Filed Under Environment

Where in the World is Walworth Run?

Bridged, Culverted, Sewered and Today Largely Forgotten

For a long time, it was part of the most prominent geographical feature of the west side of Cleveland. A pleasant little winding brook, the Walworth Run had its headwaters near what is today the intersection of Clark Avenue and West 65th Street. It flowed from there northeasterly to the Cuyahoga River, a distance of about three miles. The valley through which it passed was wide, with hillsides that became so steep as they neared the Cuyahoga River, that they formed a natural boundary between what came to be known as the west and south sides of town.

Walworth Run was reputedly named after pioneer settler Judge John Walworth, who lived in Cleveland for just six years before his untimely death in 1812. When Walworth died, the Run was still that pleasant little brook. But two decades later that began to change. The Ohio-Erie canal was built. Industry began to come to Cleveland. And with industry came thousands of migrants and immigrants. And then, sometimes in concert, other times at odds, local government, industry, and new residents threatened, endangered and finally ended the existence of Walworth Run.

Culverts and bridges built over it by the city on occasion collapsed, or were washed away in storms, spilling stones, iron, and other materials into it. Slaughterhouses, breweries and oil refineries, which located along the Run near the Big Four railroad tracks, used it as an open sewer for their industrial waste. Residents did much the same, dumping down the hillsides and into the Run everything from table scraps to ashes to tin cans to broken glass. To alleviate flooding in the Isle of Cuba--that west side Czech community located just south of the Run, the City built storm sewers that channeled rain water into it. Eventually, the Walworth Run became so swollen and polluted that, by the early 1870s, nearby residents, whose lands had by this time been annexed to the City of Cleveland, were clamoring for City Hall to do something about it.

George Howlett, a professional painter and immigrant from England, was one of those residents. He knew the Walworth Run well. In 1850, when he was just 25 year old, he and his wife Sarah moved from Cleveland, crossing the Cuyahoga River to become residents of what was then Brooklyn Township. In 1861, he purchased the old William Burton house at 221 Burton Street (today, 2678 West 41st Street). The Greek Revival styled house sat (and still does today) less than a half mile south of Walworth Run. George regularly took walks along the Run, enjoying its beauty and country-like feel. As much as anyone else, he was an eyewitness to the transformation of the picturesque brook into a foul-smelling, litter-clogged dank body of water.

In August 1873, a group of residents met with the City Board of Health. In this era, the science of bacteriology was still in its infancy and many still believed that the odors from such a polluted waterway could cause fatal diseases if inhaled. When the Board appeared to be unresponsive to their fears and complaints, they marched over to Becker Hall at the corner of Columbus (West 25th) Street and Queen Avenue to organize. The radicals wanted to press the city to evict all slaughterhouses from the Run. George Howlett, who had been elected secretary, convinced them to instead petition the City to abate the nuisance by enclosing the entire Walworth Run--all nearly 3 miles of it, in an underground sewer.

For the two decades that followed, Cleveland City officials deliberated, delayed and sometimes battled in court with residents and other interested parties, over just how to construct such a sewer and, just as importantly, how to pay for it. While George Howlett, who died in 1892, never lived to see it, the matter was finally resolved in 1897 when the City commenced construction of the Walworth Run Sewer. It was an engineering marvel and then the largest sewer project ever undertaken by the City of Cleveland. The diameter of the pipe in much of the sewer was more than 16 feet--large enough for a locomotive to pass through it. It was designed to separate sewage from storm water, sending the former into an interceptor pipe that emptied into Lake Erie, while the latter was transported along a separate chamber into the Cuyahoga River. Completed in 1903, the project eliminated the Walworth Run as a geographical feature of the west side of Cleveland, replacing it with a sewer and atop that a street that bore the Run's name.

Today, more than 100 years later, the Walworth Run Sewer is still here. It is an integral part of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District sewer system for the west side of Cleveland. Some of Walworth Avenue too still remains, although parts have been vacated and other parts have been renamed Train Avenue. But that pleasant little winding brook called Walworth Run that once flowed northeasterly into the Cuyahoga River separating Cleveland's west and south sides? It has been gone for so long that most Clevelanders have forgotten that it ever even existed.

Images

Industry and Nature Appearing in Harmony This idealized sketch of a slaughterhouse located north of Scranton Road near the Walworth Run's mouth appeared in the 1874 Cleveland Atlas. In the nineteenth century, the Run was dammed at a number of locations along its length to create mill ponds which were used for commercial and then later industrial purposes. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Map Collection.
A Nineteenth Century Aerial View The 1877 Bird's Eye View of Cleveland was drawn with amazing detail. The two red circles that have been superimposed upon this section of that map identify the location of the Walworth Run on the west side of Cleveland. The circle on the left is the approximate location of the mouth of the Run on the Cuyahoga River, while the circle on the right marks the location of the Run at approximately West 44th Street near the Big Four railroad tracks. Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library, Digital Map Collection
The Run Fights Back In early December 1859, a heavy rainstorm caused the Walworth Run to swell, overflow, and washout a dam, four bridges and part of a nearby slaughterhouse operation. While normally a slow-moving little stream, during rainstorms like this one which occurred periodically, the Run often destroyed buildings and other man-made structures in its way, washing them downstream into the Cuyahoga River. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections
John Walworth (1765-1812) Born in Connecticut like so many early Clevelanders, Walworth first settled in Painesville, before coming to Cleveland in 1806. He served as a local judge, Cuyahoga County's first county recorder, and the first customs collector and inspector of the port of Cleveland. He died from tuberculosis in 1812 when Cleveland was under threat of invasion by British soldiers. Walworth Run is reputedly named after him.
South Siders Tired of Pollution In August 1873, residents of Cleveland's South Side gathered to protest the ineffectiveness of the Board of Health in addressing pollution in the Walworth Run by nearby slaughterhouses. One of the leaders of this band of residents was painter George Howlett, who persuaded the residents to petition realistically for the sewering of Walworth Run, rather than unrealistically for the removal of all slaughterhouses from the Run. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University, Michael Scwartz Library, Special Collections.
Slaughterhouses and Oil Refineries This section of the 1881 Cleveland Atlas graphically shows (see blue boxed area) a number of slaughterhouses, oil refineries, and other industrial enterprises located along a short stretch of the Walworth Run between Pearl Road (West 25th Street) and Scranton Road. Included among these were the west side oil refineries of John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company. Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library, Digital Map Collection
Changing the Lay of the Land Construction of the Walworth Run Sewer began in 1897. The above photo shows a section of the sewer under construction in 1898 at an undisclosed location in the Valley. The photo shows how construction of the sewer, and Walworth Avenue above the sewer, changed the topography of the land. The sewer which ranged in diameter from eight to more than 16 feet was constructed half-above ground. Atop the sewer was added three feet of dirt and then Walworth Avenue was built above that. Thus, at a minimum, the grade of the Valley floor where the river bed was once located was raised 7 feet, and at some places more than 11 feet. Image courtesy of City of Cleveland Archives.
State of the Art Design This sketch taken from the Engineer's report in the 1898 Annual Cleveland Report reveals that the design of the Walworth Run Sewer was a combination sewer for the transportation of both waste water and storm water. As it neared the Cuyahoga River near Barber Avenue, the sewer was designed to separate into two chambers--one to carry waste water to an interceptor that emptied into Lake Erie, and the other to carry storm water to an outlet in the Cuyahoga River. Image courtesy of City of Cleveland Archives
Man Looking out toward the Cuyahoga River As the Walworth Run Sewer approached the Cuyahoga River, its design was altered to produce a specific desired rate of flow into the latter river. The pipe diameter at the outlet was essentially flattened, as shown in the 1905 photo above, so that it was fifty feet wide, but only fourteen feet high. The structure seen in the distance is the Erie (later, "Nickel Plate") Railroad Trestle Image courtesy of Cleveland Public LIbrary
Union Terminal Project In the 1920s, the Van Sweringens embarked upon their Union Terminal project which centralized most of Cleveland's train tracks under the Terminal Tower. This project, like the Walworth Run Sewer, had a major impact on the Walworth Run Valley. The above 1929 photo provides a view that looks southerly across the Valley at the Walworth Run Foundry, located on West 27th Street. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections.
Still Finding a Way to Flood In 1943, this motorist heading east on Walworth Avenue, and approaching the underpass of the West 25th Street bridge, found that, on occasion, the site where the old country brook once stood still flooded. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections
Walworth Run Sewer Outlet A view of the Sewer Outlet from the north in 2014. The Northeast Regional Sewer District undertook a project in 2013-2104 to relocate a portion of the sewer that was in the way of the new I-90 Inner Belt Bridge. A small park was added to the area near Scranton and University Roads as part of that project. Image courtesy of Jim Dubelko

Location

Metadata

Jim Dubelko, “Where in the World is Walworth Run?,” Cleveland Historical, accessed September 29, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/659.