Czech (Bohemian) Genealogy and History Primer: Slavic Village, Cleveland, Ohio Part I
As a lover of genealogy and family history I admit to two things that tend to stick in my craw. One of these is ancestors who, for one reason or another, make the decision to change their surname, often without notice, legal paperwork, etc. Genealogy is a challenge as it is, but when you encounter surname changes it can add a new layer of difficulty. For instance I have one ancestor whose surname was Bohutinsky, but which was changed by some to Bohntinsky, others to Botin, and others to Bugg. The second is when some marketing mavens make the decision to ignore history and change the names of places, again often seemingly on the fly, without explanation, and with no reason beyond ‘marketing’. Studying and researching the history of the homes of our ancestors is tough enough without someone renaming a place willy-nilly.
So it is with ‘Slavic Village’ in Cleveland, Ohio. Were your ancestors alive today and you asked them if they lived in ‘Slavic Village’ to a person they would say ‘Where? Slavic Village? Nope, never heard of it.”
In The Beginning…The Erie Nation…Then There Was Newburgh.
In the beginning there were the Native Americans. Across Ohio you can still find the Burial Mounds from the pre-Columbian natives in Ohio. By the time Europeans began to invade Ohio the area that was to be Cleveland was inhabited by the Erie Tribe. In Dr. Francis Dvornik’s book Czech Contributions To The Growth of The United States (Chicago, IL 1961) it is reported the very first Czech settlers could see numerous Indian teepees in Newburgh from the backyard of Leopold Levy’s home in Cleveland where they were first living.
Long before the ‘mad men’ of advertising got ahold of the catchy name of ‘Slavic Village’, its modern life began as part of the then-thriving, youthful, and soon to be industrial center, by the name of Newburgh Township, located roughly six miles southeast of Cleveland. Newburgh Township was organized in 1814 as one of the very earliest non-indigenous settlements in all of Cuyahoga County. Author William R. Coates wrote in his 1924 book, A History of Cuyahoga County and the City of Cleveland, this area was actually named “Old Newburgh” in the very beginning and was an area bounded by Cleveland and East Cleveland to the north; Independence to the south; Warrensville to the east; and by the Cuyahoga River and Brooklyn to the west. Old Newburgh was the site of the first grist mill in the Western Reserve. In 1799 on the banks of Mill Creek two fellows, William Wheeler and Major Wyatt, built that first mill. Due to the historic importance of this mill for years some of its first millstones could be found on display around Cleveland. One located in Public Square and a second on old Broadway. While we today may not think much about the importance of a simple gristmill, it was of supreme importance to the pioneer settlers of those early times even if only ten families and a few single men lived in Old Newburgh when the gristmill was completed. Noble Bates, the first miller of the gristmill, later added a saw mill and a carding machine on the same stream.
Who the very first Newburgh settlers were and even where the Newburgh name came from have been lost in time. We don’t know if there was a Mr. Newburgh or perhaps if the name refers to a ‘new’ burgh (spelled as in Pittsburgh). We do know among the earlier Newburgh pioneers, in addition to Wheeler and Wyatt of the gristmill, were the families of Philip Brower, David Brower, Darius Warner, and James Walker along with single men Nehemiah Marks, Wilson Bennett, Richard Treat, Joseph Breck (namesake of Brecksville), Abram Garfield (father of President Garfield), and a mystery man known only as ‘Mr. Clark’. Newburgh held fertile soil, which was much better than the low, swamplands of Cleveland. Once cleared this land provided excellent pastures for livestock and dairy cattle plus superb acreage for farms and gardens.
Newburgh, long affiliated with the people and economic engine of the city of Cleveland, was the first area to be annexed to the city of Cleveland. Upon an overwhelming vote in favor of annexation by the Freeholders of Newburgh, the township joined Cleveland and was that city’s original Eighteenth Ward. It is good to note however that it continued to be referred to as Newburgh for several generations thereafter. On a personal note, my grandfather and grandmother’s first home in Cleveland, which they lived in from 1918 to 1923, was still referred to as ‘in Newburgh’ by them!
The 18th Ward also carried the nickname ‘The Iron Ward’ for all the industry there, especially the steel industry. In 1906 both the Township of South Newburgh (in 1919 becoming Garfield Heights) and the Village of Newburgh Heights would be formed out of pieces of Old Newburgh while the remaining Old Newburgh lands were all annexed to Cleveland or various other surrounding communities.
Those original settlers of Newburgh were almost to a person New Englanders, but change was on the horizon. If you look at the 1850 U.S. Census for the area, the majority of adult males in Newburgh are listed as farmers or farm laborers. By the 1860 U.S. Census more and more adult males employment is given as working in the rolling mills, a chair factory, and a couple of soap factories. By the early 1880s almost all of the farmland had been subdivided into residential lots for modest working-class homes.
As the economic base of the 18th Ward changed so did the population. It grew and as it grew it attracted far more than just New Englanders and their families. These new arrivals, many of whom were immigrants from England, Ireland, Wales, and Manxmen, were followed by immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe. These immigrants joined rather than displaced those early families of ‘Newburgh’.
Coming up in Part II of Czech (Bohemian) Genealogy and History Primer: Slavic Village, Cleveland, Ohio
Happily Part of the City of Cleveland – The 18th “Iron” Ward