Market Square Park
A Public Space for Two Centuries
In or about 1822, pioneer real estate developers Josiah Barber and Richard Lord laid out a village west of the Cuyahoga River. Its public square was located on what is today the northwest corner of West 25th Street and Lorain Avenue—just across the street from the West Side Market. While the village, which was known as "Brooklyn," was short-lived, the public space that was created for its village square was not. Two hundred years later, it still exists and is home today to Cleveland's Market Square Park.
Market Square Park sits across West 25th Street from the West Side Market. While the Market is one of the best-known--even beloved--places on the West Side of Cleveland, Market Square Park is not. Likely for many, it appears to be merely a small and uninteresting park that you might walk through or walk past on your way from the West Side Market to Great Lakes Brewing Company's BrewPub on Market Avenue. It might surprise you then to learn that, while the West Side Market has indeed stood on the northeast corner of West 25th and Lorain for a long time—more than a century now—the land upon which Market Square Park stands has been a public space for even longer than that—a full two centuries.
It was in about 1822 that Josiah Barber and Richard Lord, brothers-in-law and pioneer real estate developers, laid out a village west of the Cuyahoga River that they named Brooklyn. This village extended from Detroit Avenue on the north to Walworth Run on the south, and from the Cuyahoga River as far west as today's West 44th Street. On the northwest corner of the intersection of Pearl (today, West 25th) and Lorain Streets, the two men directed their surveyor, Edwin Foote, to set aside a parcel of land, eight rods by eight rods (132 feet by 132 feet), which they made the village's public square.
Little is known of this early Brooklyn Village which was absorbed into the City of Ohio ("Ohio City") when the latter was incorporated by the Ohio Legislature on March 3, 1836. Seven months later, developers Barber and Lord created a subdivision in Ohio City which platted most, if not all, of the territory of the former Brooklyn Village, including the land that had served as the village square. On their subdivision plat, however, the two made no mention of that square. Instead, the focal point of their new subdivision was a circular piece of land a half mile to the north, from which several streets radiated. Called "Franklin Place" originally, we know it today as Franklin Circle.
The creation of Franklin Place and the omission of any mention of a Brooklyn Village square in the Barber and Lord subdivision led to uncertainty, first within Ohio City, and later in Cleveland after the former was annexed by the latter in 1854, whether the village square was in fact still a public space. As early as 1851, according to a news item appearing in the Plain Dealer in April of that year, Ohio City Council had directed its mayor to take steps to "gain possession" of the land. It was not, however, until after the annexation of Ohio City to Cleveland that, as a result of several critical events, resolving the matter became a high priority for City officials.
The first of these events occurred in 1855, just a year after Ohio City's annexation, when prominent residents of Franklin Street (today, Boulevard), including future Cleveland Mayor Irvine U. Masters and future Common Pleas Judge James M. Coffinberry, persuaded their new City government to build a public park at Franklin Place. This necessitated finding a new location for the open-air market that had been held there for decades and which, after Ohio City's annexation to Cleveland, had become known as the "West Side Market." Two years later, Cleveland officials were still examining potential sites for that public market's relocation when David Pollock, a West Side businessman, petitioned the City to remove a blacksmith shop that he claimed was unlawfully operating on the old Brooklyn Village square. When Cleveland's City Marshal went out to investigate the matter, he found, and reported to Cleveland City Council, that not only was the blacksmith shop trespassing on the old village square, but so were two commercial buildings owned by Pollock.
Before the City could take action against him, Pollock sued it in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court in February 1858, seeking an injunction and a declaration that the land upon which his buildings stood was not public land. While little remains of the record of this lawsuit, an appearance docket and final judgment entry, along with a few newspaper articles, reveal that, on December 18, 1858, Judge Horace Foote (a first cousin of Barber and Lord's surveyor Edwin Foote) decided the case in Cleveland's favor, finding that the former village square was still public land. This decision cleared the way for the City to raze all of the buildings on the land, including Pollock's, and moreover, in the summer of 1859, move the West Side Market there.
At the time of the relocation of the West Side Market to it, the village square was still being referred to in county tax records as a "public square." However, in 1864, James Webster, a real estate developer who had acquired David Pollock's land located adjacent to the village square, re-platted that land and on his plat identified the village square as "Market Square." It has been known by that name ever since (except for a brief period in the second and third decades of the twentieth century when it was officially, but not popularly, called "United Market Square.")
Market Square was home to this early West Side Market for nine years, from 1859 to 1868. In the first several years of that period, it operated, as it had at Franklin Place, as an open-air market, but, in or about 1862, according to newspaper accounts, a market house—perhaps a very small wooden building of humble construction—was built on the site. In 1868, that first market house was torn down and replaced by a new and larger market house, which the City of Cleveland named the Pearl Street Market. The new market house occupied virtually all of Market Square and stood on the site from 1868 until 1915.
By the mid 1890s, Pearl Street Market was in a rundown condition and was too small to meet the needs of West Side vendors and customers. Plans were initially made and circulated around this time by a West Side businessmen's association to raze it and build in its place on Market Square a larger and grander market house. However, those plans changed in 1902 when Mayor Tom Johnson, who inherited the project from two of his predecessors, decided to build the new market house instead on the northeast corner of Pearl and Lorain due to land acquisition problems and renewed concerns over the validity of the City's title to Market Square. Construction of the new West Side Market began in 1907 and was completed 1912. After the new West Side Market opened, the old Pearl Street Market House continued to stand on Market Square for several more years while the Produce Arcade for the new West Side Market was being constructed and while City officials debated other possible uses for the old market house. The Produce Arcade was completed in 1914 and, when City officials could not come to any agreement upon various proposed uses for the Pearl Street Market, it was razed in 1915.
After the old market house was razed, Market Square continued to serve the public for many years, during good weather, as an open-air market for vendors who did not have stalls across the street in the new Produce Arcade or at the West Side Market. It was also used for years as a gathering place for community events ranging from street carnivals to holiday celebrations to weddings to political speeches and protests. It was notably the site of a fiery speech given by Socialist Party candidate Charles Ruthenberg on October 28, 1917, in his bid to become mayor of Cleveland. (He finished third in the race, but received more than 25 percent of the votes cast.)
In 1930, the City built a shelter house (also called a comfort station) on the eastern part of Market Square fronting West 25th Street, which resulted in vendor stall spaces being moved to the western portion of the Square. It was used for these two purposes by the City until about 1950 when the shelter house was leased to a business that converted it into a popular bakery shop with the rest of Market Square serving as a parking lot for that shop. Shortly after this occurred, a lawsuit was filed against the City of Cleveland by descendants of Josiah Barber, who for decades had been interacting with the City regarding its use of the land dedicated by their ancestor as a public square. They alleged in their lawsuit that, by allowing Market Square to be used for "other than public purposes," the City had forfeited its right to the land and that title had by law reverted to Barber's heirs. This lawsuit remained pending in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court for a number of years before Judge Benjamin Nicola, having afforded the heirs numerous opportunities to amend their pleadings to state a legally cognizable cause of action, dismissed their lawsuit in 1957.
In the 1960s and 1970s, as the renaissance of the Ohio City neighborhood was underway, West Side businessmen urged the City to convert Market Square into a park. Planning and funding for the project were started during the Perk Administration. After initially opposing the park project on the grounds that the park would attract only "winos," the Kucinich Administration reluctantly undertook construction of it in 1978. The former shelter house, which in recent years had become a fast-food restaurant, was torn down. The cement parking lot behind it was removed and replaced with red brick pavers. Brick planters were added; trees planted; and street lighting added. Market Square Park opened to the public in 1979. In 1984, during the Voinovich administration, a large stone, multipart sculpture called "Tempus Pons" (Time to Build a Bridge) was added to the park. The sculpture was a prominent feature of the park until around 2010-2012, when, during a park redesign, it was dismantled and somewhat unceremoniously carted away. Market Square Park remains today (2022) a pleasant and open public space across the street from the West Side Market. It has now occupied Market Square for more than forty years. And to date, there have been no complaints about this use of Market Square by the descendants of Josiah Barber.