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Cleveland History

Cleveland’s history is one of adventure, ingenuity and a complex relationship between industry and quality of life. Pair a lake that looks like an ocean with a river, and you’re bound to get a story—and a city. In 1796, General Moses Cleaveland of the Connecticut Company landed on a bank of the Cuyahoga River to set up an outpost of the Western Reserve. Not long after, Lorenzo Carter arrived, built a log cabin and became the first permanent settler. No slouch, Lorenzo Carter built the Zephyr, the first cargo boat constructed in Cleaveland. The city’s spelling didn’t change until 1831, when “Cleaveland Advertiser” wouldn’t fit across a newspaper masthead. The first “a” was dropped, and the problem was solved. About the time of the spelling change, the Ohio-Erie Canal was finished, connecting Cleveland with the Ohio River. Commerce blossomed and people arrived in larger numbers. The Civil War was an economic boost, shifting Cleveland from a town to a city as the railroad iron and gun-axle-making business flourished. By the 1880s more than a quarter of the work force had jobs in steel mills. Up until the early-20th century, the steel mills and factories, still prominent fixtures in Cleveland’s landscape, beckoned European immigrants seeking a livelihood and religious freedom. African Americans seeking equal rights and opportunity also came here in larger numbers, particularly in the 1920s. The Karamu House settlement house, founded in 1915, became an important center for African American artists, writers and performers. Politically, Cleveland became a trendsetter by electing two mayors who were first in their category. Carl B. Stokes was the first African-American mayor of a major city (1967-1971) and Dennis Kucinich (1977-1979) was the youngest, at age 31. Although the steel mills and factories are not the mega-sized pollution-belching places they were when prominent companies like GM, Ford, U.S. Steel and Sherwin Williams employed multitudes, Cleveland is not rusting. With urban revitalization, several neighborhoods have been reborn, and thanks in part to robust endowments from the industrial giants, cultural greats like the Cleveland Museum of Art are better than ever.

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