Teaching Cleveland
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Middle School Edition: 6-8

Lesson 38

A City of Bridges


To identify the need for bridges across the Cuyahoga River.



  1. What is the importance of bridges to Cleveland past and present?
  2. How might the building of bridges across the Cuyahoga contribute to the growth of Cleveland?


  1. Survey students on how many of their parents cross the Cuyahoga River to get to work each day? How many cross the river to visit family or friends? How many cross the river for special events, activities, etc.? How often do they cross the river in an average week?
  2. Explain to students that bridges were not always built across the river, connecting the east and west sides of Cleveland. In fact, the west side of the river was known as Ohio City and did not become a part of Cleveland until 1854. The people of 1896 needed to cross the Cuyahoga River for similar reasons that people do today -- work. If bridges were not convenient for people to use in 1896, how else might they cross from east to west side? (ferry boats) Why would people cross by boat rather than bridge? (would be faster and easier if you traveled to work by foot) What problems could this mode of transportation cause? (dangers of boat sinking, fear of collisions with other boats)
  3. Discuss with students the effects the building of bridges had on the development of Cleveland as a city. How did they help Cleveland grow? (population grew because it was easier for people to travel to Cleveland, areas developed faster, businesses could increase their markets, etc.) How did they impact on businesses? (increased availability of work force, easier to get supplies, increased markets, etc.)
  4. Distribute reading and discuss the disaster as it was reported. How could this disaster have been avoided? How could this disaster lead to the building of more bridges on the Cuyahoga River?
  5. Writing assignment. Students are to write a letter to City Council in 1896, describing their anger that such a disaster could occur in Cleveland and suggestions on how this type of a disaster can be avoided in the future. They can write their letter from the view point of the family of a German worker who lost his life; a fellow worker who survived the disaster; the boy who ran the scow; the passing steamer; the ore company that employed the workers; or a concerned citizen.

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