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Cleveland's Cuyahoga River

Updated on March 22, 2010
Cleveland's Cuyahoga River
Cleveland's Cuyahoga River

Key to its founding as well as its future, the Cuyahoga River is the heart of Cleveland.

In 1796, the city’s founder, Moses Cleaveland, first stepped ashore with his original surveying party, less than a half-mile from what would eventually become Cleveland’s Public Square. But it was the mighty Cuyahoga (Iroquois for ‘crooked river’) that brought Cleaveland to the felicitous patch of ground that convinced him to establish his namesake town.

Throughout the early years of the region’s history, the Cuyahoga not only divided the city (cleaving Cleveland on its east bank from Ohio City on its west), but also joined it, in the significant river traffic and trading in furs, timber, coal, ore, wool, and every imaginable early American household need. Its winding path opened up numerous niches for factories, warehouses and workers to ply its waters while plying their trades.

As more and more bridges spanned its banks — bridges of dizzying variety and size and scale and complexity — the Cuyahoga stitched the region’s citizenry together. The historic West Side Market, just above the western rim of the Cuyahoga River’s valley on West 25th Street at Lorain Avenue, began serving both eastern and western residents in the 1800s, and continues to do so today. Workers from both sides of town have converged for centuries on the city’s massive industrial region that cradles the river.

For all of the city’s 214 years, the extensive Cuyahoga River Valley, with its steel mills, auto plants, expressways, nature preserves, burgeoning commercial and residential areas, and portions of the Erie Canal network, has continued to pump life blood throughout communities radiating far from Cleveland’s lakeside core.

In recent decades, Clevelanders have turned back toward this life-giving river. Areas of historical significance have been preserved and restored. Entertainment venues have cropped up along its banks, as have restaurants, marinas, residential developments, parks and transit stations. New developments of offices, hotels, retail and parking structures — all with significant green, public and pedestrian facilities — have been proposed along both banks of this serpentine watercourse. It is the launching point for both river and lake cruises aboard the Nautica Queen and other pleasure craft. The mighty Cuyahoga keeps flowing, and with it the prospects for Cleveland.

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