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Historic Hulett Ore Unloader Could Rise Again On Lake Erie's Shore

Huletts unload iron ore from the EAS Clarke of the Interlake Steamship Co. at the Pennsylvania Railroad ore docks in Cleveland in May 1943 [Courtesy of the Office of War Information Collection at the Library of Congress]
Huletts unload iron ore from the EAS Clarke of the Interlake Steamship Co. at the Pennsylvania Railroad ore docks in Cleveland in May 1943

The Hulett ore unloader was an engineering marvel that helped make Cleveland an industrial powerhouse.

The massive machines revolutionized shipping by unloading a freighter in a half day instead of week. But self-unloading ships turned the machines into relics. Now, just two Huletts remain.

Efforts to preserve them moved forward Aug. 22, when the Cleveland Landmarks Commission unanimously supported plans for a park honoring the massive machines. The decision is bringing an end to 20 years of arguing about restoring and commemorating the machines.

The new site will be part of Cumberland Development’s mixed-used project on the Lake Erie waterfront, near FirstEnergy Stadium. The company has donated $10,000 toward the proposed Hulett park, where an exhibit will feature the loading “leg” and bucket of the huge machines.

But Environmental Design Group’s Jeff Kerr says explanatory panels and video will add context.

“We also are suggesting that we have a video kiosk that could actually show videos of the working Hulett back in the day, and the impact they had on the city of Cleveland and Great Lakes maritime,” he told commissioners Thursday.

The proposal includes a pedestrian walkway and pavers designed to mimic the tracks where loading cars travelled.

Environmental Design Group is part of a working group on the Huletts project. The effort, led by CanalWay Partners, must come up with a plan for displaying the machine by 2021 – or else the Cleveland Port Authority, which owns the remaining Huletts, can sell the dismantled, rusting parts for scrap.

Right now, the ore-unloader parts are sitting at Cleveland Bulk Terminal on Whiskey Island. That’s in Council member Matt Zone’s ward and he’s afraid a vital part of local history will rust away.

“It’s unfortunate that these magnificent machines were taken down, without a permit in 1999. They’re made of steel. So they’ve been sitting there, rusting since 1999. They’re decaying, they are dying,” he says.

The machines are named after their inventor, Northeast Ohio native George H. Hulett, who patented them in the 1898. The machines were groundbreaking and soon became essential to Great Lakes maritime for almost a century.

The unloaders helped Cleveland become a shipping hub, Zones says. The city’s location gave an edge to industrialists like John D. Rockefeller -- and the Hulett sharpened the edge.

“As manufacturing was starting to boom, this local guy, George Hulett invented this magnificent machinery that really revolutionized how we unloaded ships,” Zone says. “Because of that, so much iron and steel flowed through the Cleveland port.”

The machines were used for 80 years, until 1992, when newer technology like self-unloading ships replaced them. Seven years later, preservationists successfully fought plans to dismantle and sell the city’s four remaining Huletts.

Ray Saikus led that charge. His goal was, and is, to have the machines completely restored. He wants a Hulett, as well as the William Mather Steamship, placed on Scranton Island. If the city uses components, they should import them from Conneaut, Ohio, where Hulett himself was born and the site where he built his first working ore unloader. But Cleveland’s machines should remain intact, Saikus says.

“If the city only wants a leg and bucket, I think we could negotiate with [Conneaut],” he told commissioners. “But not with the leg and bucket of the Hulett that we have. They’ve got to still be protected.”

However, Tim Donovan of Canalway Partners says re-building the machines simply isn’t feasible because the 96-foot-tall behemoths would be too heavy for the park site, which is mostly fill dirt.

Now that they have the commission’s support, the working group will refine its design and create a budget. Donovan would not yet estimate the project’s cost. The city will get a look at the revised park and mixed-use development design when Cumberland Development next meets with Cleveland's planning commission.