Beaches and DocksRegional Parks

Edgewater Park

Edgewater Park has been a recreational staple in the greater Cleveland community for decades. Starting as just a patch of land acquired by the city of Cleveland in 1894, the park transformed into a popular destination for leisure and gathering by all walks of life around the area. From its very inception, Edgewater has been rich with diversity and has offered a wide range of activities for all, but has also been marred by social and environmental controversies and setbacks. Even so, Edgewater has been an enduring asset, and through its 6,000 feet of shoreline and over 130 acres of total land, it now presents a great picture of what inclusive places of gathering can look like. 

After the city purchased Edgewater in 1894, the park’s development reflected 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. The City of Cleveland, with the help of young local millionaire Jacob B. Perkins, then hired the Olmsted Brothers landscape design firm. This firm consisted of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. and John Charles Olmsted. The city commissioned them to create a comprehensive plan for the park. With the influence of the “City Beautiful” the brothers’ vision included multiple walking paths, gardens, recreational areas and a safe and beautiful beach. Their goal was to create a community relationship with the natural beauty of Lake Erie and to preserve the environmental integrity of the beach.

From its start, Edgewater was a bustling and vibrant place. In its early years, the park seems to have been open to African Americans, but not many seemed to go there. In 1908, the Cleveland Gazette commented, “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.” In the years that followed, however, the park drew very little mention in the Cleveland Gazette or the Call & Post. It is not clear the extent to which the park’s distance from the Black community centered on the East Side or hostility toward their use of the park explains local Black newspapers’ relative silence about Edgewater in the 1910s-30s.

A crowd at Edgewater Park Beach, 1931 | Cleveland Memory Project, CSU Special Collections

Edgewater continued to draw more and more visitors, overall. The park’s first bathhouses had been severely undersized for the popularity, which led the city to erect a three-story architectural marvel which mirrored a Spanish-style villa. Major events kept the park in the public eye. For example, in August 1943, the city government planned a huge park concert. This event, which was reported in the Call & Post, included some African American performers and bands, the most notable of which was Wings over Jordan, a Black choral group that performed to a sold-out crowd. It was so popular and well received that Wings over Jordan returned to another nearby park the following week. Likewise, in 1959, the Call & Post covered a “staged military invasion” offshore along Edgewater that attracted more than 400,000 citizens to watch a staged land, air, and sea invasion event. Another development at Edgewater Park during this time was the implementation of unsegregated professional baseball league games. 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.

However, even though it is clear that African Americans used the park, there was some opposition to their full enjoyment of its lakefront. In the 1950s Cleveland saw rising interest in boating. Specifically, the Cleveland Yacht Club was the place to be. But, like many clubs of the time, it did not allow Black admission. The club repeatedly tried to enforce Jim-Crow–like policies and lobbied for municipal funding to allow it to build new, separate docks for the races. Fortunately, and in a symbol of a new era, the city council blocked this effort. John Kellogg, a prominent and outspoken Black member of the city council, vehemently opposed this measure. He stated, “No bill which spends a single dime for segregated facilities will ever get my approval.” While over time, conditions improved at the Cleveland Yacht Club, the scars still remained and led to the formation of the Black-organized Intercity Yacht Club, which is a pillar of Black boating culture in Cleveland to this day. 

Cleveland residents in the water at Edgewater Park during the mock invasion in 1959 | Cleveland Memory Project, CSU Special Collections

In the 1960s and 1970s, Edgewater Park, like Gordon Park to the east of downtown, suffered environmental decline. Environmental concerns had always plagued the waters of Cleveland and the surrounding area but it had finally caught up with the waters of Edgewater. In response, Mayor Carl Stokes spearheaded a 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 culminated in 1972, when the federal government passed the Clean Water Act, which required cities to regulate and protect the citizens from polluted water.

Despite efforts to clean up the lake, racial issues still appeared from time to time, most notably in a hate crime during the July 4th celebration in 1989. This crime involved a large group of white adults assaulting a group of young African American festival goers during the fireworks show. This was a stark reminder that even with the progress through the years, racial inclusion was still in question. 

However, Edgewater has slowly and steadily improved both in condition and inclusion. From the combined efforts of the city government and the assumption of responsibility for the park by the Cleveland Metroparks, 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 to speed the development of several projects to allow the severely underserved East Side of Cleveland better access to the park. The city and the community are trying to improve conditions of inclusivity and safety and help promote the development of more accessible areas so that the park can serve all citizens. 


  • Allen, William. “City Beautiful Movement.” NYPAP.
  • “Beaches and Pools Open.” Call & Post. May 27, 1967.
  • Cleveland Gazette. August 8, 1908.
  • “Cleveland Host to Softball Tournament.” Call & Post. September 5, 1959.
  • “Councilmen Defeat Separate Boat Docks,” Call & Post. August 6, 1955.
  • “Edgewater Park.” Encyclopedia of Cleveland History.
  • “400,000 Attend Marine ‘Invasion.’” Call & Post. July 25, 1959.
    Call and Post. “Wings Over Jordan Thrills Audience At Edgewater Pk.,” August 14, 1943.
  • “Kirtley, Lassiter Sparkle.” Call & Post. June 30, 1962.
  • Raponi, Richard. “Edgewater Park.” Cleveland Historical.
  • Stradling, David, and Richard Stradling. Where the River Burned: Carl Stokes and the Struggle to Save Cleveland. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2015.
6500 Cleveland Memorial Shoreway, Cleveland, OH

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