Cleveland history is buried in these bricks

CLEVELAND. Brick by brick, a woman from Cleveland’s West Park neighborhood retains a tangible piece of Cleveland’s nearly forgotten past. Over the course of two years, walking the beaches of Lake Erie and the surrounding area, Kathleen Kelly collected enough bricks to create her own masterpiece in her home, reminiscent of the old brick-paved streets of Cleveland.


Courtesy of Kathleen Kelly.

Brick walkway.

Her collection of bricks from the Cleveland factories, which have since closed, became an obsession, and it all started when she received a Bessemer Youngstown Block as a gift from a mutual friend. She collected many on the local beaches of Lake Erie, where they were likely dumped for erosion control purposes or after the demolition of buildings.

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Roosevelt Oliver Jr. | News 5 Cleveland.

A collection of bricks found throughout Cleveland make up the walkway of Kathleen Kelly’s home.

“I just thought it was really cool,” she said. “I started studying them. And I found them, for example, if I was walking with my dog, and someone had it around their flat flower bed, I would knock on the door and ask for it. I said: “I will replace it with another, simple one,” and then a few friends gave me some.”

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Roosevelt Oliver Jr. | News 5 Cleveland.

A collection of bricks found throughout Cleveland make up the walkway of Kathleen Kelly’s home.

The brick pavement she built will be an occasion for conversation with everyone who sees it in person or in photographs. When she published the final result of the project, she didn’t expect it to resonate with so many people.

“When I posted it on Facebook, I got about 4,000 likes in two days. It was strange. People started posting theirs. it [the sidewalk] looks really cool,” she said.

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Courtesy of Facebook.

Facebook users post their bricks below a post created by Kathleen Kelly.

Its bricks are embossed with the names of Cleveland brick makers. Bricks featured include “Cleveland Builder’s Block”, “Youngstown’s Bessemer Block”, and “Metropolitan Block”. The hand-paved walkway gives Kelly a sense of pride, similar to the masons who meticulously laid every brick on the street to build Cleveland’s infrastructure.

“I sit here in the morning and it just gives you something to read if you forget your phone,” Kelly said.

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Roosevelt Oliver Jr. | News 5 Cleveland.

Kathleen Kelly in front of a paved brick walkway at her Westpark home.

From collection to construction was a laborious and therapeutic process for Kelly, who in some cases had to remove excess concrete and debris from each brick.

“This is one of my favorite projects and took me two years to complete. But it’s like putting together a puzzle of different sizes. Some of them were chipped, it was a little hard to get around the curve,” Kelly said, pointing to the round part of the pavement.

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Roosevelt Oliver Jr. | News 5 Cleveland.

A collection of bricks found throughout Cleveland make up the walkway of Kathleen Kelly’s home.

Brick making in Cleveland dates back to the 1880s, when cities switched from using wood and cobblestone to brick. Because of the area’s rich clay deposits, Ohio became one of the largest producers in the country and paved more brick streets than any other state.

The thunderous rumble of a car driving down a red brick street is an instant reminder that you’re driving through history – a story that represents the growth of a city.

Drive down Murray Hill Road in Cleveland’s Little Italy neighborhood and you’ll find this famous story.

“It’s all red brick. It has never been paved,” said John Grabowski, professor of history at Case Western Reserve University. “And that’s largely because Italians started coming to the United States en masse in the 1880s, at the turn of the 20th century, when many cities, including Cleveland, were basically building their urban infrastructure.”

Many Italians ended up laying the red brick that made up much of what is now known as the Little Italy Historic District.

“I would argue that is why Murray Hill Road has remained a red brick street, because it really echoes the legacy of the people who lived there,” Grabowski said.

Another street where Cleveland residents can step back in time and experience the nostalgia so many crave is Hessler Roadlocated in the University Ring. There are still paving stones made of wooden blocks.

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Hessler Road in Cleveland’s University Circle.

If you’re looking for stamped bricks, you’ll most likely only find them when they’re scattered, washed ashore, or in abandoned lots, because the bricks on that side with the name were placed face down on the ground when the streets were being built.

“I think it was mostly done so you know what they are, but I suspect it was done to make them more attractive because they were on layers of packed sand,” said Grabowski.

Like Kelly, there are bricklayers all over the country, so much so that there International Association of Brick Collectors.

Jim Graves probably knows more than anyone about the bricks that line the streets of cities across the United States. He is the librarian of the International Association of Brick Collectors and answers questions from brick collectors and curious treasure hunters looking for answers about this or that brick.

Graves and dozens of other collectors from all over the country gather to exchange forgotten bricks.

“Several times a year we bring the extra bricks that we have, lay them out and give them to everyone. So the whole idea is to take something that I have in common that you’ve never seen before. So it’s really handy for picking up anything because the bricks are mostly local,” Graves said.

Take a look around Cleveland and you’ll see the level of skill it took to build the buildings many admire today.

“One of the things that fascinates me about comparing brick and stone structures to concrete is that each of these pieces was hand-installed by a human. Thus, every brick in the building, in older buildings, was laid by a bricklayer. Every brick in the street was laid by a human hand, don’t you know? And it may have been mechanized at some point.”

Kelly hasn’t finished laying the foundation for her own legacy yet. A pile of 100-year-old bricks will be the hallmark of her next project to widen the walkway around her front porch.

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Roosevelt Oliver Jr. | News 5 Cleveland.

A collection of bricks found throughout Cleveland make up the walkway of Kathleen Kelly’s home.

“It’s a labor of love,” Kelly said.

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