Cleveland's Hough neighborhood takes its name from Oliver and Eliza Hough, who settled there in 1799. Before the Civil War, the area was mainly used as farmland. After being incorporated into the City of Cleveland in 1873, Hough became home to many of the city's most prominent residents and exclusive private schools. Following World War I, most of these wealthy Clevelanders left Hough for the suburbs and the neighborhood took on a more middle class and ethnic character.
The decades following World War II brought further demographic changes to Hough. In the 1950s, many whites in Hough moved to the suburbs, while blacks - whose numbers had increased in the city due to to the Second Great Migration - streamed into Hough from the adjacent Central neighborhood. By 1960, African Americans - who previously had only a small presence in the neighborhood - made up the majority of its population. Hough's tax base plummeted in the wake of white flight and conditions in large parts of the neighborhood deteriorated. Increasing unemployment, unscrupulous absentee landlords, declining city services, racial tensions among residents and poor relations between blacks and the police all played a part in the troubles Hough faced in the years leading up to the riots.
A number of differing accounts exist concerning the incident that sparked the Hough Riots of July 1966. All versions speak to growing racial tensions in the neighborhood. The most popular account centers on a racially charged dispute between blacks and the white owner of the Seventy Niners' Café on Hough Avenue and East 79th Street on the night of July 18. After an argument in the bar earlier that day with a local prostitute who was soliciting money for her child's burial, the owner refused to give a black customer a glass of water. The owner then apparently taped a sign to the door stating "No Water For N***ers." A crowd of blacks grew outside the bar as news of the events spread. Policemen were called to the scene, but the situation quickly spiraled out of control, escalating from rock throwing to looting, arson and shooting.
On the second day of the riots, it was clear that the police were not able to handle the situation alone. The Ohio National Guard reinforced the police late that night and secured most of Hough by July 20th. The riots, however, moved to the outskirts of the neighborhood. While the National Guard and the police maintained a general sense of order, violence and small riots continued throughout the week. By July 25th the rioting had stopped. In the end, four people (all black) were killed during the Hough riots. Rioters targeted stores, abandoned buildings, and residences; many were looted, burned, and destroyed.
Beyond the physical impact of the riots on the neighborhood, the legacy of the disturbances is contested. Many people attribute the public's growing realization of the social and economic inequities that African Americans faced in Cleveland's ghettos to the riots. Others suggest that the 1967 election of Cleveland's first black mayor, Carl Stokes, was a call for stability in response to the chaos that occurred. People interpreting the riots less positively reflect on the damage they caused to people and property. After the riots the economic and physical condition of the Hough neighborhood did not dramatically improve. Many businesses did not reopen and, increasingly, residents that could afford to leave the neighborhood moved to other areas.
The revitalization of Hough after the riots was slow and painful, just as rehabilitation efforts had been in the years before the riots. The Hough Area Development Corporation (HADC), one of the nation's first community development corporations, spearheaded a number of projects intended to revive the neighborhood, but Hough continued to lose population rapidly. Since the 1980s, especially under the vigorous leadership of Councilman Fannie Lewis, the area's decline has shown signs of leveling off amid investments such as the Lexington Village and Beacon Place townhouses, Renaissance Village (a group of twenty upmarket homes), and novel land reuse strategies such as Chateau Hough, an urban vineyard.