Waterfalls and Urban History

Slavic Village residents have a new way to learn more about their community and the contributions of Polish immigrants to Cleveland.  The Mill Creek Falls Neighborhood History Center opened at 8404 Webb Terrace in October.  Visitors have come by to visit even during the coldest days of winter, but staff members are looking forward to the Center’s first spring and summer.  The History Center is located just steps away from the new Cleveland Metroparks overlook, from which one can see Cuyahoga County’s 48-foot waterfall.

Mill Creek Falls provided the power for the area’s first grist and saw mills, paving the way for the development of industry in the region.  With the help of Cleveland Metroparks and area businesses and residents, the Falls have become accessible to residents once again.  Joan Brilla generously donated her nearby home to be used for educational purposes and, with the organizational efforts led by Bobbi Reichtell of Slavic Village Development and the Slavic Village Historical Society, local residents, many with Polish backgrounds, planned the renovation of the home and the Center’s exhibits.

The permanent exhibit tells the story of the earliest settlers to the region but also highlights the contributions made by the Polish immigrants of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Panels include information about the Polish-American newspaper, Monitor Clevelandski, published under various names from 1892 to 1938, and pictures of local landmarks as diverse as the Szczerbacki Saloon and St. Stanislaus Church.  Visitors can also learn about Michael Kniola, the local travel agent, Stella Walsh, the well-known athlete, and strongman Stanley J. Radwan.  Pictures of the neighborhood’s continuing revitalization highlight the Slavic Village Harvest Festival.

Temporary exhibit space currently tells the story of two families, the family of William Wheeler Williams, who first owned the property and developed the land, and the Brilla family, who acquired the home that is now the History Center from relatives in 1957.  The History Center hopes that temporary exhibits in the future will offer visitors information about Slavic Village’s ethnic diversity, local churches, and neighborhood organizations, among other topics.

Visitors to the History Center have often remarked that they never knew the Falls existed.  With the opening of the History Center, the community has gained an important resource for the study of our urban life, one that can be used to help teach new generations the heritage of local residents and the importance of understanding the past in order to better meet the needs of the present and future.  The Falls provide an always needed reminder of the force of nature in the city, while the History Center helps us to recall the connections between our natural resources and urban development.

The Center maintains regular hours Sat. and Sun., 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM, and Monday to Friday by appointment (call Bobbi Reichtell at SVD, 216-429-1182).  Others wishing to promote local history can also become Charter Members of the History Center by contacting Slavic Village Development.  For more information on the history of Slavic Village, visit www.slavicvillagehistory.org.

Sean Martin

Forum, 2/2003