The Bird's Nest 5

"The Bird's Nest" in Cleveland (also known as "Birdtown," or "the village") is one of these persisting urban villages. Despite signs of age, it remains, after ninety-five years, a live and adaptive community Unlike many ethnic enclaves, Birdtown's original site in suburban Lakewood, just outside Cleveland's city limits, meant an opportunity to build from scratch. As a result it provides an excellent location to view the creation of an urban village and to "read" the emerging landscape.

A rural village in the city

Like other ethnic urban villages Birdtown sits close by the factories where its first residents worked. A rail corridor to the south, and factories on the east and west isolate it from other residential areas. On the north a secondary commercial artery Madison Avenue, provides a permeable boundary which immigrants eventually spilled across. South of Madison, the village consists of eight narrow, cul-de-sac streets [its nickname derives from the five streets named for birds: Lark, Robin, Quail, Thrush, and Plover).

An important part of Birdtown's "urban" texture comes from mixed land uses: homes, stores, and churches indiscriminately line the streets. In the early years residents kept gardens and raised geese and other domestic animals; such rural elements, along with several dairies in the neighborhood, produced a strong village atmosphere. Today the animals and dairies are gone, but the isolation, small scale, carefully tended front yards, and general ambience preserve a village character.

The village had much in common with other inner-city ethnic enclaves. From the beginning, "Hungarian Slovaks" and their children dominated its population (70% in 1910), although Americans of Polish, Carpatho-Rusyn, and Ukrainian descent comprised important minorities. As in other ethnic enclaves, many people jammed into the limited space. In 1920, when Birdtown reached its peak population, few Cleveland census tracts exceeded its density Most Birdtowners walked to unskilled jobs at neighboring factories and received low pay for long hours of work; their homes, often cold water flats, lacked electricity, modern appliances and plumbing. These difficult living conditions helped account for relatively high disease and death rates.

The Bird's Nest, National Carbon Co., and the surrounding area as it appeared on a 1912 platbook. Most houses in 1912 clustered in the southern part of the neighborhood on and near Plover, the initial "central business district. "A secondary cluster formed around Thrush, Quail and Robin as the neighborhood began to expand. G. M. Hopkins Co., Platbook of the City of Cleveland, Ohio and Suburbs, Plate 27. This map has been cropped; the southwest portion is also cut off.


Last Updated May 24, 2000

ã Copyright 2000 by Cleveland State University