Our Ethnic Heritage
Although our region has a very diverse ethnic heritage today, it didn't begin to prosper until after the War of 1812 and the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. Besides the Native Americans who first settled in the area (the Ottawa controlled most of the region up to 1800) and the few French explorers in the 1600s and British troops from Canada in the 1700s, there was little to say about the ethnic diversity of this area. But things changed dramatically with the opening of the Erie Canal and the advent of the railroad.
People poured into this area as the United States began to expand westward. Like many cities of the day, as people of similar ethnic backgrounds moved to Toledo, they stayed together and built their own neighborhoods. It was the Irish who settled the Warehouse District of Toledo - they came here to work on the Miami-Erie Canal and the docks. Just south of the Warehouse District at City Park and Nebraska, is Lenk’s Hill, an area settled by the Germans and home to several breweries. In fact, Toledo has been home to many ethnic enclaves. For example:
- (Eastern) Polish: Lagreinka at Lagrange and Central – St. Hedgwick Church.
- (Western) Polish: Kuschwantz (aka "Cow's Tail") Nebraska and Junction – St. Anthony Church.
- Hungarian: Birmingham at Front and Consaul.
- Syrian: Near North (first Mosque on Bancroft, East of Cherry).
- African American: Near the Warehouse District (around the Civil War), then Stickney Avenue and by the end of the 1920’s, ⅔ lived in the Pinewood District (City Park and Indiana Avenue).
- Bulgarian: East Side at Main and Nevada.
- Russian Jewish: Canton Avenue.
- French: East Side.
Our diversity has helped make Toledo a great city and yet it has also been at the center of some of our more complex problems. In a moment, we’ll be looking north toward Vistula and the North End, the site of racial tension and rioting in 2005. But since we’re looking south, think about this – the first race riot occurred in Toledo in 1862 when white dock workers rioted against African-Americans over jobs and pay. Homes were stoned and people were beaten in an attempt to push African-American workers out of Toledo. So, while our ethnic heritage is diverse, it has not always been pretty.
History is not just trivia, there’s a lesson for us in looking back at our past, warts and all.