In the 1840's and 1850's, German settlers first farmed the land in the portion of East Cleveland Township now known as Central. Significant residential development did not begin, however, until the 1880's when Austro-Hungarian and Italian immigrants and Jewish immigrants from Poland and Russia began arriving to work in the nearby foundries and steel mills. After the turn of the century, the European immigrants in Central were joined by African-American migrating from the rural south.

Between 1910 and 1920, Central's population climbed from 60,000 to 78,000 - making Central the most heavily populated neighborhood in Cleveland. During the Great Depression of the 1930's, housing deterioration and overcrowding transformed Central into the City's most distressed neighborhood. Government officials and community leaders responded with programs which resulted in the nation's first housing projects, including Olde Cedar Estates built in 1936. Central is now the site of approximately 4,000 public housing units, representing 35% of all CMHA-owned units.

Slum clearance activities associated with Renewal of the 1950's and 1960's resulted in replacement of much of Central's older housing with freeways and institutions, and resulted in a plummeting population.

Economic activity in Central remains relatively strong. The Midtown Corridor along Central's northern border has employment base of nearly 15,000 in a diverse mix of businesses. The Maingate area (East 55th and Woodland) is the region's largest concentration of wholesale food distributors. A common advantage shared by all businesses in Central is the proximity to the heart of the region's freeway system.