Dredging the Bend

Irish immigrants flocked to Cleveland after the potato famine in 1848. Along the Cuyahoga River in Ohio City grew a concentrated Irish neighborhood known as Irishtown Bend. It was so named because of the Irish shantytown located along one of the curves of the Cuyahoga River. This neighborhood centered on Riverbed Street, but ranged from West 25th Street eastward to the Cuyahoga River, and between Detroit Avenue southward to Columbus Street.

Irishtown Bend was located in the heart of Cleveland's industrial infrastructure. A significant number of Irish worked in the shipping industry that thrived along the Cuyahoga River as part of the extensive Great Lakes trading network. For Irishtown Bend, the shipping industry came in the form of ore docks used to load and unload the massive freighters that traversed the Great Lakes.

Although essential to Cleveland's industrial well-being, trade, and Irish population, the Cuyahoga River proved to be its own worst enemy. Cuyahoga literally means crooked river, and it earned a sinister reputation because of how treacherous it was to navigate, particularly in a 500-foot freighter. In 1901, Cleveland discussed straightening the Cuyahoga River to alleviate the problems of navigating it. The first detailed study did not begin until 1912, and work did not occur until the mid-1930s, continuing intermittently into the 1950s.

When discussion of altering the Cuyahoga River began at the turn of the 20th century, the fate of the river and those who depended on it became untenable. Proposed plans involved cutting land to make river bends wider, or completely re-rerouting the river. The possibility of eminent domain threatened the homes and livelihoods of those living and working along the river.

The approval of an improvement plan in 1929 called for the widening of the river at Irishtown Bend, which required the demolition of the shanty homes erected on its hillside. Dredging of the river did not occur at Irishtown Bend until 1938, but even after this initial alteration, the Plain Dealer reported that Irishtown Bend was still a nuisance. By the mid-1950s, what was left of Irishtown Bend's residential area was either dilapidated or abandoned, and the area was razed in 1958 to prepare for a second attempt to alter the river.

River improvement was not the only reason for razing the Irishtown Bend slums, however, as a $10 million public housing project had also been approved in an attempt to revitalize the neighborhood. The highlight of the housing project was a pair of 16-story buildings called Riverview Towers, which still prominently stand. Unfortunately, the housing project did not fulfill the proposal's intent to revitalize the neighborhood. While the entire housing project was intended to attract residents of diverse stages in life, young and middle-aged suitors mistook the project as one exclusively for elderly residents.

Local magnate Jeffrey P. Jacobs planned further development of Irishtown Bend in 1989 but a geographical survey revealed the remainder of undeveloped land at Irishtown Bend was too unstable for any further development. In 2019, federal funds enabled the stabilization of the river bank and the transformation of the Bend into a riverside park to proceed.