The Flats is an area that is located along the Cuyahoga River. It is the flood plain of the river and separates the high plateaus of the city of Cleveland. This is the area that was first chosen by the early settlers of Cleveland on which to build their homes. The settlers soon learned that because of the swampy environment of the flats area, many of them became ill with yellow fever and other illnesses. Many settlers therefore, moved to higher and more healthy ground.
The Flats developed into an area suitable for industry and commerce. During the 1820s and 30s, as the Ohio and Erie Canal was developed, lake shipping increased and so did business along the Cuyahoga River. The Flats offered an excellent area to build docks and warehouses, and soon businesses began to locate and build in the Flats for its convenience to lake shipping. As railroad transportation grew in the 1850s, the flats also became a convenient point for storage and handling of freight. By the late 1800s, business and industry dominated the Flats area.
As industry and manufacturing grew in the Flats, so did settlement along the high plateaus on either side of the Flats area. As settlement grew, communication between the two areas became an increasing problem between the east and west sides of the river. Although there was considerable debate and often strong hostilities between the two sides, both sides were united in 1878. The Superior Viaduct bridge was built and made convenient and timely travel between the east and west sides of the river possible. As the number of bridges connecting the east and west sides of the city grew, Cleveland became known as "the city of bridges."
By the mid-twentieth century, industry and manufacturing began to move from the Flats area due to a declining dependence on water and rail transportation. Although industry and manufacturing was still located in the Flats, by the 1970s the economic focus began to turn to the entertainment industry. In 1978, the non-profit Flats Oxbow Association was formed to promote economic development of the flats area. Through the 1980s and 1990s nightclubs, restaurants, and entertainment centers sprung up on the east and west sides of the river. The Cuyahoga River that was once the exclusive waterway of ships of the Great Lakes, now shared its waters with hundreds of pleasure craft that cruised the river during the summer months to enjoy the entertainment activities on both sides of its banks.
Today, the Flats area is a combination of industry, manufacturing, restaurants, nightclubs, entertainment facilities and residences.