Cleveland Riches Flowed from Ditches
Cleveland riches flowed from ditches. One really long ditch, in particular. And it’s a little hard to believe the glory, the wealth, and the growth that flowed forth from here:
Not from those tall buildings in the background, but from a ditch on the other side of these cars.
Look closer (parking lot in first picture is to the right in this picture):
Digging around in some of this past year’s blogs, Judy MacKeigan’s “Down in the Flats” entry from August
got me thinking about how easy it is to overlook areas that were once economic epicenters – hotbeds of activity that eventually lead us to where we are today. Our awareness is clouded by perceived irrelevance. “It’s just a ditch.”
One of our earliest fonts of riches is now overgrown and obscured with brush, saddled with abandoned railroad tracks, dwarfed by high-level bridges and the Cleveland Union Terminal Viaduct (rapid transit bridge), and sandwiched between some non-descript parking lots (parking lot from first picture is on the left in the picture below).
Pictured is the abandoned bed of the Ohio & Erie Canal: used for the canal until the state saw the canal’s impending obsolescence, and then leased to railroads until the railroads came to the same conclusion. The old B & O Railroad jackknife bridge is that vertical dark patch in the background under the arch to the left.
Here’s a closer look, with a historic plaque for emphasis:
The railroad tracks were placed in the old canal bed, so the place where the jackknife bridge span used to come down across the river is roughly the location of where the Ohio & Erie Canal entered the Cuyahoga River.
This is where Ohio’s abundant natural resources and finished goods could leave for markets farther east. This is where finished goods from the east could make it to Ohio markets. This is where John D. Rockefeller essentially got his start as a commission merchant on the canal. And this is what changed Cleveland from a sleepy village to a boomtown. It was the super highway of its day. And the superhighway of its day is now . . .
. . . a parking lot.
Fortunately, a lot of forward-thinking people have been working for many years to return this area to a transportation corridor of sorts. Some surrounding land was acquired over the years and the area now sports signs like this one:
An immense amount of planning and development has to be completed before we see this area turned into Canal Basin Park, but a lot of people are working diligently to turn this once-thriving transportation hub – the northern terminus of the Ohio & Erie Canal – into the northern terminus of the Towpath Trail. Best estimates currently have the project extending into 2017 or 2018. But when the Towpath Trail is finished, you’ll have access to over 110 miles of recreation/transportation trail, and that will contribute to our region’s economy and provide another wonderful option to improve your quality of life. And it’s all because some people didn’t overlook its possibilities . . . They realized it’s more than just a ditch. It’s our history.