Irishtown Bend Park design features unveiled

Design features of the Irishtown Bend Park include the Coal Docks site featuring foundation remnants of the Erie Railroad Coal Derrick and the Iron Power Building, Sanborn Fire Insurance maps show. Such workplaces employed Irish and other immigrants 100-150 years ago. This is at the north end of the planned park, next to the Cuyahoga River and the Detroit-Superior Bridge (Plural). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM.

Park concepts to pay homage to early settlers

Tomorrow, the board of the Cleveland Metroparks is expected to authorize requesting a $10.8 million grant from the state to pay a significant portion of the construction costs of the planned Irishtown Bend Park in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood. The proposed improvements and their projected costs are based on designs that were released today.

The grant application will be submitted to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) Program which provides funds to acquire and/or develop land for outdoor recreation. The program funds projects in designated urbanized areas as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. The ORLP program is funded by the National Park Service and the State of Ohio.

Matching the ORLP funding is $10.8 million raised by LAND studio, primarily from a $10 million challenge grant offered by the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation. The Metroparks has already secured $3.3 million from the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program to construct the portion of the Lake Link Trail that traverses Irishtown Bend.

For over 40 years, Irishtown Bend has been slipping into the Cuyahoga River. A $60 million project to stabilize the hillside and led by the Cleveland Cuyahoga County Port Authority began with an August 2023 groundbreaking ceremony.

Looking east at the Columbus Road drawbridge, site of the Bridge War of 1836 that started Cleveland’s enduring east-west rivalry, this view shows the proposed Irishtown Bend Boardwalk on the Cuyahoga River (Plural).

The stabilization work is intended to prevent a catastrophic hillside collapse that would block the Cuyahoga River’s federal shipping channel that supports over $4 billion of economic activity annually, port officials said. Once the hill is stabilized by the fall of 2025, work can start on building the park across the river from Downtown Cleveland and the Flats.

Plural Studio was hired to develop designs for the future Irishtown Bend Park and the current cost estimates are based on these publicly vetted designs. Proposed park components include an amphitheater and overlook plazas, picnic areas, open space, play areas and a riverside boardwalk. This request also includes necessary site preparation and finishes such as irrigation and landscaping. The park development components will complement this work.

“Irishtown Bend Park will provide an opportunity to tell the story of Cleveland’s history, specifically how immigrants and industry came together to build the city,” LAND studio Executive Director Greg Peckham said in a written statement. “We are tracing the origins of the neighborhood back to the 1850s, thoughtfully and respectfully, with the help of nearly a dozen individuals who formed an Irish Heritage Committee.

He said they have worked tirelessly to research archives and connect with the descendants of the original Irishtown Bend residents. Their goal is to learn more about how the community can pay respect to the Irish Famine refugees who settled along Irishtown Bend and their contributions to Cleveland’s cultural and economic richness, Peckham added.

More than 100 sculptural front doors, engraved with the original door numbers of homes of early settlers here, will provide a human scale to the site and invite visitors to imagine the pattern and density of the historic neighborhood. Audio stories and historical images etched in steel or glass may be available to help tell the stories of the first inhabitants (Plural).

With help from members including Ohio’s Irish Honorary Consul General Mark Owens and Margaret Lynch, executive director of the Irish American Archives Society, the Irish Heritage Committee’s mission was to design a narrative about this hardworking neighborhood that is a vital part of Cleveland’s history. With their findings in hand, they have married their work with that of Scott Cataffa of Plural Design Studio to create innovative experiences for visitors of the park.

“When we first started the planning process in 2017, we knew the hillside was registered as a historical site, but the Irish Heritage Committee has been so thoughtful in their approach to learning more about the original inhabitants,” explained Cataffa.

“Their research, coupled with the hillside stabilization, has uncovered so much about this forgotten neighborhood — everything from bricks and stone foundations to pottery and household items,” Cataffa said. “Each piece contributes to the story of Irishtown Bend, and we’re excited to share that story both visually and experientially with future visitors.”

The Irish Heritage Committee is collecting stories of former residents, and their ancestors, of the hillside. If you or your family has a tie to the original Irishtown Bend neighborhood, submit your family’s history through the park’s Web site: Their stories and recollections will contribute to the $45 million park for which $19 million has been raised so far,

A view of proposed Hurd Plaza, halfway up the hill, featuring an overlook, seating and a diorama of the park providing the location of its various features both past and present (Plural).

What can you expect to see at the Irish Heritage Site? Irishtown Bend Park will embrace its Irish heritage by physically marking the Irishtown Bend Archaeological District, an approximately 5-acre portion of the 25-acre park, commemorating its 1990 entry into the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service, Department of Interior.

All publicly available designs are shared here. Among the features park visitors will experience is Neighborhood Doors with Original Addresses. Many of the inhabitants of the Irishtown Bend hillside neighborhood were Irish immigrant coal dock workers, who in turn were followed by Hungarian immigrants and African American families.

A proposed design element of the park is to feature 100-plus sculptural front doors, engraved with the original door numbers of the homes. The doorways will provide human scale and invite visitors to imagine the pattern and density of the historic neighborhood. Audio stories and historical images etched in steel or glass may be available to help tell the stories of the first inhabitants.

Another feature will be the Coal Dock Engine Station. Foundations from a former coal dock hoisting rig will be preserved in place, creating a unique sculptural object and preserved relic along the waterfront promenade. Additionally, the site of a former coal dock hoisting engine will be transformed into a bird blind, where visitors to the park can peer through etched images of the past to view a restored native ecology along the river bank.

In the foreground is an old cistern that was discovered in 2023 and is being preserved. A cistern was used to collect and store water for drinking or cleaning for residential or commercial use. In the background is the proposed Heritage Entrance to Irishtown Bend Park (Plural).

More features will demonstrate how the original inhabitants lived and worked. Visitors to Irishtown Bend Park will also experience how foot traffic flowed through the neighborhood. Unique structures will highlight the original street grid — including Franklin Avenue, Franklin Alley and Riverbed Road.

Other structures will indicate where the Erie Railroad, built in 1856 and abandoned in 1982, traversed the bend. The pavilion and other areas could exhibit industrial relics and interpretive displays. Renderings of the park’s Irish Heritage Site along with other areas of the 25-acre park are available at:

“Anyone who has driven down West 25th Street recently can see the amazing progress that has been made by the Port of Cleveland and the hillside stabilization process,” said Peckham. “The removal of excess dirt is nearly complete, and the hillside stabilization is on track to be completed by fall 2025. That’s when the magic truly happens; we can then begin construction of Irishtown Bend Park.”

But the park is technically “under construction” now. About 250 red bud trees are being grown at Rid All Green Partnership, an urban farm in Cleveland’s Kinsman neighborhood. The native tree groves mitigate pollution, provide habitat, sequester carbon and recall Cleveland’s heritage as the “Forest City.” They will be transported to Irishtown Bend Park once stabilization is complete and park construction begins.


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