Most people are only in town for 24 hours before they hear some version of “So, which side of town are you from?”. This geographic rivalry seems to confuse newcomers, especially once they learn that you can pretty much be anywhere in our town in less than 45 minutes. So, what’s the deal with whole East VS West debate that the locals perpetuate? And, isn’t there a southside of Cleveland also? Here is a bit of insight…..
While virtually every city has some good-natured rivalry over the “best side of town” (think Chicago’s North VS. South), the debate in Cleveland has gone on for almost 200 years!
As you can see from the map to the left, the Cuyahoga River snakes through Cleveland in a tangled way. And in the early years, fierce competition for commerce raged between merchants on the east and west banks of the Cuyahoga River. This friction came to a head in October of 1836 when Ohio City residents (then a separate city, now a neighborhood in Cleveland) fought fiercely to stop those on the east bank from using the Columbus Street Bridge, as it siphoned off all commercial business from their neighborhood before it could reach Ohio City’s mercantile district. Armed men fought in what became known as The Great Bridge War, and although no one died, the clash forever formed the East/West divide for Clevelanders. (Ohio City and Cleveland merged in 1854).
For the record, the physical divide between eastside and westside in Cleveland is downtown’s Public Square where Ontario Street divides the east numbered streets from the west numbered streets. However, most locals consider the Cuyahoga River the actual divide between east and west – it does cut a much bigger swath through town, and once Public Square’s makeover is complete, Ontario Street won’t feel much like a dividing line anymore.
Meanwhile, there are more types of brides in a few miles spanning the Cuyahoga River, than almost anywhere else in the US. To learn more about the dozens of bridges that cross the Cuyahoga River (high-level viaducts, vertical lifts, swings, jackknifes, and more) here through the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History (a joint project of Case Western Reserve University and the Western Reserve Historical Society).
And, let’s not forget about the south side! In the early years, the city of Cleveland’s residential pockets developed mainly east and west, with downtown being primarily commercial and just south of town was mostly steel mills and industry and some working class neighborhoods. But all that has changed and there are many suburbs south of the industrial valley including Independence, Brecksville, Broadview Heights & Sagamore Hills. But they are rarely debated in the East VS West discussions. Old habits die hard I guess!
The “original” southside, back in the day, was the Tremont neighborhood, which is literally just south of downtown and several local establishments still use those bragging rights in the names of their restaurants including The Southside (great outdoor patio for upscale casual food) and Tony’s Southside Pizza which has a very non-descript exterior (and is so old school they don’t even have a website) but is a super cool spot for nibbles and high end cocktails in the Tremont neighborhood.
In 2004, Cleveland Magazine ran a series of great and funny articles that examined the history of this great divide in an article called The Early Days and a look at how that divide still exists today in R.I.P East VS. West and 19 Reasons to Cross the River, and although some of the references are outdated (JoeBeth Booksellers no longer exists in Cleveland), all articles are great reads!
There is also a topographical difference between the east and west sides of Cleveland. The hills that lead up into the Heights (Shaker Heights, Cleveland Heights) from the city are the last of the foothills of the Alleghany Mountain Range and is much hillier than the westside of Cleveland which is the starting point of the Great Plains. See more on that here.
Those who live on the westside generally have easier access to the lake including boat marinas and launch ramps and those who live on the eastside are closer to the arts and all the museums at University Circle. Though some of the old stereotypes are disappearing (eastside is cultured, old money, diverse; westside is blue collar, conservative, Catholic) and are being replaced as new generations of transplants who know nothing of the old ways are buying homes east, south & west and changing the dynamic of our landscape. And because the east and west sides of town began developing almost simultaneously, they are often mirror images of each other. Cleveland Heights & Lakewood look and feel similiar as do Shaker Heights & Rocky River, Westlake & Solon and so on.
In July, 2013, Cleveland was awarded federal transportation dollars to begin work on the I-490 Opportunity Corridor, which when finished will make getting from the west side to the near east (University Circle, the Heights) much easier…think that will squash the debate once and for all? HA we doubt it!
Note, the Columbus Road Bridge re-opened to vehicular traffic on December 31, 2014 after a 2 year rebuilding project making Tremont, Ohio City and The Flats all easily connected again.