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Historic Sites in Cleveland: A Trip Back in Time

Travel | By Cullen Fischel | Updated March 1, 2024


Cullen Fischel of Cleveland's guide to Cleveland historic sites

Cleveland, in particular, is a treasure trove of historical gems waiting to be discovered. If you're like me and fascinated by the past, grab your walking shoes and get ready to journey through Cleveland's most captivating historical sites.


Key Takeaways


  • Cleveland's rich history comes alive through its stunning architecture, vibrant neighborhoods, and world-class museums.

  • Uncover the city's industrial past, cultural heritage, and commitment to the arts as you explore its historical treasures.

  • Pair your historical adventure with a taste of Cleveland's dynamic food and arts scene for a truly unforgettable experience.

ARCHITECTURE

The Arcade in Cleveland, Ohio


One absolute must-see is The Arcade. Built in 1890, this breathtaking Victorian-era arcade features a magnificent glass skylight stretching five stories. Its ornate balconies and intricate ironwork will transport you back to a bygone era.


The Arcade Cleveland has been a beloved landmark since its opening in 1890. Financed by prominent Cleveland businessmen like John D. Rockefeller and designed by architects John Eisenmann and George Smith, it took inspiration from the grand Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, Italy.


The Arcade was a marvel of its time. Its five-story glass skylight, ornate ironwork, and grand balconies created a luxurious shopping and socializing experience unlike anything else in America. Over the years, it has hosted dignitaries, major events, and countless Clevelanders drawn to its elegance.


Here's how to enjoy this architectural gem as part of your Cleveland tour:


  • Marvel at the architecture: Take your time walking through the arcade. Look up at the intricate glass ceiling, admire the detailed ironwork, and step onto the balconies for different perspectives.

  • Explore the shops and eateries: The Arcade houses a mix of unique boutiques, gift shops, and cafes. Have a coffee, grab a sweet treat, or browse for a special souvenir.

  • Check for special events: The Arcade regularly hosts events like markets, live music, and art installations.

  • Learn more with a tour: Guided tours provide deeper insights into the building's history and architectural details.

  • Pair it with nearby attractions: The Arcade is in the heart of downtown Cleveland, near other landmarks like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or the Cleveland Museum of Art. Combine your visit for a full day of exploration.


Pro Tip: Visit during the holidays when The Arcade is decked out with festive decorations!


ARCHITECTURE

Cleveland Trust Company Building


Another architectural masterpiece is the Cleveland Trust Company Building. This Beaux-Arts landmark, known for its lavish interior and massive stained-glass rotunda, is a symbol of Cleveland's early 20th-century prosperity.


The Cleveland Trust Company Building, completed in 1908, embodied the city's ambition at the turn of the 20th century. Designed by renowned architect George B. Post, this Beaux-Arts masterpiece was built for the powerful Cleveland Trust Company. Its opulent design symbolized the bank's strength and reliability.


The building's highlight is its grand rotunda. This massive dome, featuring a spectacular stained-glass ceiling, was one of the largest in the world at the time. Ornate marble, murals, and lavish details further emphasized the bank's wealth and importance.


While no longer a bank, this landmark retains its splendor and offers several ways to experience it:


  • Admire the architecture: Start by appreciating the building's facade, then step inside the rotunda. Take time to admire its vast stained-glass ceiling, marble columns, and decorative details.

  • Visit the Heinen's Grocery Store: Heinen's, a beloved local grocery chain, occupies the former bank floor. Marvel at their creative adaptation of the space, showcasing groceries amidst the architectural grandeur.

  • Stay at The Metropolitan at the 9: Part of the building has been transformed into a luxury hotel, The Metropolitan at the 9. Consider staying there for a truly immersive experience.

  • Dine and drink: Vault, a swanky cocktail lounge, is housed in the building's former bank vault. Several other restaurants are also located within the complex.

  • Catch a performance: Events and special functions are occasionally held in the rotunda, offering a unique ambiance for a night out.


Did You Know? The neighboring Cleveland Trust Tower, built in the 1970s, is a stark example of Brutalist architecture, creating an interesting contrast.


ARCHITECTURE

Severance Hall


Music lovers, you won't want to miss Severance Hall, home to the world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra. This acoustically superb concert hall is a testament to Cleveland's commitment to the arts.


Severance Hall stands as a testament to both Cleveland's cultural aspirations and the generosity of its citizens. Built between 1929 and 1931, it was primarily funded by John Long Severance, a wealthy industrialist and music lover, in memory of his wife Elisabeth. Designed by the Cleveland firm Walker and Weeks, the hall embodies a mix of Art Deco and Egyptian Revival styles, creating a unique and opulent aesthetic.


Notably, Severance Hall was designed from the start with world-class acoustics in mind. It became, and remains, the home of the world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra. Over the years, it has hosted countless legendary musicians and performances.


Here's how to experience the best of Severance Hall:


  • Attend a Cleveland Orchestra concert: The ultimate way to experience Severance Hall is to hear the orchestra it was built for. Immerse yourself in the music and its exceptional acoustics.

  • Take a guided tour: Tours give you behind-the-scenes access, share details about the architecture, history, and even let you peek into the Norton Memorial Organ.

  • Admire the architecture: Even if you can't attend a concert or tour, the exterior and grand foyer are stunning. Take some time to appreciate the building's design and details.

  • Dine nearby: Severance Hall is located in University Circle, home to excellent restaurants and the Cleveland Museum of Art. Pair your visit with a meal or further cultural exploration.

  • Check for special events: Severance Hall hosts various events beyond orchestral concerts, including guest speakers, family events, and special performances.


Insider Tip: If possible, try to choose a seat in the main concert hall as it has the best acoustics. Regardless of where you sit, the sound is still fantastic due to the hall's excellent design.


NEIGHBORHOOD

Little Italy


In Little Italy, the aroma of fresh pasta and espresso fills the air. Stroll along its cobblestone streets, savor authentic Italian cuisine, and immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage of this charming neighborhood.


Cleveland's Little Italy traces its roots to the late 19th century when Italian immigrants, primarily from the Abruzzo region of Italy, settled in the area around Mayfield and Murray Hill Roads. Many found work with Joseph Carabelli, a prominent Italian sculptor renowned for his work in the nearby Lake View Cemetery.


The neighborhood grew steadily, and by the early 20th century, it was a thriving Italian enclave. Shops, bakeries, churches, and social clubs sprang up, creating a vibrant community where Italian traditions and culture were preserved.


Little Italy remains a beloved Cleveland neighborhood, offering a charming mix of old-world ambiance and modern attractions:


  • Savor Authentic Italian Cuisine: The heart of Little Italy is its restaurants. From cozy trattorias with checkered tablecloths to upscale dining, there's something for every taste. Don't miss iconic spots like Guarino's – the oldest restaurant in Cleveland.

  • Explore Shops & Bakeries: Browse boutiques selling Italian imports, visit Presti's Bakery for cannoli and other treats, and explore art galleries showcasing local talent.

  • Attend the Feast of the Assumption: Every August, Little Italy comes alive with this street festival celebrating its patron saint. Expect live music, religious processions, and plenty of delicious food.

  • Visit Holy Rosary Church: This historic church, built in 1908, is a cornerstone of the community and boasts beautiful architecture.

  • Stroll the Streets & Admire the Art: Murals, sculptures, and the Tony Brush Park honor the neighborhood's Italian heritage. Take a leisurely walk and absorb the atmosphere.


Pro Tip: Combine your Little Italy trip with a visit to the nearby Cleveland Museum of Art or other University Circle attractions.


NEIGHBORHOOD

Ohio City


Ohio City, one of Cleveland's oldest neighborhoods, has undergone a remarkable revitalization. Its industrial-era warehouses and factories now house trendy restaurants, art galleries, and boutique shops. Admire the Victorian-era homes and soak up the neighborhood's eclectic energy.


Located just across the Cuyahoga River from downtown Cleveland, Ohio City was founded in 1818 as an independent municipality. It quickly rivaled Cleveland as a hub of industry and commerce thanks to its prime location along shipping routes.


The heart of Ohio City was, and still is, the West Side Market. Built in 1912, it's one of the oldest continuously operating public markets in the country. The neighborhood was home to a large immigrant population, including Irish, Germans, and Eastern Europeans, contributing to its diverse and dynamic character.


While Ohio City thrived through the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it experienced some decline later in the century. However, a remarkable revitalization began in the 1980s, transforming the area into one of Cleveland's trendiest neighborhoods.


Here's how to make the most of Ohio City's unique blend of history and vibrancy:


  • Start at the West Side Market: Sample foods from over 100 vendors, ranging from local produce and meats to international specialties. Admire the market's architecture while you browse.

  • Explore the Restaurant & Brewery Scene: Ohio City boasts some of Cleveland's best restaurants and breweries. Great Lakes Brewing Company is a local institution. Indulge in farm-to-table cuisine, craft cocktails, and more.

  • Admire the Architecture: Stroll the streets and admire the mix of restored industrial buildings, Victorian homes, and modern architecture.

  • Shop & Gallery Hop: Discover unique boutiques, art galleries, and vintage shops along Lorain Avenue and West 25th Street.

  • Hike & Bike the Towpath Trail: For outdoor recreation, hop on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, which runs along the area, for scenic walking or biking.


Insider Tips: Ohio City is easily walkable, so wear comfortable shoes. Weekends are liveliest but can get crowded. For a more relaxed experience, go on weekdays.


NEIGHBORHOOD

Tremont


For a mix of historic charm and vibrant nightlife, head to Tremont. This neighborhood boasts a picturesque hillside setting and is filled with art galleries, cozy cafes, and inviting restaurants.


Tremont, nestled on a bluff overlooking downtown Cleveland, shares a history of industry and cultural diversity with many of the city's neighborhoods. It was initially settled in the 1830s and known as University Heights, even hosting a short-lived university. By the mid-19th century, the area attracted a large influx of German and Irish immigrants, fueling its growth.


Later, Eastern European populations added to Tremont's rich cultural tapestry. Numerous churches, like the landmark St. Theodosius Russian Orthodox Cathedral, reflect this heritage. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, Tremont thrived as a working-class neighborhood, though it experienced some decline as manufacturing in Cleveland dwindled.


The 1970s marked a turning point as young artists and preservationists began recognizing Tremont's architectural treasures. Decades of revitalization transformed it into a desirable, eclectic neighborhood filled with art galleries, trendy dining, and vibrant nightlife.


Here's how to make the most of this charming neighborhood:


  • Stroll & Admire the Architecture: Tremont boasts beautiful examples of restored Victorian-era homes, cozy cafes tuck into renovated storefronts, and modern additions.

  • Art Galleries & Boutiques: Professor Avenue is a hub for galleries, where you can discover the works of local artists. Find unique gifts and home goods in charming boutiques.

  • Culinary Delights: Tremont is a foodie paradise. Enjoy brunch at a sidewalk cafe, experience farm-to-table cuisine, or grab a craft beer at one of the breweries.

  • Lincoln Park: This historic park in the heart of Tremont offers green space, a playground, and views of downtown Cleveland.

  • Catch a Festival: Tremont hosts several popular events throughout the year, including the Tremont Arts & Cultural Festival, bringing even more vibrancy to the neighborhood.


Pro Tip: Plan for the hills! Tremont's position on a hill means you'll be getting a workout as you explore.


MUSEUMS & CULTURAL LANDMARKS

Cleveland Museum of Art


Cleveland is a haven for museum enthusiasts, and no visit is complete without exploring the renowned Cleveland Museum of Art. Its vast collection spans centuries and continents, showcasing masterpieces from ancient Egypt to contemporary art. Get ready to be wowed!


The Cleveland Museum of Art was founded in 1913 thanks to the generosity of prominent industrialists Hinman B. Hurlbut, John Huntington, and Horace Kelley. They envisioned a world-class institution that would enrich the lives of all Clevelanders through art. The museum opened its doors in 1916 in a beautiful Neoclassical building in Wade Park.


Over the decades, the museum's collection has grown exponentially through donations and acquisitions. Today, it holds over 61,000 artworks spanning a vast geographical and historical range, from ancient Egyptian relics to groundbreaking contemporary installations.


Here's how to experience this cultural gem:


  • Explore the Permanent Collection: With masterpieces from around the globe, you could easily spend days here. If time is limited, select areas based on your interest (European painting, Asian art, etc.).

  • ARTLENS Gallery: This innovative space allows you to interact with art digitally – zoom into details, learn about artworks, and even create your own designs.

  • Check for Special Exhibitions: The museum hosts world-class temporary exhibitions throughout the year, showcasing everything from renowned artists to cutting-edge trends.

  • Take a Tour or Workshop: Guided tours can provide deeper insights into the collection. The museum also offers art classes and workshops for all ages.

  • Relax in the Atrium: The museum's airy atrium, flooded with natural light, offers a place for quiet reflection or a light bite at Provenance Café.


Insider Tip: The museum is located in University Circle, offering easy pairing with other cultural attractions like the Cleveland Botanical Garden.


MUSEUMS & CULTURAL LANDMARKS

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame


If you're a music lover, the iconic Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is an absolute must. Immerse yourself in the history of rock and roll, explore exhibits dedicated to legendary musicians, and even catch a live performance.


The idea for a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame began in the early 1980s, spearheaded by music industry titan Ahmet Ertegun, co-founder of Atlantic Records. While New York City seemed the obvious choice, a fierce competition for the location ensued.


Cleveland aggressively campaigned for the honor, emphasizing the city's pivotal role in coining the term "rock and roll" (by famed DJ Alan Freed) and hosting the groundbreaking Moondog Coronation Ball, often considered the first major rock and roll concert. In 1986, Cleveland was chosen as the Hall's home.


Designed by legendary architect I.M. Pei, the striking glass-and-steel pyramid opened on the shores of Lake Erie in 1995. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame celebrates the music that has shaped generations, enshrining its biggest legends and exploring its evolution and cultural impact.


Get ready to immerse yourself in rock history:


  • Explore the Exhibits: Journey through decades of music history, seeing artifacts like handwritten lyrics, iconic stage costumes, and instruments played by legends.

  • Discover the Inductees: Learn about the artists who've shaped rock and roll and see their memorabilia.

  • Interactive Experiences: Try your hand at mixing a track, unleash your inner rock star in a recording booth, or watch concert footage on the giant screens.

  • Catch a Show or Event: The Rock Hall has a performance space hosting events from concerts to film screenings.

  • Visit the Gift Shop: Take home a piece of rock history with memorabilia, books, and music.


Pro Tip: The Rock Hall is right downtown near other attractions like the Great Lakes Science Center or FirstEnergy Stadium, making it easy to combine with other activities.


MUSEUMS & CULTURAL LANDMARKS

Great Lakes Science Center


For science and technology buffs, the Great Lakes Science Center offers interactive exhibits and fascinating experiences that will ignite your curiosity.


The Great Lakes Science Center opened in 1996 along Cleveland's North Coast Harbor. It grew from a desire in the 1980s to revitalize the lakefront, spurred by organizations like the Great Lakes Historical Society. The museum aimed to combine a maritime history focus with broader science and technology themes.


The Science Center's mission is to "make science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) come alive." It features hundreds of interactive exhibits, a domed OMNIMAX theater, and offers a mix of permanent and traveling exhibitions. Its location along Lake Erie also highlights the importance of the Great Lakes ecosystem.


Here's how to enjoy a science-filled adventure:


  • Interactive Exhibits: Explore hands-on exhibits dealing with space exploration, physics, technology, the human body, and more.

  • The Steamship William G. Mather: Tour this 1925 freighter, once a Great Lakes workhorse, for a glimpse of maritime history. ([Note: Separate admission is charged])

  • NASA Glenn Visitor Center: Learn about space exploration and NASA's research and development at the onsite visitor center.

  • OMNIMAX Theater: Watch immersive science and nature documentaries on the giant domed screen. ([Note: Separate admission is charged])

  • Special Events & Programs: The Science Center hosts camps, workshops, and special events throughout the year.


Insider Tip: Combine your visit with other harbor attractions like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or the USS Cod Submarine Memorial.


Cullen Fischel's Tips for the Best Experience


  • Plan ahead: Research historical sites that pique your interest and map out your itinerary to make the most of your time in Cleveland.

  • Look for special events: Many historical sites host tours, festivals, or reenactments. Check out their websites for a calendar of events.

  • Combine history with arts and culture: Cleveland boasts a thriving arts scene. Check here for a list of galleries, theaters, and performances.

  • Take your time: Don't try to pack everything into one day. Allow yourself ample time to explore each site and truly soak in the history and atmosphere.


The Ohio Traveler Explains


What is the best time of year to visit Cleveland's historic sites?

While Cleveland's historic sites are enjoyable year-round, here's a breakdown:

  • Spring & Fall: Offer the most pleasant weather for outdoor sites and walking between locations.

  • Summer: Ideal if you want to combine history with festivals, outdoor events, or a visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

  • Winter: Some historic homes or sites may have limited hours, but the holiday season offers unique charm, particularly at the Arcade or in Little Italy.


Are any of Cleveland's historical sites family-friendly?

Yes! Here are some top choices:

  • Great Lakes Science Center: Interactive exhibits and the historic Steamship William G. Mather appeal to all ages.

  • Cleveland Metroparks: Many parks offer historic trails, restored structures, and scenic paths for active families.

  • Hale Farm & Village: Experience 19th-century life with hands-on activities and demonstrations.

  • West Side Market: Kids will love exploring the stalls and sampling diverse foods.


How accessible are Cleveland's historic sites for those with disabilities?

Accessibility varies, but many of Cleveland's historic sites are working to improve:

  • Museums: Major museums like the Cleveland Museum of Art or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have detailed accessibility information on their websites.

  • Historic Buildings: Older structures can pose challenges. It's best to contact the specific site in advance to inquire about wheelchair ramps, elevators, and other accommodations.

  • Outdoor Sites: Parks and sites like the Cleveland Metroparks often offer accessible trails and facilities.

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