Cleveland’s First Neighborhood
The quality of life and history embedded in “Cleveland’s First Neighborhood” is passionately tended and for good cause. We are fortunate to have many of our original downtown buildings, late 19th and early 20th century historic neighborhood homes. As with many older cities across America, the value of historic preservation has evolved slowly. Today, more and more older homes and buildings-giving sense of identity, history, and authenticity- are being recognized for the character rich spaces they’ve always been in pursuit of affordable, walkable and amenity filled downtown neighborhoods.
The city of Cleveland was just twenty-five years young when the War Between the States interrupted every aspect of family, business, education, religion, and government. The following description of the Civil War’s aftermath from a prominent Cleveland resident depicts the conditions that residents would have endured and his hopefulness for the future.
“The war left our beautiful city and happy and prosperous population desolate. The armies of both parties marched and counter marched through it, and so, when we returned to our homes, the Union man and Confederate alike found desolation. The fences were all burned along the highways, and all stock destroyed, and both Federal and Confederate went to work to build up the waste places. With what success we have been blessed, the facts will show.”
Col. R.M. Edwards, 1893
Hiwassee River bridge
Federal Troops -Blue Springs Camp
Several homes and buildings in historic downtown date prior to the Civil War. Some with a few battle scars and stories to tell. One home has historical reference to being originally built in the “dog trot” style by a Native American ca. 1840. The First Presbyterian Church built in 1858 was occupied by both sides during the war and shows musket ball evidence within the brick and steeple. Another home is said to have had such extensive damage to the exterior brick that it needed stucco to cover the exterior damage supporting tales of skirmishes around the home. The former Cleveland Masonic Female Institute served as a military hospital and headquarters during the War, which then required extensive repairs before reopening the school.
The remaining downtown historic neighborhood follows close behind in age with an impressive collection of late 19th and early 20th century homes that were part of the post Civil War recovery and propelled by the 1885 opening of Centenary Female Academy on six acres, just north of the city.
Prior to this time, the area north of town had mostly been larger farms with homes, gardens, orchards, barns and livestock. The 1866 Pleasant M. Craigmiles family estate encompassed the area from today’s Ocoee Street to Harle Avenue and 8th Street to Centenary Avenue. There was a fountain in front of the home, a deer park, and later a swimming pool and tennis court. It was well suited to be the center of social activities in the post Civil War period.
The Weekly Herald reported “Horseback riding is becoming more popular this year than any former, and every evening our beautiful streets are thronged with the old and young alike.” Whether out for one of those evening rides or participating in an early 1900’s patriotic parade, former residents would have admired this rare Italianate architectural style home (pictured above) just as we do today. The home is located at 833 N. Ocoee Street. It is the historic branch of our public library and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
By the late 1880’s, Cleveland was well into harvesting the rewards of a nationwide industrial revolution with local industries such as Hardwick Stove, Cleveland Woolen Mills, Cleveland Chair Company, and many more. The successes of these families were reflected in the homes they built. Cleveland’s mule drawn streetcar line is proving to be a grand success for the residents, at least for awhile. The route first went from the railroad depot to the college and back. It was later extended to today’s 20th street to take advantage of Thompson Springs Resort, now the private Fillauer Lake.
By 1886, a real estate boom was well underway. North of town, it is believed that much of the land east of Centenary Female College was some of the earliest to be developed by real estate speculators. One such developer was J.H. Parker, who planted trees and opened several new streets, among them Parker Street-today running through Lee University’s campus. One might wonder if our current day “Cherokee Chieftain” could possibly be from one of the Parker planted trees? Fun to ponder.
In May 1887, The Weekly Herald printed 10,000 copies of a special edition to it’s weekly paper and distributed the copies across the country promoting the growing city. A pre-cursor to today’s Chamber of Commerce, one would suppose. Editor W.S. Tipton stated “It will be within the mark to say that 200 new houses will be built in the course of this year…Several new additions have recently been made to the to the city and placed on the market, out of which over 400 lots have already been sold.”
Real estate ads were plentiful–
West of the College, a large portion of the land was owned by family names such as Newell, Craigmiles, Lee, Bowman and Patton. These families owned acres of land stretching from today’s Ocoee Street to Harle Avenue. Based on current research, it is believed that development along this broad passageway, known as Centenary Avenue (originally Newell Avenue), began as early as March 1900 with the sale of the Newell estate and continued through the early part of the 20th century.
Earlier architectural styles found on Ocoee Street include Federal, Queen Anne, and Colonial Revival style dwellings. A handful of Tudor Revival and Prairie architectural styles were built later.
Centenary Avenue is a mix of Craftsman-Bungalow, Colonial and Tudor Revival. Colonial Revival, with its variations, is the single most popular architectural style in America in part because of its mixture of styles modeled from earlier architectural forms and its inherent eloquence.
Beginning with the twentieth century and until World War II, many of the remaining lots along these and adjacent streets such as 8th Street, Harle Avenue, Milne Street and Oak Street were predominantly developed with dwellings reflecting the more simplified versions of Colonial Revival, Bungalow and Tudor Revival Styles. Some of these residences followed designs popularized by pattern books and mail order companies such as Sears and Roebuck, and the Aladdin Company.
In 1929, Arnold Memorial School in the Art Deco architectural style was dedicated in our neighborhood and still exists as the historic neighborhood school today. The school site was the former home of Dr. William H. Schultz family and was built to replace the older Central Grammar School which had been in existence since 1885. The year 1929 also saw Centenary Female Academy officially close. In 1933, the campus was acquired by Bob Jones College from Lynn Haven, Florida.
After World War II, home construction boomed again with the Minimum Traditional architectural style. Built in late 1940’s and 1950’s, these homes were simple and somewhat void of ornamental detailing from the prior decades. Dwellings in these designs were prototyped by the Federal Housing Authority as “the house that the majority of wage earners could afford” and have remained a favorite traditional style through today.
Ownership of the college changed hands again in 1948 to Lee College. Since 1997, it has become a four-year liberal arts university with over 5000 students yearly and its campus covering more than 120 downtown acres.
The late 1940’s through 1960’s brought the ranch-one level home to Cleveland’s First Neighborhood with a handful scattered throughout the downtown area in various styles and sizes.
In the last few decades, a handful of newer homes have been built and countless investments in home renovations. The owners taking great strides to create and maintain historically compatible architectural styles in keeping with the character of the neighborhood.
Within the Historic Cleveland Neighborhood Association’s boundaries are two National Register of Historic Places Districts containing more than 120 homes adding value to the collective stories of our nation. Ocoee Street District (1995) and Centenary Avenue District (1993). Additionally in 2004, the Historic Cleveland Neighborhood Association (HCNA) was a steward in protecting this neighborhood’s special historical significance by going through the statutory process and successfully lobbying the City of Cleveland to approve a historic preservation district that lies within our neighborhood boundaries. This district’s zoning overlay guidelines are meant to protect the neighborhood from new construction or exterior additions not in character with the neighborhood, and from loss of architecturally or historically important elements.
Cleveland’s First Neighborhood’s past has provided us with history and character that is made evident in its historic homes, tree-lined streets, shaded sidewalks, and countless family stories. By helping educate, preserve, and share this history, HCNA is stewarding the preservation of this neighborhood’s valuable assets for its present and future years to come.
HCNA would like to extend our many thanks and gratitude to Margot Still at the CBCPL Historic Branch & Archives for her help and resources with many of the history photos and research for this project. Photographs on this site are not to be used without permission.
Over 700 homes from 25th Street to Central Avenue and Church Street to Keith Street.
ADDITIONAL PHOTO CREDITS
Margot Still / Historic Library&Archives
Over 700 homes from 25th Street to Central Avenue and Church Street to Keith Street.