Brooklyn Centre celebrates 200th anniversary of first settlers to arrive in Broooklyn Township
(Plain Press, September 2012) This year, the Brooklyn Centre neighborhood (which lies between the Tremont and Clark Fulton neighborhoods on the North and the Big Creek valley and the Metro Parks Zoo on the South, Fulton Road on the West and the Cuyahoga River industrial valley on the East) is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the first citizens of the fledgling United States to settle on the West Side of the Cuyahoga River in an area then called Brooklyn Township.
The bicentennial festivities began on Memorial Day with a ceremony in the Brooklyn Centre Burial Grounds, founded in 1835 (located at 2300 Garden Ave — behind the ALDI Store). The festivities continued with a variety of celebrations in August including, neighborhood tours, and a parade on Sunday, August 12th. Additional activities will be forthcoming later this year.
The path for the first settlement in Brooklyn Township in 1812 was created when the treaty of Fort Industry (1805) between Native American tribes and the United States opened up territory West of the Cuyahoga to United States citizens for settlement. A prime area opened for settlement was Brooklyn Township, a site on the West Bank of the Cuyahoga River which today includes the west side of Cleveland, the City of Brooklyn, and Lindale.
Quoting liberally from West of the Cuyahoga by George Condon, The Monroe Street Cemetery Foundation notes that Samuel P. Lord, a shareholder in the Connecticut Land Company won the prime piece of land in a lottery held by members of the Connecticut Land Company. The Connecticut Land Company was a group of investors that bought the Western Reserve from the State of Connecticut. Connecticut had been granted the land back when it was an English colony and now as a state in the young United States of America, Connecticut had been asked to give the land to the new federal government to help pay revolutionary ward debts. Connecticut instead decided to sell the land to raise money for public schools, hence, the deal with the Connecticut Land Company.
According to Condon’s research, Samuel Lord’s share of $14,092 in the Connecticut Land Company entitled him to 35,325 acres. He had the land surveyed as a township and sold off pieces. Lord, together with his son, Richard, and his son-in-law Barber, formed the Lord & Barber Realty Company. The company representatives participated in the surveying of the Brooklyn Township in 1809.
The first settler to purchase a piece of that land and move to Brooklyn Township was James Fish, who hailed from Groton Connecticut. According to research compiled by Darren Hamm and Ward 14 Councilman Brian Cummins for the Bicentennial Celebration, James and Mary Fish and family settled on the corner of what is today the Northwest corner of Pearl and Mapledale in what is now the Brooklyn Centre neighborhood.
According to the a History of Cuyahoga County, Part Third, the Townships compiled by Chrisfield Johnson in 1879, when James Fish arrived in Brooklyn Township in May of 1812, there was already a Canadian squatter named Granger and his son, Samuel, living on a slope overlooking the Cuyahoga River valley which eventually became part of Riverside Cemetery. According to the history compiled by Chrisfield Johnson, the two Canadians sold their improvements to Asa Brainard in 1815 and moved on to Maumee country.
As for Fish, the historical accounts tell of his journey from Connecticut using an ox team pulling a lumber wagon. Traveling with Fish were his three children, his wife, Mary, and her mother. The Fish contingent, which included two cousins, Moses and Ebenezer, traveled with a larger party of pioneers, but were the only settlers headed for Brooklyn Township.
Upon arriving in Cleveland in early autumn of 1811, James Fish and his family decided to winter in Newburg, while his two cousins wintered in Cleveland. In the early spring of 2012, James Fish went to Brooklyn Township to construct a log cabin. He brought his family to the cabin in May of 2012. The history describes the difficult circumstances of the first settlers in what today is the Brooklyn Centre neighborhood. James Fish, after spending $18 on building his log cabin, had no money. He walked ten miles two or three days per week to Newburg where he did farm labor to get some cash. Concerned about the safety of his family alone in the wilderness, Fish returned home by foot each night. While the fruits of Fish’s land eventually provided some money for the family, historians indicate that the family might not have made it through the first winter without the income from Mary Fish’s weaving of coverlids, by which she earned a goodly sum with demand far outstripping what she could produce.
With the outbreak of the War of 1812, cousins Moses and Ebenezer both did duty in the local militia. While Moses was drafted into the military, due to his health, his brother Ebenezer ended up serving for him. Both Ebenezer and Moses ended up settling on eighty acres in Brooklyn Township just south of their cousin James.
According to the History of Cuyahoga County, other settlers soon arrived in Brooklyn Township. In 1813 Ozias Brainard arrived with four grown daughters and four sons, two of the sons had families of their own. In the autumn of 1814, a large contingent of settlers from Middlesex County Connecticut arrived in Brooklyn Township. According to the history, these were the families of Isaac Hinckley, Elijah Young and four families with the last name of Brainard. The group, comprised of six families, 40 settlers in all, had exchanged their farms in Connecticut with Lord and Barber for land in Brooklyn Township.
This large group of settlers in Brooklyn Township apparently made the trustees of nearby Cleveland nervous. The History of Cuyahoga County offers this account: “It appears that the trustees of the township of Cleveland – to which the territory of Brooklyn then belonged – became alarmed at the avalanche of emigrants just described, and concluding that they were a band of paupers, for whose support the township would be taxed, started a constable across the river to warn the invaders out of town. Alonzo Carter, a resident of Cleveland, heard of the move, and stopped it by endorsing the good standing of the newcomers – adding that the alleged paupers were worth more money than all the trustees of Cleveland combined.”
On June 1, 1818 all of Brooklyn Township was formally organized a township government. The township included all land West of the Cuyahoga in what is now Cleveland except for a farm along Walworth Run owned by Alfred Kelley. The history compiled by Hamm and Cummins indicates that the Town Hall for the new township was located just east of Pearl (then called Columbus Street) on the north side of Denison (then called Newburg Street).
The History of Cuyahoga County related that in 1830, Moses Fish decided to layout 25 lots from his land and offer them for sale. This development then came to be called Brooklyn Center and eventually the center of what became Brooklyn Village. His brother, Ebenezer Fish also sold off a few lots from his land, and then sold the bulk of his land to land speculators Betts & Bibbens who platted an extensive tract for development. A number of other surveys of land followed in creating the population for what was to become Brooklyn Village, which officially incorporated on August 5, 1867. The first mayor of the new village was a member of the Fish family, Bethuel Fish.
Historians document a number of sawmills that went up on Mill creek to meet the lumber demands of the early settlers. A couple of gristmills (grinding grain into meal) were running on Walworth Run. By 1879, when the History of Cuyahoga County, Part Third was being compiled, Brooklyn Village had grown to 1,500 residents, had a number of manufacturing establishments and was awaiting the completion of the Valley railroad. The City of Cleveland’s Civic Vision 2000 Plan notes that the early farmers in Brooklyn Village had a direct route down what is today Pearl Road and W. 25th to the farmer’s markets in the old Central Market District on public square in Cleveland. The Civic Vision documents says that the extension of a street car line along Pearl Street in 1869 helped to spur business development around the intersection of Pearl and Denison.
Besides Brooklyn Village, a number of communities emerged from the original Brooklyn Township. These include Brighton (incorporated in 1836 later became South Brooklyn) Ohio City (Incorporated as a city in 1836), West Cleveland (Incorporated in 1870), Lindale (1875), Broadview Heights and Brooklyn. Ohio City was the first to be annexed by the City of Cleveland in 1854. Brooklyn Village, South Brooklyn and West Cleveland were all eventually annexed by the City of Cleveland. The Brooklyn Centre Historical Society’s website says the portion of Brooklyn Township that now includes the Brooklyn Centre neighborhood was annexed to Cleveland in 1894.
The Brooklyn Centre Historical Society notes the transition of the area from its early beginnings as a farming community to a residential community which became home to an influx of German immigrants in the in 1890 and later became a destination for Polish immigrants in the early 1900’s.
The history compiled by Hamm and Cummins for the Bicentennial Celebration says “in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s Interstate Route 71 was built following the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act in 1956 and the freeway displaced many families and changed the nature of business and shopping in the neighborhood.” The research compiled by Hamm and Cummins said increased movement of families out of city neighborhoods such as Brooklyn Centre to the suburbs. Statistics from the City of Cleveland Planning Department show the Brooklyn Centre Statistical Planning area with a population of 17,637 in 1940. The population declined each decade following that, with the 2000 Census showing a population of 9,180.
Hamm and Cummins recognize the emergence of some of the current civic and community groups:
“Modern day interest in protecting and revitalizing Brooklyn Center began in the 1940’s and extended to the early 1980’s with the formation of the Southwest Citizens Area Council (1946) Brooklyn Center Community Association (aka Archwood-Denison Concerned Citizens) (1978), Brooklyn Centre Historical Society (1978) and Crossroads Development Corporation (1981). The city recognized the historic importance and architectural significance of the neighborhood with the creation of the Brooklyn Centre Historic District 1984.
Neighborhood transition and activism has continued through today with the formation of the Friends of Big Creek (2005), Brooklyn Centre Naturalists (2007) and the designation of the new Jones Home National Historic District (2012). ”
Since the beginning of the federal Community Development Block Grant in the early 1980s a number of organizations have directed development activities in the neighborhood beginning with the Crossroads Development Corporation in 1981, followed by the Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation and most recently the Stockyard, Clark-Fulton, Brooklyn Centre Community Development Office.