Moravia (Battershell 1932; Cuyahoga Valley Historical Museum 2004; Van Tassel and Grabowski 1987). These spiritual descendants of Hus would draw the first map of the vicinity showing their settlement called Pilgrim's Rest (Heckewelder ca. 1794). It was not, however, until after the doomed but inspiring Prague uprising of 1848 that new immigrants from the Austrian Empire began to settle the banks and hills above the Cuyahoga River. From around 1852 to 1869 the Czech population of Cleveland grew to include 3,252 citizens, most arriving in the years immediately following the American Civil War (Ledbetter 1919). The growth of Cleveland as an industrial city on Lake Erie at the confluence of the Cuyahoga River was beginning to take off and the city would add about 100,000 residents in every decade from 1870 until 1930, when its population peaked at close to one million (Campbell and Miggins 1988). The early immigrants, including the Germans, Czechs, Irish, and British, made substantial contributions in shaping the urban traits and neighborhoods that would soon accommodate large numbers of the new immigrants of the early 1900s from Italy, Hungary (especially Transylvania), Syria, Lithuania, Ruthenia, Slovakia, Poland, Slovenia, Romania, and the Balkans. Identification and description of the 19th century Czech neighborhoods in Cleveland that are nearly all vanished or transformed today, is a focus of this article. It is the beginning of a larger study of the history, culture, and geography of the Czechs of Cleveland.

Identification of early Czech urban neighborhoods contains several research problems. The primary sources of data collection are the federal U.S. …

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