Hickox Alley

The Evolution of a Nineteenth Century Downtown Byway

The earliest origins of Hickox Alley are more the stuff of legend than fact. According to nineteenth-century local historians, "Uncle" Abram Hickox (also spelled "Heacox"), Cleveland's first blacksmith, migrated here from Connecticut in 1809. After Euclid Street was laid out in 1815, Hickox moved his shop--which formerly sat at the corner of Superior and Bank (West 6th)--to the future Millionaires' Row, perhaps simply to be closer to his house on nearby Prospect Street. Every day thereafter, Uncle Abram, well-known to early Clevelanders for his untiring work ethic, walked to and from his shop along a little path that stretched between the two streets.

When exactly Hickox Alley (today, East 3rd Street between Euclid and Prospect Avenues) first came into existence, originally as a walkway between Abram Hickox's blacksmith shop and his home, is unclear. Hickox purchased the original two-acre lots upon which his place of business, his house, and the walkway were located during the period 1810-1815--about the same time that Euclid Street (later renamed Euclid Avenue) was being laid out. There is no known extant map, or other documentary evidence, substantiating the walkway's existence or its particular configuration in this era. By the time Cleveland's first directory was published in 1837, 72-year old Abram Hickox had sold off the northern part of his land fronting Euclid Street--where his blacksmith shop had once sat, and was listed in that year as living at 27 Prospect Street, employed as the village sexton.

During the years 1837-1838, after he had conveyed his land on Euclid Street, Hickox, along with others, petitioned Cleveland council to designate the walking path between Euclid and Prospect a village street. The council responded in 1838 by adopting an ordinance "which established an Alley from Euclid Street to Prospect Street entitled Hickox Alley." The ordinance contained a legal description of the village's newest alley, including its width (one rod or 16.5 feet) and its peculiar circular area with a post in the middle, the only evidence of which left today is a bend in the alley approximately 150 feet south of Euclid Avenue.

Two years after Hickox Alley was thus officially established as a public byway in Cleveland, the First Wesleyan Methodist Church built a church on the same southwest corner where Abram Hickox's blacksmith shop had recently stood. The Wesleyan Church was notable as the first church built on Euclid Avenue, but also because its members had recently separated from the First Methodist Episcopal Church over the slavery issue then raging in America. The Wesleyans were staunch anti-slavery advocates. Apparently as a result of the new church's position on this important national issue, Hickox Alley, at least for several years thereafter, became known to many in the village as "Nigger Alley," and was expressly noted as such in Cuyahoga County tax records. For reasons unknown, the derogatory racist name for Hickox Alley was removed from county tax records after 1842.

New change came to Hickox Alley in the years following Abram Hickox' death in 1845. The probate of his estate lasted nearly two years, and it wasn't until 1847 that his remaining lands along the Alley--essentially the southern half between Euclid and Prospect--were disposed of by partition amongst his four daughters. Shortly after receiving their inheritance, all of the daughters sold their shares to developers, who, after acquiring some of Hickox's formerly owned lands along the alley, developed it into a residential street in the early 1850s. For the next thirty years, Hickox Alley appears to have been a vibrant working-class neighborhood street off of Euclid Avenue's early Millionaires' Row. It was home to Clevelanders--many of whom were of Irish or German immigrants-- who worked as confectioners, carpenters, tanners, coopers, tailors, shoe makers and in other blue-collar trades. Sixteen houses sat on the alley and by 1880 when the population peaked, according to the federal census taken in that year, there were 62 working-class residents living on it.

While the population of Hickox Alley may have peaked in 1880, its future as a residential street had already become precarious at least ten years earlier, when lower Euclid Avenue began its transformation from a residential neighborhood to a commercial district. During the period 1870-1890, a first generation of four and five story commercial buildings went up on lower Euclid Avenue, many located near Hickox Alley, including the four-story Hardy Block (1875) on the west corner of the alley, and the five-story Savings and Trust Company bank building (1885) on its east corner. Hickox Alley's status as a downtown residential street became more precarious in the decade of the 1890s as Euclid Avenue underwent yet more change. Its first generation of commercial buildings, which had been erected primarily for office use, were now being converted to primarily retail use, a use which had warehousing needs. In that decade, many of the houses on Hickox Alley were replaced by warehouses and small factory shops. For example, the Cushing family which leased a building on Euclid Avenue to George H. Bowman Company, a purveyor of fine china and glassware, purchased additional land along the west side of the alley and, in 1890, erected a three-story warehouse there, taking down several houses on the alley in the process. Similarly, and also in 1890, Chandler and Rudd, an early downtown grocer, purchased land on the east side of the alley upon which it erected a warehouse, also eliminating houses in the process. Finally, also in 1890, a six-story tin factory was built on the west side of the Alley near Prospect Street, eliminating yet more residential structures there. As a result of the redevelopment of much of the alley primarily in this decade, by the time the twentieth century arrived, there were few residential houses left, and few people living, on Hickox Alley.

In 1904, new and different change came to Hickox Alley. A group of theatrical people purchased several of the remaining houses on the east side of the alley, razed them, and built in their place a quaint, English Inn-styled clubhouse, which became known as the Hermit Club. Because the Hermit Club quickly became associated with the popular theater district then located on nearby Sheriff (East 4th) Street, its erection sparked an interest in a different type of commercial development on the alley in the early twentieth century-- clubs and restaurants. While traffic on the alley no doubt increased as a result of this development, it did not in any way stave off the decline of residential life there. In 1905, the last house there, which had been owned by the Samuel and Mary Eason family since 1864, was torn down to make room for an eight-story printing company office/warehouse building. With this most recent change, residential life on Hickox Alley, for all practical purposes, came to an end.

A final change came to Hickox Alley--which after 1905 became known as East 3rd Street--at about the same time that the Hermit Club relocated to the new Playhouse Square theater district in 1927. Within several years, all of the other clubs and restaurants on the Alley closed and it became exclusively a place for the warehousing and other commercial needs of nearby retail businesses on Euclid and Prospect Avenues. In more recent decades, some of those long-standing retail businesses on Euclid and Prospect Avenues, and warehouses on the former Hickox Alley, have been converted to residential apartments and attendant parking garages as Cleveland's lower Euclid Avenue undergoes yet another transformative change in the early twenty-first century. Today, the sidewalks on each side of the alley which in the nineteenth century provided pedestrians access to houses there, and in the twentieth century to popular clubs and restaurants there, are gone, and East 3rd street, with its curious bend 150 feet south of Euclid Avenue which hides Prospect Avenue from direct view, is now a place which few pedestrians enter for any lawful purpose, and which is frequented mostly by the city's homeless and, occasionally, by nearby building employees who surreptitiously exit back doors along the alley in order to have a quiet smoke.

Images

Uncle Abram Works Here A sign, according to local historians, which hung outside of Abram Hickox' blacksmith shop on the southwest corner of what is today Euclid Avenue and East 3rd Street. This sketch of what an artist imagined the shop to have looked like in early nineteenth century Cleveland appeared in a 1932 Plain Dealer article about the history of Hickox Alley. Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections
Abram Hickox (1764-1845) Said by early historians to have been Cleveland's first blacksmith, Hickox (also spelled Heacox and, at times, Hickcox) and his wife and four daughters came to Cleveland from Waterbury, Connecticut in 1809. His first shop was located on the corner of what is today West 6th and Superior Avenue. At about the time that Euclid Avenue was laid out in 1815, Hickox moved his shop to the southwest corner of what is today Euclid and East 3rd Street. For probably the next 15-20 years, he operated his shop there, eventually becoming, as a result of a number of stories spun about his work ethic and no nonsense manner, one of the city's early legendary figures. Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections
The Hickox Subdivision Following Abram Hickox's death in 1845, his house on Prospect Street and nearby lands along Hickox Alley were divided amongst his four daughters. This 1847 plat, which is a part of his Cuyahoga County Probate Court file, shows the location of his lands there and the portion which each of his daughters received from his estate. Shortly thereafter, his daughters sold these lands to early Cleveland real estate developers who built a number of working-class houses on the Alley in the 1850s. Source: Cuyahoga County Archives
First Wesleyan Methodist Church This section of the 1858 Map of Cuyahoga County shows Hickox Alley (East 3rd Street) between Euclid and Prospect Streets. On the southwest corner of Euclid, where Abram Hickox's blacksmith once sat, is the First Wesleyan Methodist Church, which was built there in 1840. The church's progressive stance on America's nineteenth-century slavery issue appears, according to county tax records, gave rise to Hickox Alley being also popularly referred to by a derogatory, racist name. The Wesleyan church occupied this corner until 1862 when it was moved to the corner of Ohio (Carnegie) and Brownell (East 14th) Streets. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Map Collection
1870 Auditor Map This map, which lists owners' names and land and building values, is instructive of the status and type of development on Euclid and Prospect Streets, as well as Hickox Alley, in that year. The lots along Euclid Avenue have significantly greater building values than the lots on the alley, indicating the presence mostly of commercial buildings on lower Euclid Avenue as it transformed into a commercial district, and mostly of modest residential structures on nearby Hickox Alley. Source: Cuyahoga County Archives
Savings and Trust Company Bank Building In 1885, this imposing five-story commercial building went up on the southeast corner of Euclid Avenue and Hickox Alley, extending 135 feet down the alley. The building partially seen on the other corner of the Alley is the Hardy Block, erected in 1875. The erection of four and five-story commercial buildings like these near Hickox Alley during this period would have certainly had an impact on lives of the working-class residents living there. This photo was taken in 1889. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Photo Collection
Hickox Alley in 1886 This section of the 1886 Sanborn Map of the Hickox Alley area shows the alley at perhaps the peak of its residential development. Note the houses (with addresses) on both sides of the alley between Euclid and Prospect Streets. The alley was home to a number of working class families who may have provided commercial services to Cleveland elites who were living ever farther east on one or the other of those two fashionable nineteenth century residential streets. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Map Collection
The Hermit Club A sketch of Hickox Alley in 1904. The Hermit Club, a building used by an organization of theater folks, was constructed on the Alley in this year. Note the house to the left of the Club building, which is likely the Eason house, the last residential structure on the alley. It was torn down a few years later to make room for an eight-story commercial building on the alley. Source: Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio
East 3rd Street Following Cleveland's comprehensive change of city street names in 1905, Hickox Alley became East 3rd Street. This photograph of East 3rd Street facing north toward Euclid Avenue was taken in 1914. The construction work on the left is for the new W. T. Grant Building. To the right is a partial view of the Hermit Club which was built on (then) Hickox Alley in 1904. The Club moved to a new building on Dodge Court in 1928. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Photograph Collection
The Alley in 1912 By this date, all residential structures on the alley are gone, the last (on the east side of the alley) having been torn down in the first decade of the twentieth century to make room for a warehouse and the Hermit Club. Source: Cuyahoga County Archives
The Alley in 1927 This photo shows East 3rd Street as a brick-paved street during the first half of the twentieth century. Note the sidewalks on each side of the street, indicative that, while perhaps no longer a residential street by this year, it still bore pedestrian traffic. That is no longer the case today, and the sidewalks on East 3rd Street are for all practical purposes gone. Source: Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio
1953 Sanborn Map This map shows that the north half of East 3rd Street was, by mid-twentieth century, surrounded by commercial retail buildings which housed two popular downtown Cleveland "dimestores"--F. W. Woolworth and W.T. Grant. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Map Collection
East Third Street today View of the alley facing south. The building seen in the background is on the south side of Prospect Avenue. From Euclid Avenue, you have to venture several dozen feet down the alley in order to get a view of Prospect. This photo was taken in 2017. Creator: Jim Dubelko

Location

Metadata

Jim Dubelko, “Hickox Alley,” Cleveland Historical, accessed October 3, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/806.