4. Environmental Degradation



“Why Go to the Seashore?” PD. May 23, 1909. How bad was industrial pollution? Oakwood-on-the-Lake, an upscale development a few miles West of Cleveland, promoted its lakefront setting and another tidy selling point: “Oakwood-on-the-lake is clean. Its air is pure. . . The smoke from city factories does not blow over it with prevailing Westerly winds.” Smoke did, however, blow into Collinwood, Cleveland’s Eastern neighbor.

fancy-divider-520-50px2-webPhotographs and written accounts document the sulfurous smog that lingered above the railyards and wafted over all of Collinwood.  Hundreds  of coal-burning locomotives idled each dayquotation-marks-gray-3-web‘Every day from dawn till dark the sky [over the rail yard] is blackened by clouds of smoke and no effort has been made by the village to abate it.’quotation-marks-gray-closing-3  in the yards as they switched tracks, underwent repairs, or shunted freight.   The blast furnace in the railroad’s maintenance shops poured pollutants from its smokestack.   Only a few blocks away, children in the elementary school  heard clattering cars and breathed acrid exhaust.  “Every day from dawn till dark,” complained suffering residents in 1910, “the sky [over the rail yard] is blackened by clouds of smoke and no effort has been made by the village to abate it.”dagger2-web

Experts in the early 1900s often saw railyards as the most intense generators of soot and smoke in cities and towns, but Collinwood’s factories added significantly to the pall.tinsley-in-the-yards-largeW C Tinsley, “In the Yards,” The Camera: A Practical Magazine, July, 1910. Click image for more.  More smog wafted in from Cleveland’s refineries and massive steel mills.  Oily soot clung to the windows, floors, and desks of the Collinwood school, as it did to everything else in the shadow of industry and rail traffic.   A woman in Cleveland reported that “At night we can hear the cinders like hail falling on the roof.  Nothing will grow here.  My trees and flowers are dead.”dagger2-web Fritz Hirter, the janitor, followed the common practice of scrubbing ash and dirt from the the school’s floors with kerosene, an effective solvent that also saturated the wood with a potent fire accelerant.camera victorian orange transparent

The  school neighborhood  had other environmental problems that no janitor could even strugglephoebe-snow-no-caption-webThe Lackawanna Railroad featured the fictional Phoebe Snow in a long-running series of ads. She dressed only in white and rode the “Road of Anthracite” through a fantasy of scenic, unpolluted landscapes. Anthracite burned more cleanly than bituminous coal but was far from smoke, soot, and cinder free. Credit: Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. to clean up. The Ohio Board of Health reported, without ironic commentary, that Rockefeller Creek, running past the rail yards and a few blocks from the school, was “practically all sewage . . . at times giving rise to extremely bad odors very offensive to passersby.”  The creek carried the untreated waste for much of Collinwood to Lake Erie where it “spreads out and covers a very large area . . . to the eastward.”dagger2-web


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    1. The Railroad Town
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    2. Improvements
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    3. Collamer Street
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    4. Environment
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    5. Railyard Labor

  • 6. Motion Pictures
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    7. Railroad Trainmen
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    8. Switchback Railways
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    9. A Railyard Morgue
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