1. Travel
Send to a Friend via Email
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Cleveland's Ethnic Heritage

A Melting Pot on the North Coast


Cleveland was created by a diverse mixture of ethnic groups. It's one of the things that gives the city its interesting character, not to mention the array of ethnic foods, neighborhoods, and customs. Here's a look at the major groups that have contributed to making Cleveland what it is today.

The Poles

(© 2006 S. Mitchell)
Cleveland's Polish immigrants started arriving in the mid-19th century, drawn by work in the rolling (steel) mills along the Cuyahoga River and the woolen mills. With the Czechs, they settled in the area surrounded the Cuyahoga Valley, in what we now call Slavic Village and Newburgh Heights.

St. Stanislaus Church, founded in 1888 was an early influence on this community and helped to support new arrivals.

Polish is still spoken around Slavic Village, and food stores, such as the Seven Roses Deli, sell sausages, pierogi, and other Polish goodies.

The Slavic Village neighborhood celebrates its heritage each May Day with a parade and each August at the Harvest Festival.

For more about Cleveland's Polish heritage, see the Cleveland Memory Project.

The Italians

(Courtesy of the Ohio Dept. of Travel and Tourism)
Immigrants from Italy began settling in Cleveland around the mid-19th century, in an area then-called "Big Italy," around Woodland and E. 30th St. Most of these early Italian residents were grocers, bakers, and shopkeepers. Very little remains of "Big Italy," but businesses, such as Gallucci's and Catallano's have their roots there.

In the late 19th century, a different group of Italians, settled in the area south of Euclid, near Mayfield, that we know still as "Little Italy." Many of these new arrivals were stonemasons who carved monuments for nearby Lake View Cemetery.

Today's Little Italy still retains the spirit of those first generation Americans.

To read more about Cleveland's Italian immigrants, see the Cleveland Memory Project.

The Irish

(© Craig Hatfield; cc License)
The Irish were one of the first ethnic groups to settle in Cleveland, drawn by the jobs created by the Ohio-Erie Canal and the Cleveland docks. The first Irish settled at Whiskey Island (named by Lorenzo Carter, not the new inhabitants) in the early to mid-1820s.

As work at the waterfront became more plentiful, hundreds more Irishmen and women arrived from Europe, settling on the near West Side in and around today's Flats. St. Malachi's, still an Irish parish, was the centerpiece of that neighborhood.

Cleveland still holds many reminders of those early settlers, in the many Irish surnames, the annual St. Patrick's Day celebrations, and our many Irish pubs.

For more information, read "The Irish" in the Cleveland Memory Project.

The Germans

Zion UCC Church
(© 2006 S. Mitchell; Licensed to About, Inc.)
Early German residents in Northeast Ohio mostly came from eastern states, descendents of those who came to the United States during the American Revolution.

The construction of the Ohio-Erie Canal in the 1830s brought an influx of first generation Germans, many of whom settled in today's Tremont neighborhood, on Lorain St. in Brooklyn, and around Superior and Central Avenues on the east side. Early German immigrants were skilled craftsmen, brewers, jewelers, tailors, among other occupations.

Cleveland's German neighborhoods are gone, but the city's German heritage can be seen at the Honsa Market on Lorain, near the West Side Market, and at the Zion UCC (pictured at right) in Tremont.

Read more about Cleveland's German heritage.

The Slovenes

Sterle's Slovenian Country House
(© Stu Spivack/cc license)
During much of the 20th century, Cleveland had the largest Slovenian community in the United States. Drawn to jobs in the steel mills, Slovenes began arriving in the late 19th century, settling in the Newburgh area.

Other enclaves of Slovenes included the St. Clair Ave. area (from E 30th to E 79th Sts.) and the Collinwood neighborhood. Later, many of Slovenian descent moved out to Euclid, Ohio.

Prominent Clevelanders who claim Slovenian descent include Senator George Voinovich, Polka star Frankie Yankovic, and Les Roberts' fictional sleuth Milan Jacovich.

A small, but active, Slovenian community still exists in Cleveland. There is a weekly newspaper, Ameriska Domovino and a daily radio show in Slovenian.

Read more about Slovenes in Cleveland.

The Chinese

Cleveland's Asiatown
(© Stu Spivack/cc license)
Cleveland's Chinese heritage stems from a small, but close-knit group of Cantonese that settled in near Public Square in the late 1860s. These early Chinese residents were mostly restaurant owners and workers.

As downtown Cleveland grew, this community moved east, first to the area around E. 55th and Euclid and in the 1930s to Cleveland's Chinatown (now Asiatown), centered around Rockwell E. 24th St.

The 1970s and 1980s brought an influx of younger Chinese immigrants, drawn to Cleveland's universities and jobs in engineering and technology.

Today, Cleveland's Asiatown is filled with Chinese-American-owned restaurants and Chinese food stores and experiencing a rebirth as a residential neighborhood.

Read more about Cleveland's Chinese heritage.

The Czechs

(© Stu Spivack/cc license)
The Czechs are one of the largest and oldest of Cleveland's ethnic groups. These immigrants, made up of Bohemians, Moravians, and Silesians, began arriving in the late 19th century. Early Czechs settled in a section of the waterfront we today call the Flats.

Later arrivals moved further out from the city where they could have a plot of land to grow vegetables, settling around Broadway and Fleet Aves. and near W. 41st St. and Clark Ave.

Both of these areas still have a strong, minority Czech-American population. Czech culture can still be found at churches, such as St. John Napomocene on Fleet and Karlin Hall social club, also in the Slavic Village neighborhood.

Read more about Cleveland's Czech heritage.

The Ukrainians

From the Ukranian Museum in Cleveland Ohio
(© Stu Spivack/cc license)
Cleveland's first Ukrainian immigrants began arriving in the area in the mid-1870s, settling primarily in the Tremont neighborhood. Later waves of immigrants came to Cleveland between World War I and World War II and after the collapse of the Soviet Union. More recent immigrants have created a Ukrainian enclave in Parma, just south of Cleveland.

The active community has three radio programs and three newspapers in Ukrainian as well as a Ukrainian Museum on Kenilworth in Tremont (whose displays include the traditional eggs pictured at left).

Area churches, too, hold services in Ukrainian, including Sts. Peter and Paul in Tremont and St. Josaphat in Parma.

Read more about Cleveland's Ukrainian heritage.

The Hungarians

Cleveland Cultural Gardens - Hungarian Garden - Cleveland Ohio
(© Stu Spivack; CC License)
In the early 20th century, Cleveland had the largest Hungarian population outside of Hungary. Beginning in 1870, scores of Hungarians immigrated to Northeast Ohio to work in the foundries and machine shops sprouting up in the area. Many Hungarian neighborhoods formed, the two largest of which were around E79th St. and Woodland and along Buckeye Road.

The events following WWII and the 1956 Hungarian Revolution brought additional waves of immigrants.

Today, Cleveland's Hungarian culture is visible at the Hungarian garden in the Cleveland Cultural Gardens (pictured at left), at the Hungarian Heritage Museum, and at restaurants like Balaton's on Shaker Square (originally on Buckeye Road).

Read more about Cleveland's Hungarian heritage.

The African-American Community

Carl B. Stokes
Government Photo; Public domain
Cleveland's black heritage is almost as old as the city itself. The first settler of African-American descent, George Peake, arrived here in 1809, just five years after Moses Cleaveland. Since then Cleveland's African-American residents have played an important part in the city's development, including Carl Stokes (pictured at left), the city's first black mayor.

Cleveland's black citizens arrived in two major waves, coming mostly from the American South. The first wave came around 1890 to 1915 and settled primarily along Central Avenue, between downtown and E 40th St. Later, between 1940 and 1960, the second wave of Black citizens arrived, part of the Great Migration.

Read more about Cleveland's African-American heritage.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.