One of the most important aspects of all communities no matter where located is the place of gathering. Place being defined by “A particular position or point in space” while gathering being defined as “an assembly or meeting, especially a social or festive one or one held for a specific purpose”. Edgewater Park is a place where these definitions would fit perfectly. Starting as just a patch of land acquired by the city of Cleveland in 1894. It has transformed into a popular destination for leisure and gathering by all walks of life around the area. But from its very conception, Edgewater has been rich with diversity and offered a wide amount of things to do for all, but has also been marred in controversy and setbacks in terms of inclusion, pollution, and most recently, cleanliness. Even with all of this, Edgewater is a Cleveland staple of the community and through its 6,000 feet of shore line and over 130 acres of total land, gives us a great picture of what places of gathering and the diversification of land can look like.
People at Edgewater Beach in 1904. (Cleveland Memory Project)
As stated, Edgewater was purchased by the city of Cleveland in 1894. As part of the nationwide “City Beautiful Movement” which aimed to create urban spaces that were not just societally and economically viable but also aesthetically pleasing and modern in architecture. The city of Cleveland with the help of young local millionaire Jacob B. Perkins then hired the architect and landscape designer duo The Olmsted Brothers. This consisted of Frederick Law and John Charles Olmsted and they were then commissioned to create a comprehensive layout for the park. With the influence of the “City Beautiful Movement” the brothers vision included multiple walking paths, gardens, recreational areas and a safe and beautiful beach. Their goal being to create a community relationship with the natural beauty of Lake Eerie and preserve the environmental integrity of the beach. Opening to the general public also in 1894, Edgewater would symbolize the movement into a more inclusive and modern assortment of leisure areas in the 20th century but would also be marked by many challenges of safety and inequality that even can pertain to this day.
In the very early beginning, Edgewater was a bustling and vibrant place of urban life. In its very early years of being open the park seems to have been open to the attendance by African Americans but not many seemed to have gone . In 1908, the Cleveland Gazette stated, “A few ladies of the East End held a picnic at Edgewater park last Thursday afternoon. Our people ought to use the parks more, especially Gordon’s.”The very initial bathhouses were severely undersized for the popularity and it forced the city to erect a three story architectural marvel which mirrored a Spanish Style Villa. From the very beginning Edgewater was a spot for all races and was extremely popular as a summer destination for the community.
A photograph of Edgewater Park showing the beach and the bath house in 1931. (Cleveland Memory Project)
Unfortunately as it was hard for most areas in the United States, the Great Depression brought times of crisis for the park. Deteriorating buildings and lack of funding caused a major loss in public interest. To combat this, on August 8th, 1943 the city council approved and advertised a huge park concert. This, to the delight of many residents of Cleveland included many all black performers and bands. The most notable of which was Wings over Jordan, an all black choral group which performed at 8:00 to a sold out crowd of supporters. It was so popular and well received that Wings over Jordan returned to another nearby park just the next week. This was just a glimpse into the rich diverse history of the Park and the people who attended it.
However, even with the many supporters of diversity there was still a vocal opposition who wanted to take down the progress made at Edgewater. During the 1950s and 1960s Cleveland had an influx of interest in boating. Specifically, the Cleveland Yacht Club was the place to be. But, as with many pre civil rights act organizations they did not allow black admissions. They repeatedly would try to enforce Jim-Crow esq policies and receive funding to allow them to build a separate docks. Fortunately and in a symbol of a new age, the city council completely blocked this notion. John Kellogg, a prominent and outspoken member of city council vehemently opposed this measure. He stated “No bill which spends a single dime for segregated facilities will ever get my approval”. While overtime, conditions did improve for the Cleveland Yacht Club, the scars still remained and led to a black led “Intercity Yacht Club”. While the club is not directly affiliated with Edgewater besides the response to segregation, it is a pillar of black culture and black boating culture in Cleveland to this day.
But even from this, throughout this time there were several events of great importance to the urban community. For example, the “staged military invasion” of 1959 which attracted more than 400,000 citizens to watch a staged land, air, and sea invasion event.
Cleveland residents in the water at Edgewater Park beach during the mock invasion in 1959. (Cleveland Memory Project)
Another group of events which was of great importance to urban life during this time was the implementation of unsegregated professional baseball league games throughout the park. These games would bring out thousands in attendance and as a result, Cleveland was awarded with the “largest interracial softball tournament” at the time in 1959. Throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s however the park would take a bit of a turn. Environmental concern had always plagued the waters of Cleveland and the surrounding area but it had finally caught up with the waters of Edgewater. Mayor Carl Stokes spearheaded the campaign starting in the late 1960s for the improvement of the pollution levels and cleanliness of Edgewater. For a while his efforts seemed fruitless, but after he left office his beliefs still remained intact in the public consciousness. These calls for change all culminated in 1972, when the government passed the Clean Water Act which required cities to regulate and protect the citizens from polluted water. Even with this though, racial issues still remained and were still being discussed thoroughly in the community. A huge notion for discussion was the 1989 Hate Crime that was perpetrated during the July 4th celebration. This crime was headlined by a large group of white adults assaulting a group of young black festival goers during the firework show. This was a stark reminder that even with the progress through the years, race relations and inclusion were still an issue.
From then, Edgewater has slowly and steadily improved in condition and the racial inclusion in the area. From the combined efforts of the City and also the buyout of the park by the Metroparks organization itself Edgewater is once again a bustling and popular destination for tourists and Cleveland citizens alike. To this day we can see the improvement, as just recently the Mandel Foundation donated 23 Million Dollars to help speed up the development of several projects to allow the severely underserved East Side of Cleveland better access to the Park. Even if the park is not perfect, everyday and every year the city and the community is trying to better and improve conditions of inclusivity and safety and help promote the development of more accessible areas so that the park can serve all citizens.
- Cleveland Gazette. August 8, 1908.
- “Councilmen Defeat Separate Boat Docks,” Call & Post. August 6, 1955.
- “Edgewater Park.” Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. case.edu/ech/articles/e/edgewater-park.
- Raponi, Richard. “Edgewater Park.” Cleveland Historical. clevelandhist.org/items/show/121..
- Call and Post. “Cleveland Host to Softball Tournament,” September 5, 1959. Accessed November 14, 2023. http://ezp2.cpl.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/cleveland-host-softball-tournament/docview/184296759/se-2?accountid=1810.
- Call and Post. “Kirtley, Lassiter Sparkle,” June 30, 1962. Accessed November 14, 2023. http://ezp2.cpl.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/article-1-no-title/docview/184333163/se-2?accountid=1810.
- Call and Post. “400,000 Attend Marine ‘Invasion,’” July 25, 1959. Accessed November 14, 2023. http://ezp2.cpl.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/400-000-attend-marine-invasion/docview/184287154/se-2?accountid=1810.
Call and Post. “Wings Over Jordan Thrills Audience At Edgewater Pk.,” August 14, 1943. Accessed November 14, 2023. http://ezp2.cpl.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/wings-over-jordan-thrills-audience-at-edgewater/docview/184111758/se-2?accountid=1810.
- Call and Post. “Beaches And Pools Open,” May 27, 1967. Accessed November 14, 2023. http://ezp2.cpl.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/beaches-pools-open/docview/184442046/se-2?accountid=1810.
- Stradling, David, and Richard Stradling. Where the River Burned: Carl Stokes and the Struggle to Save Cleveland. Cornell University Press, 2015.
- Allen, William. “City Beautiful Movement.” NYPAP. https://www.nypap.org/preservation-history/city-beautiful-movement/ Accessed November 14, 2023