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Cleveland, Ohio

The 14 000 – strong Cleveland‘s Lithuanian community dates to the 19th century.

Within the city limits, you may find old St. George church (1921, 6527 Superior Avenue). Towerless massive building is similar to the St. Anthony in Detroit. It has two stories with a church hall on the upper floor and a former school downstairs. Unfortunately, there are no more pupils in its classes and the last Mass in the church itself was celebrated in 2009. Saving money Cleveland Diocese the closed the church. At that time it was the oldest Lithuanian parish in the USA (established 1895).

Diocese planned to sell the building and the surrounding lot which also includes a historical 19th-century house for at least 220 000 USD, but it had to reduce the price to merely 11 000 USD. This is the reality of cities like Cleveland where the decayed urban center is unsafe since the 1966 race riots and subsequent white flight. The buildings were acquired by Community Greenhouse Partners which will use the area for urban agriculture. Yes, in the rapidly depopulating cities like Detroit and Cleveland cheap land is regularly acquired for gardens. The new owners plan to renovate the church building and grow food on its roof.

St. George Lithuanian church. On the right, the glasshouses are already visible as this dilapidated city district is meant to become countryside again. Google Street View.

The closure of Lithuanian church in Cleveland failed to spark protests akin to those in other communities influenced by the church-closure spree. This is because there was another Lithuanian church in Cleveland – Our Lady of Perpetual Help (18022 Neff Rd) which remained open as a newly-united (2009) St. Casimir Lithuanian parish. The Mass is celebrated there in both Lithuanian and English. The sharp-cornered church building was constructed in the 1960s after the influx of some 4 000 displaced (exiled) persons from Soviet-occupied Lithuania. The parish itself is older, but formerly it had been using a simple house as a church building.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help (St. Casimir) Lithuanian church, the last such in Cleveland. Like many of the post-WW2 Lithuanian churches, it combines extensive buildings with a relatively simple modernist design. Google Street View.

Away from the churches, a Lithuanian Community Center (877 E 185) houses a Lithuanian Gintaras restaurant, bar, lounge and party center. Various Lithuanian memorabilia and crafts are kept inside. Like the new church, the Community Center has been built in 1973 after the refugees moved in and many Lithuanians resettled east of downtown.

Lithuanian Village Community Center in Cleveland, Ohio. Google Street View.

In the All Souls Cemetery (Chadron suburb of Cleveland) the President of Lithuania Antanas Smetona (his main term was in 1926-1940) is buried. He is cemetar
very important in Lithuanian (and the Baltic States) history and the entire era of his rule is typically called the Smetonic era. It was an era of prosperity followed by the tragedy of World War 2 and Soviet occupation when hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians were murdered, exiled or had to flee Lithuania. Antanas Smetona also fled Lithuania to the USA, where he died in house fire in Cleveland in 1944. Lithuanian Americans had various opinions about Smetona at the time as some disliked him for his authoritarian rule. Among his policies were the clampdown on communist and Nazi terrorist movements (the first anti-nazi trials in the whole Europe).

Cleveland Rockefeller park has a collection of ethnic gardens for each of the city’s ethnic communities. A Lithuanian garden blooming there is one of the oldest, established in 1930 (together with the Italian, German, Slovak and Ukrainian gardens). The garden has three levels; the upper level has Lithuanian flag and the fountain of duchess Birutė (legendarily a pagan priestess) surrounded by busts of 19th century Lithuanian National Revival poets who called for Lithuania to be independent once again and romantically sought inspiration in the last era Lithuanian was truly free (the Grand Duchy era). The poets are priest Maironis (built 1961) and Vincas Kudirka (built 1938), the author of Lithuanian National Anthem. The middle level has the Pillars of Gediminas, a patriotic symbol related to Grand Duke Gediminas. The lowest level has a bust of Jonas Basanavičius, known as the "Patriarch of the Nation" this scholar is frequently credited the most for the restoration of Lithuanian statehood in 1918 (bust erected 1936).

Upper terrace of the Lithuanian Cultural Garden in Cleveland which feels like an interwar Lithuania: because of the symbols, people whose busts are erected and landscaping aesthetics. Google Street View.

Cleveland also has Telshe yeshiva (Jewish religious school, 28400 Euclid Avenue), named after the Lithuanian town of Telšiai. This is a continuation of the original Telšiai yeshiva, opened in 1875 and closed after Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940 (due to the Soviet atheist policies). As it happened, two of the Telšiai yeshiva's teachers were collecting donations for their yeshiva among the US Jewry at the time. Given the circumstances, they decided not to return to Lithuania but establish Telshe yeshiva in Cleveland instead. It became an important US haredi institution; in 1960 another Telshe yeshiva was opened in Chicago.

Entrance to Telshe yeshiva. Google Street View.

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Map of Lithuanian heritage in eastern Midwest

Map of the Lithuanian heritage in eastern Midwest (Michigan, Ohio) and western Ontario.

More info on Lithuanian heritage in Ohio, Michigan, Ontario.

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