Toledo's Ethnic Heritage
Few Midwest cities can claim the ethnic heritage of Toledo.
Although our region has a very diverse ethnic heritage today, we got a late start compared to cities located outside of the Great Black Swamp. 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 after the opening of canals, the advent of the railroad and the expansion of business enterprise in Toledo.
Like many cities of the day, as people of similar ethnic backgrounds moved to Toledo, they stayed together and built their own neighborhoods.
People poured into this area as the United States began to expand westward and Toledo established itself as a place where work and opportunity were plentiful. 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 canals and the docks. Just south of the Warehouse District is Lenk’s Hill, an area settled by the Germans and home to Lenk's mammoth brewery. In fact, Toledo has been home to many ethnic enclaves. For example:
(Eastern) Polish: Lagrenka at Lagrange and Central – St. Hedwig 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. 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.