The Flats' Industrial Heritage, Cleveland, Ohio

Industry in the Flats, Cleveland, Ohio
Industry in the Flats, Cleveland, Ohio

Long before Cleveland’s Flats were abuzz with nightlife, concerts, bar-hopping and fine dining, they served as the industrial and shipping core of the city. And long before revelers criss-crossed the Cuyahoga River on water taxis, or boaters cruised out the river’s mouth and past the breakwall to the recreational expanse of Lake Erie, tankers and ore boats navigated the hairpin turns of the winding river at the behest of hearty tugs.

In many ways, the Flats still serve as an industrial district, and the tugs still ply river traffic below the teeming citizens high above.

The Flats consist of the land areas flanking the east and west banks of the winding Cuyahoga River that runs directly through the heart of Cleveland. Due to the extremely circuitous nature of the watercourse, however, the banks along the roughly half-mile-wide river valley swell into peninsulas of varied size and shape. Those irregular land areas proved ideal for the warehouses, storage yards and docks of the City’s earliest industry, shipping and storage enterprises.

The 1827 opening of the Ohio & Erie Canal and the growth of the railroads starting in the 1850s both spurred tremendous growth in Cleveland’s role as an industrial, ore and shipping hub. As more and more businesses saw the advantages of ready rail and water traffic, an entire range of manufacturing and industrial enterprises flocked to the Flats — shipyards, foundries, lumber yards, iron furnaces, rolling mills, oil refineries, paint and chemical companies, building materials storage, ore, gravel, salt, etc.

Though industry in the Flats diminished as alternatives to rail and water transportation arose, it is resident yet. As the above photo shows, massive ships still dock at industrial storage yards to take on the loads they will transport throughout the Great Lakes.

RTA's Waterfront Line now connects much of the Flats to the Terminal Tower and Public Square.
RTA's Waterfront Line now connects much of the Flats to the Terminal Tower and Public Square. | Source

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