Merrick House Social Settlement was established in 1919, in part to help “Americanize” immigrants by inculcating middle-class social and cultural values as bases for citizenship. By this time, Tremont had changed a good deal from its original 1850s inception as an enclave for Cleveland’s wealthy citizens. After the Civil War, European immigrants flocked to the area, finding work in the booming factories and steel mills nearby. Rudimentary housing (often without running water or electricity) sprang up within walking distance of the Flats. Poverty became commonplace and working/living conditions were frequently dreadful.
Responding to the struggles facing the urban poor, reformers in England and the US had begun opening settlement houses like Merrick during the late 19th century. The first settlement house established in Cleveland was Hiram House (1896). Roughly ten such facilities were built in Cleveland and a handful (e.g., Merrick, Karamu and Alta) still survive. Unlike its counterparts, however, Merrick House was funded through the National Catholic War Council, using surplus funds from war relief. The original facility, named for Mary Merrick, founder of the National Christ Child Society, was located in a small storefront on Starkweather Avenue and West 11th Street. In 1949, the facility was largely rebuilt at the same location (the northwest corner of Lincoln Park).
Merrick House quickly became the neighborhood’s go-to spot for English classes, child care, recreation, cultural programs and neighborhood clubs. In the 1950s, additional facilities were developed and, with the arrival of Puerto Rican immigrants to the area, Merrick launched Spanish-speaking programs. Under long-time director Gail Long, who served from 1972 to 2006, Merrick House also promoted the peaceful desegregation of Cleveland’s public schools, helped keep Metro General Hospital a public hospital, enhanced community health by assisting with the establishment of the Tremont People’s Free Clinic and Neighborhood Family Practice, and worked to maintain affordable housing in Tremont. In 1979, Merrick House helped found the non-profit Tremont West Development Corporation (TWDC)—part of a city-wide network of community development corporations (CDCs) which have played a significant role in the revitalization of Cleveland neighborhoods.
Today, Merrick House’s core service areas include early childhood education, youth services, teen and adult education, recreation, community organizing, and outreach programming, including a “MomsFirst” program for at-risk pregnant women.