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The Origins of Hough

Trimming a tree outside Edison School in 1940. (Photo credit: CSU)
Trimming a tree outside Edison School in 1940.

July 18th marks the 50th anniversary of the Hough Riots, or the Hough Rebellion, as some now refer to it.  This week, ideastream looks at the circumstances and history around those events five decades ago, but also at what Hough is today and where it's headed. 

The east side Cleveland neighborhood is bound by Superior Avenue to the north, East 55th Street to the west, Euclid to the south and 105th to the east. 

We'll hear voices of residents who live there now… and from people who lived through those historic days.  We also wanted to hear about the origins of the Hough area.  

That's where we start our series, "Hough: Before and Beyond '66," as ideastream's Katherine Boyd speaks with Columbia University Senior Lecturer Howard Williams, who's currently writing a history of Hough. He says the neighborhood's earliest records go back to 1799 when Oliver and Eliza Hough settled in the area and carved out a farm.

"The street called Hough Avenue went through their farm and it was referred to as the Hough Road," explains Williams.  

When the Houghs died in 1866, their land was divided into several small farms. 

"A lot of the farms were catering to the city trade. People who raised vegetables. People who raised fruit," says Williams.

As the nearby city of Cleveland grew, the Hough area felt the pressure to grow with it. 

"There was a vote to be annexed to Cleveland. And once that happened in 1872 there was a lot of improvements like sewer lines and water lines."  

By 1888, the sounds of home building drowned out the last tranquil peeps of peaceful, country life.

"Street after street after street was built up in the 1890s so within a decade, ¾ of the real estate that was ever in the Hough area was already built," said Williams.

Then in 1890, two electric streetcars starting running through the community - one along Euclid and the other, along Hough. Large elaborate houses were built. Exclusive private schools, including Laurel and University Schools, opened in Hough. And Euclid Avenue was coined "Millionaires Row."

But, then, Williams says, something new happened,"On Euclid Avenue between 55th and 65th six large apartment buildings went up. And by large I mean they were 6 or 8 stories high. And they were aimed at a wealthier class of people. The apartment people took up the slack and they started building apartments in all the remaining spaces. The apartments were filled up over-night. There were waiting lists for them. Clevelanders took to apartments like fish to water. And over the course of years between 1900 and 1920 those streets all began to change their character. They became blotted with apartments, or dotted with apartments."

Soon the grand homes along Euclid Avenue were dwarfed by towering apartment buildings. 

"It depressed the value of those houses tremendously as single family homes. However it raised the value of the house as multi-family real estate," Williams explains.

So in the 1920s, big home owners started to sell or to divide their large mansions into several apartments. Others turned their grand homes into rooming houses. And the money rolled-in.  '

"Your house that might have had 12 or 15 rooms would now have 15 rooms for roomers." 

The wealthiest homeowners headed to the new suburbs of Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights. Following on their coat-tails were the upper middle class, who also wanted to buy a house in Shaker said Williams, "So there was a lot of out migration. And the in migration that took place into the Hough area started to be less affluent. Started to move to being from white collar to being blue collar."

Hough was a neighborhood in transition.

"One of the most important things you can say about it is it was never an ethnic neighborhood. And that was its, maybe originally, its greatest virtue but it was also its greatest vice. It had so many people that were upwardly mobile and wanted to get in and get out, that it never developed any sense of neighborhood."

Then came the stock market plunge in 1929, and the depression that followed.

"These places that use to be single family houses were chopped up into 8 units, or 10 units, or 12 units. Sometimes you'd have 35 families living in one house," he explains.

The combination of war, depression, outward migration, and greed left the once tony Hough neighborhood in tatters: 

Williams adds, "When the war was finally over people started to take stock of the area and they said, 'Oh my gosh what happened? We used to have such a wonderful neighborhood here.'"

But this once grand neighborhood known for its millionaire's row was about to ride a wave of change that was hitting other American cities approaching the 1960s.