Admiral Kidd's Neighborhood

West 50th Street - From Bridge to Franklin

Some say that Admiral Isaac Campbell Kidd, the highest-ranking officer to die at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, decided to make a career of the Navy because his Irish ancestors hailed from County Wexford, a place on the southeast coast of Ireland well-known for its maritime activities. And that may be true. But a young boy is just as often influenced by the neighborhood in which he grows up, and the Cleveland neighborhood in which Isaac Campbell Kidd grew up--Birch Street (today, West 50th) from Bridge Street to Franklin Avenue, was populated by a number of men, women and families whose work on or near the Great Lakes might well have inspired a boy in his youth to turn his attention and ambitions to the sea.

Kidd's neighborhood was part of two residential subdivisions, the larger of which--the Alottment of Benedict and Root, platted in 1852, in the waning days of Ohio City when that city was still Cleveland's rival on the west bank of the Cuyahoga River. Together with the smaller Dudley Baldwin Subdivision, which was platted in 1863, but then revised in 1869 when Franklin Avenue was realigned to run parallel with Detroit Street, the land which came under development before the onset of the Civil War consisted of more than one hundred acres, covering the area south of Franklin Avenue to Lorain Street, and west of Harbor (West 44th) Street all the way to Courtland (West 54th) Street.

Originally, it was expected that the land would be developed by nineteenth century Cleveland real estate mogul Silas Stone, who developed the large residential subdivision north of Detroit Street, from Taylor (West 45th) Street to Oakland (West 58th) Street. However, Stone defaulted on his contract with Peter Wedell, the land owner, and after Wedell died in 1847, his widow Eliza sued Stone in Superior Court, a local court of equity, seeking relief. Stone was found liable to the widow, and the land in question was sold at public auction in 1849 to Cleveland banker Dudley Baldwin, Wedell's Administrator.

After receiving title, Baldwin turned around and sold approximately eighty-percent of the land to George Benedict, later editor of the Cleveland Herald, but at the time Clerk of the Superior Court, and Elias Root, a Cleveland businessman who was also serving as Sheriff of Cuyahoga County, the office charged with the duty of conducting land sales at public auctions. Despite these irregularities, Baldwin, Benedict and Root, successfully laid out the streets for this new residential area of what was by this time the west side of Cleveland, and sales of lots in the Benedict and Root subdivision, which was developed first, were soon underway in early 1853.

From the start, the two subdivisions attracted many in Cleveland who made their living on or near the Great Lakes. In the 1860 census, of the 18 families living on the block of Birch Street where Kidd would later live, six were headed either by vessel captains, sailors or ship carpenters. By 1880, when there were 42 families living on the block, six families were headed by vessel captains and three by ship carpenters or ship builders. Many of the other families on the block were also headed by men who worked in Cleveland's then burgeoning transportation industry, doing such varied jobs as baggage masters, railroad brakemen, switchmen, street car conductors, and travel agents.

This was the neighborhood into which the Kidd family moved in 1888. And, just five years later, when Isaac Kidd, Jr., was 9 years old, another vessel captain, Charles Miner moved in next door to the Kidds at 107 Birch (1832 W 50th). Miner, recently retired and the father-in-law of Isaac's aunt Minnie--who also lived on the block, no doubt enjoyed spending some time in his last years--he died in 1901, reveling the young Kidd boys with stories of his travels and experiences on the Great Lakes. While Admiral Kidd's own sudden and tragic death in 1941 foreclosed the possibility of him writing his memoirs and crediting growing up on West 50th Street, between Bridge and Franklin, for some role in his career choice, clearly growing up on such a block placed him in close contact with people who would have talked about what life, and life's work, was like on the water.

With the passage now of more than one hundred years since Admiral Kidd left that neighborhood to attend the Naval Academy, many changes have come to West 50th Street between Bridge and Franklin. The street is now paved with asphalt instead of gravel or brick as it was in Kidd's day. The neighborhood's tree population is engaged in a battle with the emerald ash borer, instead of the Tussock moth or Dutch elm disease that earlier-generation trees on the street battled in the first half of the twentieth century. The ethnic population is no longer primarily of English, Irish and German mix as it was in Kidd's day, but is now instead a more diverse mix of whites, African-Americans and Latinos.

And the housing stock on the block for at least the last two decades has been undergoing tear-downs and new construction that is very different from the tear-downs and new construction that Kidd witnessed on the street in the decade of the 1890s. In the process of this most recent rebuilding of West 50th Street, Admiral Kidd's boyhood home at No. 1830 was lost. But there remain many historic houses on West 50th, some that date back to the very beginning of the neighborhood in the 1850s, and some which were the homes of people who undoubtedly played an important role in the career choice of one of Cleveland's greatest and most tragic war heroes. In fact so much still remains on West 50th Street from the time when Isaac Kidd walked the block, that were he here today, he might well gaze down the street from its intersection with Franklin Boulevard, and say, "This is where I grew up. This is my neighborhood."

Images

West 50th Between Franklin and Bridge The block on West 50th on which Admiral Isaac Campbell Kidd, the highest ranking officer to die at Pearl Harbor, grew up in Cleveland during the last two decades of the nineteenth century. Today, it is known for its beautiful Ash Tree canopy and Cleveland's innovative efforts to protect that tree canopy from the emerald ash borer. Creator: Jim Dubelko
Nineteenth Century Real Estate Developers Shown from left to right are Dudley Baldwin (1809-1896), George Benedict (1813-1876) and Elias Root (1817-1894), the three east side Clevelanders who developed the two residential subdivisions on the west side known as the Allotment of Benedict and Root and Dudley Baldwin's Subdivision. West 50th Street between Franklin Boulevard and Bridge Avenue is a part of both subdivisions. Baldwin was a well-known Cleveland banker, George Benedict, for years the editor of the Cleveland Herald, and Elias Root, among other things, the Cuyahog County Sheriff. Creator: The Cleveland Leader and Plain Dealer, for the portrait sketches of, respectively, Baldwin and Root, and James Harrison Kennedy, A History of Cleveland (1896), for the sketch of George Benedict.
Earliest Map of the Benedict and Root Subdivision This part of the 1852 Blackmore Map of Cuyahoga County shows the street configuration of the Benedict and Root Subdivision in Ohio City which was approved for development in that same year. Two years later, Ohio City was annexed to the City of Cleveland. The subdivision boundaries are marked in red; the future Dudley Baldwin subdivision in blue; and Birch (later West 50th) Street, between Franklin and Bridge, in green. Creator: Cleveland Historic Maps
Housing Development in Progress This part of the 1881 Hopkins' Atlas of Cleveland shows the status in that year of housing development on Birch (West 50th) Street (between Franklin and Bridge) which, at the time this map was drawn, was almost thirty years under way. Noticeable on the map, in addition to the number of then as yet undeveloped lots, are the number of lots splits in the Benedict and Root part of Birch Street. The developers of this subdivision had in 1852 platted sixty foot wide lots; however, as sales of lots proceeded, they found that their working class buyers often preferred to "split" the lots, building a home for themselves and their families on one half, and generating profit by selling the other half, either with or without a house on it. Learning from this, developer Dudley Baldwin, whose adjoining subdivision was platted in 1863, created 30-foot wide lots in his development. (See lots on Birch Street above the blue line on the map.) Creator: Cleveland Historic Maps
Alexander Campbell (1827-1911) The maternal grandfather of Admiral Isaac Kidd, Campbell was a Scottish immigrant who came to Cleveland and made a fortune as a paving and sewer contractor. According to one of his grandsons, he was the first contractor to pave Public Square. He moved onto Birch Street in 1889, building houses at Nos. 117 and 119 (today, street addresses 1852 and 1854) for himself and his married daughter Minnie. Up the street at 105 Birch (1830 Birch today) lived his other married daughter, Jemima Kidd, the mother of Admiral Isaac Kid. Campbell lived out his life on Birch Street, dying at the home of his daughter Jemima in 1911. Creator: Samuel Peter Orth, A History of Cleveland (1910)
Obituary of Isaac Kidd, Sr. The death of Admiral Kidd's Irish immigrant father, Isaac, Sr., in 1912 at the age of 63 was attributable, according to this obituary, to the stress of having to defend his father-in-law Alexander Campbell's will. At one time a servant in the Euclid Avenue mansion of Cleveland industrialist Samuel Mather, Kidd became a successful businessman, married the daughter of Alexander Campbell, and moved onto Birch Street in 1888. He lived at 105 Birch (1830 West 50th) Street, until his death in 1912. Creator: Cleveland Leader, December 8, 1912
Admiral Kidd on the deck of the USS Arizona Shown here as he appeared two years before his tragic death, Isaac Kidd was a native west-side Clevelander, who grew up on Birch (West 50th) Street during the years 1888-1902. He attended West High school, delivered one of the school's commencement addresses when he graduated in 1902, and then departed Cleveland for the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. That was followed by a successful career in the Navy cut short on December 7, 1941. Creator: Collection, Archives Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington, DC
Admiral Kidd's Boyhood Home This 1960 photo taken by a county appraiser is the only known picture of the house at 1830 West 50th Street in which Admiral Isaac Kidd grew up during the years 1888-1902. The house was razed at least twenty years ago. Creator: Cuyahoga County Archives
Where the Kidd-Campbell families lived This page from the 1896 Sanborn Fire Insurance map shows the locations (marked in red) of the five houses on the west side of Birch (W. 50th) Street, where members of the Kidd and Campbell families lived at some point in time between the years 1888 and 1939, a period of more than fifty years. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Map Collection
The Shipbuilder's House The house at 1794 W. 50th Street was built by William J. Miller in 1890, two years after the Isaac Kidd family moved onto the block. Miller was one of the best known ship builders on the west side of Cleveland. His mother-in-law, Catherine Biddulph Smith, who lived on the block from approximately 1857 until her death 50 years later in 1907, was married to a vessel captain. Young Isaac Kidd, six years old when the house went up, would have been impressed both by the grandeur of the new house as well as by the skill set of the men of the sea who most likely designed and built her. Creator: Jim Dubelko
Captain Miner's House The house at 1832 W. 50th Street is next door to the site where Admiral Kidd's boyhood home once stood. The house was built in 1886 by C.F. Palmer, a vessel broker, who sold it to retired vessel captain Charles Miner in 1893. Miner, the father-in-law of Admiral Kidd's Aunt Minnie, spent the last eight years of his life in this house, and undoubtedly had occasion to revel the Kidd boys next door from time to time with tales of life on the Great Lakes. Creator: Jim Dubelko
Captain Wellet's House From the start, the house at 1864 W. 50th Street was home to Great Lakes sailors. In 1870, developer Elias Root sold the lot upon which the house sits to John Stewart, a Scottish sailor, who built the house in 1880. Upon Stewart's death, the property was sold in 1884 to Laura Wellet, the wife of Luke Wellet, who captained ships on the Great Lakes for many years. Captain Wellet, who improved the house by adding the white-columned, yellow brick porch, lived in the house until his death in 1914. His widow Laura, who was active in the Ladies' Auxiliary of the Shipmasters' Association, continued to reside there until she died in 1927. Their daughter, Nellie Wellet MacKeigan, purchased the Captain Miner house (see previous photo) in 1909, living with her husband Angus and children up the street from her parents. Nellie lived in the Captain Miner house until her death in 1954.

Location

Metadata

Jim Dubelko, “Admiral Kidd's Neighborhood,” Cleveland Historical, accessed January 23, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/697.