Know Ohio: Cleveland formation

RICK: The city I’m standing in, Cleveland, looked a lot different Back when it was home to Native Americans. Up next, Know Ohio’s Mary Fecteau takes us back in time – to tell us how Cleveland became Cleveland.   


MARY: When you think about Cleveland you might envision a skyline, or LeBron dunking at the Q, or maybe some museums? What you probably don’t picture is this...

But that’s likely what you’d see if you visited Cleveland 220 years ago…except, back then, it wasn’t called Cleveland. That’s because this area was just being discovered by White settlers. In fact, for a while this section of land was considered part of…Connecticut?!

Yep, you heard that right. Connecticut. The state in New England.

Back in 1662, when the U.S. was still just an English colony, King Charles II told the governor and people of Connecticut that they could control a stretch of land – an obscenely loooooong stretch of land, that actually ran all the way to the Pacific Ocean. This area included the top half of Ohio. Eventually, the King decided that he had probably gone a little too far, and he took back most of it — but Connecticut fought to keep that special little spot in Ohio and began calling it the Western Reserve.

It wasn’t until 1796 that Cleveland’s namesake—Moses Cleaveland, spelled with an A, entered the scene. Moses was part of the Connecticut Land Company and his job was to survey the area to find good places to settle.

But he ran into a few issues – one of which was the people – that’s right, something that had apparently gone unnoticed by King Charles when he generously gave this land to Connecticut is that there were already people living there. Native Americans. And, because Moses was the first white settler to arrive, he had to negotiate with them to keep his crew safe. He traded things like livestock and whiskey in exchange for their help.

Eventually, Moses reached the mouth of the Cuyahoga River at Lake Erie and decided that location was a good spot for a city.

One of the first things Moses’ crew did was lay out 10 acres for a public square. Back in Connecticut and other New England cities, the square was an important place, in the center of the city, for ceremonies and celebrations. Even as Cleveland grew up around it, this public square was maintained. It became home to the Cleveland’s first fountain, and in 1879 was the first place in the city to be lit up by electric street lamps.

Today Cleveland’s public square is still in use -- hosting concerts, celebrations, speeches, and protests.

It wasn’t long after Moses surveyed the area that White settlers started moving in – but one person that opted not to stay was Moses Cleaveland himself. After he finished laying out plots and plans for the city, Moses went back to Connecticut, and never returned to the city that bears his name. 

You might have noticed earlier that Cleveland is spelled differently from Moses’ last name. In 1831 the local newspaper changed the spelling of Cleveland, dropping the extra “a” from Moses’ name. According to legend, the paper said they didn’t have room for the extra letter in their headlines. But even if the city is misspelled, Moses still has a spot on the public square… as a statue.

Instructional Links

Website Article: Ohio History Central, Cleveland, Ohio,_Ohio

Website Article: Find a Grave, Moses Cleaveland

Website Article: Cleveland Historical, Public Square, Moses Cleaveland

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