Where the streets once had some names: E. 55th


Where the streets once had some names

Traveling around Cleveland, do you ever wonder what the numbered streets used to be named? Or do you ponder how some of our current streets earned their names?

In 1906, as newcomers poured into Cleveland and the city grew rapidly, the City Council adopted a numerical system for streets, changing many street names that had had decades of history and stories behind them. The council enumerated the north/south streets that emanated eastward and westward from Public Square.

Well, the Teaching Cleveland team did some research, and each month during this academic year, we’ll provide some information about Cleveland city streets that you may not have known. We’re here all year to give you some street cred!

Willson Avenue (now East 55th Street)

Hiram Wilson

As a young man, Hiram V. Willson studied law in Washington, D.C. with Francis Scott Key, the composer of the “Star Spangled Banner.” In 1833 he moved to Cleveland, and quickly emerged as a community leader. As an attorney, he took part in negotiations that annexed Ohio City to become a part of the City of Cleveland. In 1854 he lobbied to split Ohio into two federal court districts, creating the U.S. Court for the Northern District of Ohio, which still exists today. He promptly became the first judge of the Northern District court in 1855.

Notably, in 1859, he presided over the trial of the 37 Oberlin-Wellington defendants who were accused of violating the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. In 1858, bounty hunters tracked down John Price, who had fled slavery, in Oberlin. They lured him into captivity, and within a day of his capture, citizens of Oberlin and Wellington successfully rescued Price. Of the group involved, 37 were tried for violating the federal law. After the first three defendants were found guilty, fined, and jailed, throngs of antislavery Clevelanders paraded in protest around Public Square. Months later, the jailed men were freed and the indictments of the remaining defendants were dropped. You can read more here and here.

At one time, East 55th represented the farthest east border of the City. Today, it stretches from the East 55th Street Marina on Lake Erie due south through Broadway, ending at Doloff Road, where Our Lady of Lourdes Parish sits. Today, the Willson Tower Apartments at East 55th and Chester is named after Willson, as is a Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) school at Ansel Road and St. Casimir Way in the St. Clair-Superior Neighborhood.



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