Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Chagrined that you can't find Kinsman Road?

If you were thinking about going to the House of Hair Fashion, or The Red Rooster, or Howard's Mens Clothing on Kinsman Road in yesterday's Shaker Heights, you'd be out of luck.

Not only are they out of business but there is no street, road, parkway, boulevard or lane in Shaker Heights named Kinsman Road. And there is a story behind where it went, and it based on race and crime and it ends in an ironic twist of hidden meaning.

One of the main east-west thoroughfares in the south part of Shaker Heights was once known as the Kinsman Road because it was the road that connected the village of Kinsman in Eastern Ohio with the town of Cleveland Ohio in the 1800's. As Cleveland expanded eastward, Kinsman Road became a main mode of transportation between the eastern townships and the city of Cleveland, and by the end of World War I and the development of East Boulevard as residential neighborhood, Kinsman Road evolved into a commercial strip and center of commerce at the junction of Kinsman Road and Union Avenue.

While the neighborhood was primarily working class white, eastern European families seeking to get out of the inner city and up into the Heights - a plateau that was home to various Heights neighborhoods of Cleveland, also made a home here on the south side of Kinsman Road. This included blue collar and skilled tradesmen Jewish families who found that the rents were affordable in the less desirable blocks further south. My grandparents were one of those families, first renting "on 144th" (Street) and later buying their first house "on 140th" (Street).

While Kinsman Road was one of the gateways into Shaker Heights - a community of great wealth, but restrictive property covenants. The first black families into Shaker proper didn't attempt to buy into Shaker with any luck until the post World War II era. But the ethnic white families that had called Kinsman their home in the up until the war left for places like Highland Heights, Parma, Middleburg Heights and Richmond Heights, this left a housing vacuum, and the neighborhood quickly became a haven for black families who wanted out of Hough and the rougher areas of Cleveland and into newer housing.

As the neighborhood changed, it accelerated the "white flight" in the 1950s, both in residents and in businesses. My own grandparents finally left in 1959 or 1960, buying a substantial brick duplex in Shaker that was disguised as a single family house as are all duplexes in Shaker are designed.  Things were so bad in the area that the family never referred to my grandparents moving as "moving" or "moving into a new house on..."  The event was simply known as "Thank God Mom and Dad got out of 140th and Kinsman when they did."

What was left of Kinsman Road in Cleveland went into a steady and speedy decline. By the early 1960s, crime was commonplace and if you lived in Shaker, you didn't go west of Menlo Road unless you had a reason for going there, period. And there was no reason to go there because most of the storefronts were empty. The problem of serious crime got so bad that property in Shaker alone Kinsman Road started to take a tumble as families and renters didn't want anything to do with the middle class neighborhood.

To remedy this, the powers that be decided in 1959 to end Kinsman Road at the Shaker border and rename the street "Chagrin Boulevard" through Shaker and the neighboring communities of Beachwood, Peper Pike, Orange and other points east. 

Now Webster defines "Chagrin" as "distress of mind caused by humiliation, disappointment, or failure..."

But the word Chagrin, in our instance is a native American name (Americanized, of course) is taken from the river that flows through the Western Reserve and eventually connects with the Cuyahoga River. Settlers to the region built a community at the point where the river falls, namely Chagrin Falls, a sleepy bit of old New England in the heart of northern Ohio.

Chagrin Falls most famous favorite son is comedienne Tim Conway. Conway would often say that the name was Native American, and that the "indians" would canoe down the river until they found themselves confronted by the falls, and were "chagrined" as to their plight.

And that's kinda the irony behind Chagrin Boulevard. If you didn't know where Chargin Boulevard started, you'd be chagrined to find yourself on it. It just begins at a city line, no signs, no fanfare, it just stops and the golden city would begin. And it isn't a boulevard in the traditional sense - there is no grassy median - its just three to five lanes of conjested traffic.

And sadly, it's name given to bury the negative connotations of race and racial crime. It tooks time for Shaker to realize that racial harmony is only acheived by economic good for all.

Forty years after Grandma and Grandpa "got out of" 140th and Kinsman, I took my two nieces down to the neighborhood to find the house that they so proudly called home in the twenty plus years they lived there.  We were all a bit taken back by the place because it didn't look at all like the pictures we had seen taken in the front yard.

The neighborhood was strewn with trash, weeds and delapidated cars.  Someone was living in both the upper unit and the bottom unit, but the aluminum siding was in disrepair and several windows were broken, borded up from the inside. It looked like every house around it.  And we left, leaving a part of our family history behind and "got out of 140th and Kinsman" - much like my grandparents did all those years ago.

But for better or worse, Kinsman is a name that endures in Shaker Heights, whether it is the name of a ghost road, or in the memories of the families that live now in Shaker, or in the history of racial tension in Cleveland and how one community simply wished, chagrined or not, the name away and with it, all their troubles that couldn't be kept west of an imaginery line drawn in the sand.


  1. I just want you to know how much I love reading your blog. I happened upon it maybe a year ago and really enjoy it. Thanks so much, and I think we both are residents of the same neighborhood!

  2. Thanks for posting this! I live on Chagrin and Lee Rd. and have been trying to find out more about Chagring and Kinsman. I loved reading this and would like more info. Nice pic above are you in it? If so which person are you? Would you happen to know what yr. Kinsman was named? Thanks again. God Bless you...... :)

    1. I think its been called either "The Kinsman Road" or just Kinsman Road for at least 125 years.

  3. My parents and their siblings and cousins left 93rd and Kinsman in the mid-60s for Parma, Maple Heights and Garfield Heights, and I lived near Chagrin and Lee in the early, so boy oh boy is this a familiar story to me. I'd love to talk with folks on the Kinsman side of that dividing line for their perspective.

  4. Greetings,
    Could you please tell me where on Chagrin the Red Rooster was? My grandparents lived behind on Kenyon, and I remember walking there with my parents in the 70's. The Chagrin/Kenyon triangle, was that a bank? Thanks for your help

    1. My grandparents were on Kenyon as well. There was a Society National Bank at the Triangle of Kenyon, Lee and Chagrin. As for the Red Rooster, I know it was on the south side of Chagrin, and I believe it was on in the first half of that long business block up to Forward and Sons Funeral Home.

    2. Mine lived at 16708, one of the original homes built on Kenyon. Heinens first location has the same number. 1965-81, except for 1980, usually first part of June, were our annual visits there. My uncle lived on Hazelmere, who I saw a few times 1982-84. Haven't been back to Cleveland since. I remember the shortcut about three doors east on the north side of Kenyon. Somerset Inn at Warrensville, Manners across the street, and the rapid at Lee Road were the biggest things I remember.