Thursday, June 18, 2009

Clinton Square

One little story that is told by the maps of Cleveland is Clinton Square. I mentioned it in my essay on Real Estate for the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, years ago, but still get a kick out of thinking about it from time to time.

Clinton Square caught my attention when I noticed it on Ahaz Merchant's great map of Cleveland in 1835. Situated out at what was then the edge of the village, it was intended to be a small park surrounded by upscale homes, on the model of some of the mansions built around parks in London centuries ago.

But the plan was stymied by the arrival of the Cleveland and Pittsburg Railroad, later the Pennsylvania RR, which angled its way north across Euclid Avenue at East 55th Street, past Clifton Square, then down to the lakefront. The presence of noisy, dirty locomotives destroyed the ambiance the developers were looking for and the project failed. (map shown a detail from 1852 Knight & Parsons map)

For decades afterward, though, the greenspace in the center survived as a small city park. Cleveland never outdid itself establishing parks in the nineteenth century, and Clinton Park, and its larger neighbor Lake View Park by the City Hall, were about it before the Emerald Necklace of Gordon, Rockefeller, Wade, Ambler and Shaker Lakes parks came into being in the 1890s.

Today, as with Lake View Park, there's no trace of Clinton Park. The surrounding streets -- Lakeview, Wilson/Davenport, E.16th & E.18th -- still exist to frame the location, but the block is totally occupied by an undistinguished brick building housing the Regional Income Tax Authority, next door to the new FBI headquarters.

But one of the enjoyments of being an avid reader of maps is tracing the stories of Cleveland played out in cartographic form and, in this instance, imagining a fancy London residential square on Cleveland's Davenport Bluff.

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