Neighborhoods They Settled In: Broadway, Corlett, Mount Pleasant, Union, Clark/Fulton, Stockyards, Tremont.
First Immigrants 1850's
For many early Czech settlers in Cleveland, Cleveland was a way station on the route from the East Coast to already-established Czech colonies in the Midwest.
Many of Cleveland’s early Czech immigrants were intellectuals who had fled to the United States in the 1850s to escape the repercussions growing out of the 1848 European revolution. The first Czechs reportedly settled in what was then Brooklyn Township—now the Clark/Fulton neighborhood. East of the river, they established themselves near the Cuyahoga River, eventually moving further east and building homes near Forest (E. 37th Street), near Woodland Avenue, and on Croton Street (Croton Avenue), where they founded such gathering places as Perun Hall and Slovánska Lípa, and the city’s first Czech parish, St. Wenceslaus (St. Vaclav), in 1867. West Side Czechs formed St. Procop Parish in 1872.
According to Jan Habenicht’s 1895 book, History of Czechs in America, most of the immigrants at that time came from Písek, Tábor, Prague, and Česke Budějovice.
Czechs generally built their own homes rather than move into older housing. From a handful of early settlers in the 1850s, the colony grew to more than 3200, according to a survey taken in 1869, which showed there were 696 Czech families in the city. Their success in their new country was aided by their low illiteracy rate, estimated to be about 1.5 percent.
After 1870 another wave of immigrants continued to boost Czech population, with new arrivals peaking between 1900 and 1914.
Cleveland Czechs were almost evenly divided in their attitude toward religion. Although they were mainly Catholic in their homeland, many took advantage of the new freedom offered in America, put religion aside, and were commonly referred to as freethinkers. Catholic and the freethinking Czechs grew almost as separate communities living in the same neighborhood.
Czechs eventually migrated south across Cleveland’s Kingsbury Run to Broadway. By 1886 a new St. Wenceslaus Church was under construction at Forest (E. 37th) Street and Broadway to serve a population of professionals, skilled workers, and even barrelmakers for John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Co. Freethinking Czechs migrated along the same route, establishing Probulov Hall and later Bohemian National Hall, which has now become a National Historic Site.
Besides establishing retail outlets, the Czechs established three thrift institutions, including the Oul (Czech for owl) Savings & Loan Co., People’s Savings & Loan Assn., and First Federal Savings & Loan Co., which has grown into CharterOne Financial, Inc.
Another group also moved east along Woodland and Quincy Avenues, where they founded St. Adalbert Parish in 1883, the same year the Czechs on Broadway were establishing Our Lady of Lourdes Church. St. John Nepomucene along Fleet Ave. (Karlin/Slavic Village) and Holy Family Parish in the Corlett area followed in 1902 and 1911 respectively. In 1926 Czechs in Maple Heights established St. Wenceslas Parish on Libby Road, spelled without a “u” to emphasize its difference from the original St. Wenceslaus Church on Broadway. Today, only Our Lady of Lourdes and St. John Nepomucene retain their Czech character. St. Adalbert serves an African American community, and Holy Family, St. Procop, and both St. Wenceslaus parishes have closed.
The progressive strength of the Czech community was an important factor in establishing the country of Czechoslovakia after World War I. On October 22, 1915 Czech and Slovak representatives signed the Cleveland Agreement at Cleveland’s Bohemian National Hall, which called for a unified federal state of Czechs and Slovaks.
Physical training and gymnastics have strong roots in the Czech culture, and Czechs in Cleveland brought the Sokol movement in Cleveland, producing four separate Sokol lodges in the city and the Workers Gymnastic Union (abbreviated in Czech as DTJ), in Auburn Township in neighboring Geauga County.
Although Cleveland’s Czechs have been assimilated in the past 150 years, their presence in the community is still evident in the several halls that still serve as gathering places for third and fourth generation Czechs.
(History above courtesy of John T. Sabol)
1867 – St. Wenceslaus (St. Vaclav)—Arch (E. 34th St.) and Burwell Ave. (closed—1963)
1872 – St. Procop—Burton (W. 41st) St. and Trent Ave. (closed—2010)
1883 – Our Lady of Lourdes—Willson (E. 55th) St. and Hamm Ave.
1883 – St. Adalbert—E. 83rd St. between Central and Quincy Aves.
1902 – St. John Nepomucene—Fleet Ave. and Jirousek (E. 50th) St.
1911 – Holy Family on E. 131st St. and Chapelside Ave. (closed—1988)
1926 – St. Wenceslas – Libby Road in Maple Heights (closed—2008)
Broadway Methodist Episcopal Church – Broadway at Gallup Ave.
Cyril Congregational – W. 43rd St. and Cyril Ave
Czechoslovak Baptist Church – W. 56th St.
Emmanuel Congregational – 2373 E. 82nd St.
Mizpah Congregational – E. 59th St. north of Fleet Ave.
Scranton Road Baptist (formerly the Czechoslovak Baptist Church) – Scranton Road
Bohemian National Hall
John Sabol and Lisa Alzo are the authors of "Cleveland Czechs". You can find their book here: http://www.amazon.com/Cleveland-Czechs-Images-America-Sabol/dp/0738552437