Tag Archives: Cleveland history

Cleveland and Cuyahoga County Genealogy resources

Recently, I bumped into the website Cleveland and its Neighborhoods, which has a wealth of “History, Genealogy, and Other Peripheral Subjects pertaining to Cleveland, Ohio” compiled by Laura Hine. It’s an incredibly comprehensive resource, one that didn’t readily pop up during my novel research, so I thought I’d give it a shout out here.

cleve neighbors

At the bottom of the “Cleveland and Its Neighborhoods” home page is another link to Hine’s sister site: “just about everything that you need to know about doing genealogy research in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County.” Tips and go-to topics include: Births, Deaths, Suburbs that maintain their own Birth and Death Certificates, Obituaries, Funeral Homes, Marriages, Cemeteries, Catholic Church records, Useful Cuyahoga County Websites, Other Cuyahoga County Genealogy Collections, Property Deeds – Recorder’s Office, Cuyahoga County Audito, Courts in Cuyahoga County, Cuyahoga County Probate Court Estate Case Files – Index and Images, Cuyahoga County Naturalization Records, Census, City Directories, Maps and Atlases, Military, Newspapers, Schools, Taxes and Voter Information.

Salivating yet? Access this info by clicking here: Frequently Asked Questions For Genealogy Research in Cuyahoga County

Thanks, Laura–you’re officially my Cuyahoga County genealogy maven!

First stops in Cleveland, WRHS and Loganberry Books

If you’re ever in Cleveland, don’t miss Loganberry Books. I found a treasure there (as I always do): Ohio Builds a Nation, a 298-page compendium of notable persons, places, and pioneer trivia in Ohio.

Friends John and Harriet took me there, and also to the Western Reserve Historical Museum. Somehow in visits past, I’d missed the original oil paintings on the walls. Here are just a couple.

The Cleveland Grays on Public Square, Northwest Quadrant
1839, by Joseph Parker
According to the interpretive sign, this is the earliest surviving oil painting of Public Square. It shows the parade of the volunteer militia the Grays, formed in 1837, as they marched in honor of their 2nd anniversary. The church pictured is the original Old North Presbyterian Church.
An Evening at the Ark
1835, by Julius Gollmann
The Arkites were an all-male club “of congenial spirits who met to discuss natural science, or play whist or chess, or talk sports.” Apparently their one-story meeting room, in a building where the Federal Building stands today, became so cluttered with specimens of flora and fauna that it resembled Noah’s Ark, hence their name. The painter is a German immigrant who was emulating the German genre of the day, the effort to portray everyday subjects as realistically and candidly as possible.

In Berlin, I found another example of this genre tradition from around the same time period.

Hasenclever’s “The Reading Room” at Berlin’s Bodemuseum

More evidence of the German influence in Cleveland of the mid-1800s. Not that I was looking for it or anything.

A new day in history

Once upon a time, before I really started researching 19th century history, I lumped the entire 19th century into the Victorian era, all about propriety and manners, dominated by “prudish, hypocritical, stuffy, [and] narrow-minded” cultural attitudes (Murfin and Ray 496).

While two-thirds of the 19th century did fall within Queen Victoria’s reign in England (1837-1901), I now know the Victorian America preoccupation involved mainly New England and the Deep South. Most American citizens weren’t about establishing high society. They were on the move, focused on settling lands to the West while ridding the continent of native peoples, on inventions and technological break-throughs that would bring the industrial age to stay.

But at the beginning of the 19th century, the wild experiment called a republican government had just begun. With the signing of the U.S. Constitution into law (the 13th colony, Rhode Island, did so in 1790) the United States of America had embarked on something optimistic, risky, and unprecedented  — constitutional rule and a representative government. No sure thing. Many doubted this new republic would succeed. People just couldn’t be trusted to rule themselves.

It seems to me we’ve come to overlook those times, that heady spirit of freedom to make a new day in history. Recently, I came across this sense of freshness and challenge in an ad in the 1837-1838 Directory of Cleveland and Ohio City that renewed my appreciation for those times.

Cleveland Liberalist advertisement in 1837-1838 city directory

Guessing right

“You might want to look through Dad’s stuff, the boxes in the spare room,” my brother Craig said to me over the phone. I was visiting his house in Cincinnati in early May. He had left for work earlier that morning. “I’m not sure what’s in there.”

The rest of the afternoon found me sitting on the floor of my brother’s living room, pictures and documents spread around me, as I took photo after photo of family genealogy documents, histories, and old photographs.

The material I’d pulled out of storage had been sorted into 9 x 12 manila envelopes. The outsides were labelled with names — PATTERSON — HOPPENSACK — MCINTOSH — GRESSLE — but I soon discovered the contents did not match the labels. In my dad’s dotage (he passed away in 2009), I remembered how he used to mix everything up. I had a clear vision of him sitting in his assisted living room, through a drugged haze of Parkinson’s, anti-depressants, and other meds, attempting to compose his “autobiography.” These materials had no doubt been spilled across his coffee table to jog his memory, then stuffed back in confused disarray.

It amazed me that I had none of this stuff when I was writing my novel The Last of the Blacksmiths. I had letters, tin-types and other photos, a family tree, plenty of other paraphernalia, but this material I had not seen.

One document in particular took my breath away: an 1858 confirmation certificate for “Elisabeth Crolli,” Michael Harm’s future wife.

elizabeth crolly confirmation zum schifflein christi


I had guessed Elizabeth Crolly was religious. Here was impressive evidence — from a church I’d guessed her family had attended — Zum Schifflein Christi (The Little Boat of Christ) German Church in Cleveland, Ohio. Somehow, through DNA? or instinct?, I’d also guessed my great-great grandmother was very devoted to her faith. Now, I beheld the evidence of her confirmation, carefully pasted to a stiff backing and preserved, a message to descendants five generations later regarding what this German American held dear.

Rauch & Lang electric cars

At my launch event for The Last of the Blacksmiths, during the question and answer period my friend Larry raised his hand.

“Was Rauch a real person in history?” he asked.

Yes! Charles Rauch was a real person, a contemporary of Michael Harm in Cleveland in the 19th century who built fine carriages, ice wagons and buggies. Of course, my book being historical fiction, I surmised his personality, likes and dislikes, but the real historic Charles Rauch, son of Jacob, did gravitate toward factory-style manufacture of carriage-making. The Rauch & Lang factory took up several blocks on Pearl Road on Cleveland’s west side. At the start of the 20th century, he stayed on the cutting edge of vehicle manufacture with the production of a state-of-the-art electric automobile. Like the fine carriages, the Rauch & Lang electric cars were popular with Cleveland’s wealthier, Millionaire’s Row set.

Rauch & Lang electric carAt a recent visit to the Western Reserve Historical Society’s Crawford Auto Aviation Collection, I was delighted to find this example, circa 1916, of a Rauch & Lang electric car.

Dawn of petroleum

I love old city directories — they have the coolest ads revealing the zeitgeist of the age. In this 1864 Cleveland directory, I snapped a photo of a page about the oil industry of Civil War days.
1864 Baker's Directory, Cleveland

Okay, first, Neat’s Foot Oil? Apparently, it comes from the bones of cattle, used to soften leather. (Wikipedia) While we grieve for the cow’s shin bones and feet, from which the oil is extracted, in fact for millenia, most oil was derived from animals. In the Morehouse and Meriam add it lists the following:
Sperm, seal, whale, elephant, and lard oils.

But topping the Morehouse and Meriam list in 1864 are the dawn of the new petroleum age, that is, Carbon and Mecca oils. Carbon oil was no doubt kerosene, refined from the newly discovered petroleum. But Mecca oil? That one leaves me mystified. Here’s one reference that might offer a clue. A write-up in this Oil and Gas Fields of Ohio Map by the DNR. It starts out by stating:

Ohio has a rich history of oil-and-gas production that began nearly 150 years ago. The first well drilled in the state for the specific purpose of producing petroleum was completed in Mecca Township of Trumbull County in late 1859, just a few months after Colonel Edwin Drake’s famous oil well was completed near Titusville, Pennsylvania. Within a few years, several hundred wells had been “dug” in and around Mecca. This new industry attracted thousands of tourists to Mecca as well as many prospectors hoping to strike it rich.

Teaching Cleveland

It’s happened before. I’ve spent months and months googling and researching, then suddenly a new port of call materializes from the Internet fog.

The first time, I was browsing the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. I’d visited numerous times already, especially in search of historical information about carriage manufactories, scrolling down the list of subject headings under “c”, where nothing turned up. Then one day, while looking up Jeptha Wade, telegraph pioneer, I discovered it: “Wagon and Carriage Industry.” Under W. Duh.

This week it happened again. Clicking around in search of maps of the Ohio and Erie Canal (which began close to the mouth of the Cuyahoga River in downtown Cleveland), I happened upon the Teaching Cleveland website, “a repository of writing, pictures and videos to support the teaching of Cleveland history and policy education.” A go-to for teachers and students of Cleveland history. I’d somehow not come across it before. In three years of researching Cleveland history.

At this site, Letterman-esque links abound: “10 Greatest Clevelanders,” “12 Most Significant Events,” a very thorough compendium of links to articles and sites. My favorite so far is a link (under “The Best of Teaching Cleveland”) — to Cleveland Memory Project — about the pioneer history of the settlement, Survival – A Man and Boy. This early account of Lorenzo Carter and Seth Doan is riveting (and makes me grieve, once again, for the inexcusable way settlers treated the Seneca, Ottawa and Chippewa natives).

The account reminds me of this painting of Cleveland I happened upon recently at a blog called “Cleveland Area History,” supposedly a “first” rendering of Cleveland’s earliest days:

A wilderness scene worthy of James Fenimore Cooper.

Brewing in Cleveland

I own a book called Brewing in Cleveland, part of the “Images Of America” series. About lager beer, the introduction notes the following:

A huge influx of German immigrants arrived in Cleveland between the 1840s and the 1880s, bringing much of their culture with them. The particular process for the production of lager beer was one aspect, and it would revolutionize the American beer industry within a fairly short time. The first lager beer in America is thought to have been brewed around 1840, and it is believed that it was first brewed in Cleveland in either the late 1840s or the early 1850s.

An early Cleveland breweryThis picture is in the book, a lithograph of one of the first breweries “located atop a steep bluff overlooking Lake Erie.” This would make sense. Unlike ale (the type of beer commonly brewed in the U.S.  until then), lager beer required fermentation in ice-cold temperatures over a period of several months, so it was only available in the cold season. But with Cleveland situated on the shores of Lake Erie, it had the advantage of an abundant supply of ice (or at least, lager brewers would see the frozen tundra that way).

In the early years of lager beer brewing, before refrigeration had made it onto the scene (around the 1880s), huge blocks of ice were sawed out of Lake Erie in the winter, then stuffed in underground caverns to make it possible for year round lager beer production. So no doubt the brewers dug out caves in this “steep bluff” to store their barrels. To learn more about this process, check out Greg A. Brick’s article “Stahlman’s Cellars: The Cave Under the Castle” about German immigrant brewers in St. Paul, Minnesota around the same era.

In general in those years, beer was coming into its own. Until the mid-nineteenth century, Americans had been gulping hard liquor, but the strong movement toward temperance made beer a more acceptable option.

The Germans imported not only their beer, but also their custom of beer gardens. I’ve been thinking about this because summer is just around the corner, so beer garden commercials will soon be on the radio again. In nineteenth century German towns across the U.S., the German beer garden was a typical sight.

The most idyllic depiction of summer beer gardens I’ve come across in my history browsings is this image, found in the Atlas of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, from actual surveys by and under the directions of D. J. Lake, C. E., available online at the Cleveland Memory Project.

Sommer Garten of G. F. Krauss

It seems summer beer gardens are once again gaining popularity across the U.S. (read more at Lautering). And why not? Count me in!

Telltale signs

Blacksmith SignWe can stare at old photos, such as this picture of my great-great grandfather’s Cleveland carriage works, for a long time without grasping the signficance of what we see.

The horseshoe above the door here is a bit blurry, but I assume the immediate significance of such a symbol meant it was the entrance to the smithy (since blacksmiths were sometimes also farriers who shoed horses). At “Horse Quotations and What They Mean” I found the following in item #2: “Hang a horseshoe over the door for good luck.”

There is … a legend from the middle ages about a blacksmith named Dunstan. Dunstan was visited by the devil in his blacksmith shop. The devil wanted Dunstan to make him shoes, but Dunstan refused and beat the devil, making him promise never to enter a place where a horseshoe hung over the door. To prevent luck from running out, the horseshoe must hang toe down.

Hmm, the blacksmith reference fits, but this horseshoe hangs toe-up. Also, I remember my daughter returning from horse camp with a horseshoe, and the assertion that it must be hung toe down as it held luck, and if it was upside down, the luck would run out.

After a good bit of searching, which elicited superstitions about how horseshoes over a stable door prevented witches from riding the horses furiously all night, how in Germany, finding a horseshoe is considered good luck, etc., etc., my eureka came at ‘The Lucky W’ Amulet Archive.

The use of worn-out horseshoes as magically protective amulets — especially hung above or next to doorways — originated in Europe, where one can still find them nailed onto houses, barns, and stables from Italy through Germany and up into Britain and Scandinavia. …

There is good reason to suppose that the crescent form of the horseshoe links the symbol to pagan Moon goddesses of ancient Europe such as Artemis and Diana, and that the protection invoked is that of the goddess herself, or, more particularly, of her sacred vulva. As such, the horseshoe is related to other magically protective doorway-goddesses, such as the Irish sheela-na-gig, and to lunar protectresses such as the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is often shown standing on a crescent moon and placed within a vulval mandorla or vesica pisces.

In most of Europe, the Middle-East, and Spanish-colonial Latin America protective horseshoes are placed in a downward facing or vulval position, as shown here, but in some parts of Ireland and Britain people believe that the shoes must be turned upward or “the luck will run out.” Americans of English and Irish descent prefer to display horseshoes upward; those of German, Austrian, Italian, Spanish, and Balkan descent generally hang them downward.

Hence, to the mid-nineteenth century eye, this sign on my ancestor’s shop also meant most likely a blacksmith of German descent hammered within.

Cleveland and the Ohio Canal

The Ohio Canal, also known as the Ohio and Erie Canal, which ran between the mouth of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland south and east to Akron, Ohio, was a main shipping lane from the 1830s until 1861 (when the much faster railroads took over).

In a letter sent to Freinsheim, Germany by Cleveland German immigrant John Rapparlie, dated 1847, gives instructions for the route many took in that era:
“In case you should travel to America, start your way early in spring and don’t do a ship contract at home in between and wait until you get to Havre (France). Then you can get a way fast and cheaper. When you arrive in New York, don’t make contracts farther than from station to station, namely from Havre to New York, from there to Albany, from there to Buffalo, from there to Cleveland. Later just ask for John Rapparlie.”

I presume John Rapparlie, Cleveland wagon-maker, was referring to travel by the Erie Canal across New York State, which opened in 1825. Rapparlie must have been no stranger to canal travel — the Ohio and Erie Canal wended its way practically from his doorstep on the corner of Michigan and Seneca streets in downtown Cleveland.

On a recent visit to Cleveland, I especially enjoyed my stop at the Leonard Krieger CanalWay Center, part of the Cleveland Metroparks system. The visitor center there, accessed via Cuyahoga Heights (just off I-77), has well-done historic interpretive displays and hiking paths right along the old canal. One striking fact about the 308-mile waterway is that it was hand-dug almost entirely by German and Irish immigrants.

Below are a few photos I took while at the CanalWay Center, which include a smattering of information about this brief, transformational moment in Cleveland’s past:

The flyer for Tufts & Parks Commissioning House gives a glimpse into how John D. Rockefeller Sr. got his start in Cleveland. Rockefeller’s first job was in the commissioning house of Clarke, Gardner & Co., a similar establishment to Tufts & Parks, a jumping off point for the shipment of goods to and from Ohio’s interior.