The Sachsenheim

Transylvanian Saxon Immigrants Find a Home in Cleveland

According to legend, Prince Vlad III, the fifteenth century Wallachian prince who inspired Bram Stoker to create Dracula, once cruelly impaled a thousand Saxons on stakes in his bloody quest to conquer neighboring Transylvania. While Vlad the Impaler was an actual historical figure and while there is some historical evidence that the Saxons of Transylvania may have crossed paths with him in his incursions in the late 1400s into their lands, the legend itself is likely an exaggerated account of a battle gory by today's standards, but not so much so by those of the fifteenth century. Yet the legend does suggest something about the Transylvanian Saxon immigrants to the United States who, in 1907, purchased a large house at 7001 Denison Avenue in the Cleveland Stockyards neighborhood and converted it into a place they called the Sachsenheim. The word translates literally to "Saxons' Home." As you read a little bit more about the Saxons from Transylvania, you will understand why having a home was so important to them.

The Saxons were ethnic Germans who, at the invitation of King Geza II of Hungary, began immigrating in the twelfth century into Transylvania--at the time a vast, but thinly populated area east of Hungary, near lands further to the east that later became the Romanian principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia. The Saxons called Transylvania "Siebenburgen"--seven towns, after the original seven fortified settlements they built there. Over time they built more towns and villages. As centuries passed, Transylvania--not Germany, became their home. They survived Vlad the Impaler's assault upon their home in the fifteenth century, but the mid-nineteenth century brought a new threat to their home when nationalism took root in eastern Europe. The ruling Hungarians implemented a policy called Magyarization, which aimed at destroying the language and culture of all non-Hungarians. And, the Romanians, by now forming a majority of the population, contended that Transylvania should become part of a Romanian state.

Saxons began leaving Transylvania in large numbers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many came here to Cleveland, where a small colony gradually grew on the west side. By 1895, there was already a sizable number of Saxon immigrants living in Cleveland. Like other immigrant groups did in America's pre-welfare society, they formed a local fraternal benefits organization called Erster Siebenburgen Sachsen Kranken Untersteutszung Verein ("First Transylvanian Saxons Sick Benefit Society") to protect members of their community from catastrophic illness and industrial workplace injury and death. This local organization later led to the creation of a national organization, known today as the Alliance of Transylvania Saxons (ATS) with local branches here in Cleveland and elsewhere in the United States. It was Cleveland's Branch 1 that in 1907 bought and converted the dwelling at 7001 Denison Avenue into the Sachsenheim so that its members would have a place to gather and engage in cultural activities.

The Eintracht Singing Society, organized in 1897, practiced and performed at the Sachsenheim. In 1904, Branch 1 and the Eintracht united, according to an ATS publication, "beginning a period of intensive civic and cultural work in Cleveland." In 1902, Branch 4 was organized for women. Both branches over the years have actively maintained the Sachsenheim as well as planned the scheduling of cultural activities there. In 1905, a second singing society was organized, "Hermania," which in 1922 united with the earlier formed singing society to form Eintracht-Hermania, the predecessor of today's surviving mixed chorus, Eintracht-Saxonia Sachsenchor. Over the years, other cultural groups were organized at the Sachsenheim, including a cultural dance group called the Cleveland Saxon Dance Group. These cultural groups perform today not only here in the United States, but also internationally in Europe.

The Sachsenheim itself changed over the years. Renovations and expansions were made to the building--one in 1910 and and a second in 1925, which added a ballroom, two bowling alleys, a music room, dining room, a restaurant, and other amenities to the facility. The Sachsenheim also opened itself during this era to the Stockyards Neighborhood, allowing local residents and organizations to use the hall for weddings, showers and other events. The restaurant today hosts a weekly Taco Tuesday and is a popular gathering place for young people in the neighborhood.

Over the years since its founding, the Sachensheim has been maintained primarily through revenues raised by the events of the cultural activities groups. The women of the Auxiliary Committee of Branch 4 have for years provided catering services for events at the hall. Money is also raised by the Sachsenheim's bi-annual homemade sausage sale that, according to the ATS, is "well known around town." As a result of the efforts of the two local branches of the Alliance of Transylvania Saxons, as well as that of the singing society Eintracht-Saxonia Sachsenchor, and with help from time to time from other organizations and the residents of the Stockyards neighborhood, the Sachsenheim at 7001 Denison Avenue,while very far away from Transylvania, continues to this day to be the Transylvanian Saxons' home in Cleveland.


Images

The Sachsenheim Originally a house purchased by the Transylvanian Saxons Sick Benefits Society in 1907, the Sachsenheim underwent major renovations in 1910 and 1925. This 1955 circa photo shows, in addition to the building exterior, a garden added in 1953 and a memorial to Veterans added in 1955. Source: Alliance of Transylvanian Saxons
Saxon Areas of Transylvania This seventeenth century map shows the areas of Transylvania which were settled by Saxon immigrants from Germany beginning in the twelfth century. The original Saxon towns, which gave rise to the Saxons calling their land Siebenburgen ("Seven Towns") were: Bistritz, Kronstadt, Klausenburg, Mediasch, Seh besh', Hermannstadt, and Schassburg. Source: Wikipedia
The Dracula Legend In some accounts, Vlad III, prince of Wallachia, a Middle Ages Romanian principality, once killed one thousand Transylvanian Saxons by impaling them on stakes. This wood carving print from a 1499 pamphlet shows one artist's view of the cruelty of Vlad during his military excursions into Transylvania in the fifteenth century. Source: Wikipedia
The Original Home This somewhat grainy copy of a photograph taken circa 1907 shows the home that was purchased that year by the First Transylvanian Saxons Sick Benefit Society and converted into the Sachsenheim--Saxons' Home. As other photos in this array demonstrate, the house was substantially altered over the years that followed. Source: The Alliance of Transylvanian Saxons
The 1910 Alteration This 1912 City of Cleveland Atlas Map shows in concept the changes that were made in 1910 to the dwelling at 7001 Denison Avenue purchased by the First Transylvanian Saxons Sick Benefit Society. The pink square within the green-circle area represents part of the alteration--a three story building added to the rear of the dwelling, while the small yellow square nearest to Denison Avenue represents a one-story store added to the dwelling's front. The original dwelling is represented by the yellow square in the middle. Source: Cleveland Public Library - Digital Map Collection
A 1930s View The front exterior of the Sachsenheim is shown in this 1935 photograph taken by Cleveland building officials just ten years after the third and final major alteration, which extended the entire front facade of the building to the sidewalk. Note the canopy over the front door and how, as shown in other photographs in this array, it changed over the years. Also note the trolley in the background. For years, the Sachsenheim was located next door to Cleveland Railway's Denison Avenue car barn. Source: Cleveland Public Library - Digital Photograph Collection
The Saxon Veterans In 1946, a group of Transylvania Saxons who had served in the United States military during World War II, formed an organization which over the next several decades raised money for charitable causes, including providing aid to wounded and disabled Veterans. Many of the events of the Saxon Veterans Association were held at the Sachsenheim. The above photo was taken in 1956, on the 10 year anniversary of the founding of the organization. Source: Alliance of Transylvanian Saxons
A Benefit for World War II Veterans On November 27, 1953, the Plan Dealer published this article advertising a dance that the Saxon Veterans Association was sponsoring at the Sachsenheim on Denison Avenue. Proceeds were to go to the City of Cleveland to aid in the care of disabled veterans at two area VA hospitals. Source: Cleveland Public Library - Plain Dealer Archives
German Music School In 1967, directors of the Sachsenheim formed the German Music School, for the purpose of providing musical education to children at a low cost. In the photograph above, a group of students is shown at a concert given at the Hall in 1976. Source: Alliance of Transylvania Saxons
Singing Trophies Music has been an important part of the Sachsenheim from the beginning. Even before the Hall was established, Cleveland's west side Transylvanian Saxons had formed singing societies that over the years united as the mixed chorus Eintracht-Saxonia Sachsenchor. In the cabinet in the music room on the first floor at the Sachsenheim, trophies and other awards given to these singing societies are displayed. Source: Jim Dubelko
The Ballroom During the 1910 renovations to the Sachensheim, a large ballroom was added to the second floor. In the front of the ballroom is a stage upon which members of the Transylvanian Theater society once performed. Upon the walls of the room are plaques showing the coat of arms for the each of the original seven Saxon settlements in Transylvania. This 2014 photograph shows the present-day condition of the ballroom, which is still today used for many neighborhood events, including weddings and showers. Source: Jim Dubelko
The Sachsenheim Today This 2014 photo of the Sachsenheim reveals some changes that have occurred to the exterior of the building and the building grounds in recent decades. Among those changes have been the painting of the red brick building white and the removal of the garden and Veterans' memorial from the west side of the building. The building continues to be maintained, in large part, by revenues generated by the two local branches of the Alliance of Transylvanian Saxons and the mixed chorus Eintracht-Saxonia Sachsenchor. Source: Jim Dubelko

Location

7001 Denison Ave., Cleveland, OH 44102

Metadata

Jim Dubelko, “The Sachsenheim,” Cleveland Historical, accessed January 23, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/671.