CROATIANS. In 1990 Greater Cleveland contained over 15,000 people whose primary ancestry was Croatian, the 4th-largest concentration of Croatians in the U.S., after Pittsburgh, Chicago, and New York. During the two world wars, and in the period 1950-70, Cleveland was a main center of Croatian and South Slavic political, fraternal, and cultural activities. A South Slavic people, the Croatian immigrants to Cleveland were part of a centuries-long migration from Croatia. The exodus reached its peak ca. 1910, repeated some 50 years later. All waves of Croatian immigration to Cleveland and America were caused by the political and economic situations of a homeland under the oppressive regimes of Austria-Hungary and both royal and Communist Yugoslavia. Before 1919, most Cleveland Croatians were natives of southern and northwestern Croatia; afterward they arrived from all Croatian lands: Croatia-Slavonia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Dalmatia, and Istria. Most were of peasant stock. The periods of their arrival may be divided as follows: 1860s-1918; 1919-41; and 1945-80s.

The first Croatians came to Cleveland during the late 1860s from neighboring states, attracted by jobs in industry and construction, and induced by the SLOVENIANS, who were their neighbors in the old country. There was a large influx by 1890, and they joined the Slovenians along St. Clair (from E. 9th to E. 79th streets), north of Superior, and along the lake near the factories, and also parts of W. 26th St., Scovill, and Woodland. Before the early 1900s, many were single males who lived in boarding houses. The area on E. 40th St. and St. Clair became the heart of the Croatian settlement. By 1910 many Croatians lived in GLENVILLE, NOTTINGHAM, COLLINWOOD, EUCLID, Randall, and WEST PARK. They worked for American Steel & Wire, the Van Dorn Iron Works, Otis Steel, the Patterson Sargent Paint Co., Cleveland Twist Drill, and other shops and factories, and for the New York Central, Pennsylvania, and other railroad companies. The majority were unskilled workers and laborers. The period 1890-1919 was the era when the foundations were laid for religious, fraternal, educational, social, cultural, and political activities.

To pay for burials and aid the injured and sick, the Croatians founded mutual-benefit and fraternal societies. The most important was the Natl. Croatian Society of Pittsburgh (1894), which had many members in Cleveland. The first lodges of the NCS were established here in 1895 and 1897. These, and those established later, usually bore names of saints. Lodge 235, founded in 1906 in Collinwood, was named "Croatian Liberty." Over the years it became an important center for social and patriotic activities. The 3rd Natl. Convention of the NCS was held in Cleveland in 1896, while its 12th Convention met here in 1915. Some 70% of all Croatians belong to the Catholic church (most of them Roman Catholic, but about 100,000 Byzantine Rite). About 20% adhere to Islam; most of the rest are Eastern Orthodox or Protestant, and a few are Jewish. Among the early settlers here, a great majority were Catholics of both rites. The first Croatian church was St. Nicholas (Byzantine Rite), founded by Rev. Mile Golubic and some 50 families from Zumberak. From E. 41st and St. Clair, it moved in 1913 to E. 36th and Superior under the leadership of Rev. Milan Hranilovic. The Roman Catholic St. Paul parish was founded in Nov. 1902 by Rev. Milan Sutlic. The newly built church on E. 40th was opened on Easter Sunday 1904. Niko Grskovic, who succeeded Rev. Sutlic, built a primary school in 1910. He left the parish of 6,000 in 1917 to devote his time to the Yugoslav Committee in Washington, DC. He was a nationally known Croatian activist, journalist, publisher, and editor of newspapers, and a leading fraternalist.

By the 1920s there were approx. 12,000 Croatians in Cleveland. The period 1920-40 was the peak of Croatian community activity. The first convention of the newly formed Croatian Fraternal Union (CFU) met at the Slovenian Auditorium 3-22 May 1926. Several English-speaking CFU lodges were established in the 1920s. One of the first lodges of the new Croatian Catholic Union (organized in Gary, IN, in Oct. 1921) was Lodge No. 10 at St. Paul parish. The CCU national convention met here in Apr. 1921. After the establishment of Yugoslavia in 1918, the masses of Croatian immigrants in America, including thousands in Cleveland, opposed the new government in Belgrade. Many immigrants arriving here during the 1920s were followers of Stephen Radich and his Croatian Peasant party. A branch was established in Collinwood in Nov. 1923. After Radich's assassination in 1928 and the introduction of royal dictatorship in Yugoslavia in 1929, the Cleveland Croatians joined nationwide activities against it. The CPP and other organizations held protest meetings, issued memoranda, and published newspapers condemning conditions in Croatia. Huge annual Croatian Days were also organized starting in 1933, attracting thousands and widely publicized in the American press. A new Croatian Home was built on Waterloo Rd. (Collinwood) and became the center of many community activities into the 1980s, for an older Croatian Home on St. Clair became inadequate. Established Croatian immigrants were able, after May 1945, to help their war-ravaged homeland and assist thousands of refugees, including numerous close relatives, who were now fleeing Communist Yugoslavia. The Displaced Persons Act of 1948 made it possible for thousands of Croatians to immigrate to Cleveland. The Society for Croatian Migration brought over and assisted over 5,000 immigrants with the assistance of the Natl. Catholic Welfare Conference. Many newcomers settled in the St. Clair area and gradually rejuvenated the old settlement. Some 40% of these newcomers were below the age of 39; many were highly educated, skilled, and professional people.

The post-World War II immigration, coming in several waves, was more political than economic. The young generation that grew up under Communism brought with them an intense nationalism, fierce opposition to the regime at home, and imported ideas of violence. Among the problems that arose was the rift between the "old" and "new" immigrants. The main political organization is the Croatian Natl. Congress, advocating complete independence for Croatia. The 1940 census counted 12,540 Croatians in Cleveland. Following the influx of the immediate postwar period, immigration continued at a substantial pace; between 1967-71, some 8,000 additional Croatians arrived in Greater Cleveland. In 1985 over 25,000 Croatians and people of partial Croatian extraction were living in the area. During the 1950s-70s, many new organizations were founded: the United American Croatians, the "Lisinski" Singing Society, the American-Croatian Academic Club (Society), the Croatian Foundation, several folklore groups, soccer clubs, and a variety of political, cultural, and fraternal societies. The churches also expanded during this period. St. Nicholas parish dedicated a newly built church at the site of the old one in Apr. 1975. This parish had some 250 families, while the St. Paul congregation had about 5,000 parishioners. In 1972, in a unified effort, the Croatians acquired the Croatian Ctr., with over 100 acres of land on Mulberry Rd. in Chesterland. On 29 Sept. 1984, the large, newly built Croatian Natl. Home was dedicated in Eastlake on Lakeshore Blvd. Costing over $2.5 million, it was, in the 1990s, the centerpiece of Cleveland's Croatian community.

George J. Prpic

John Carroll Univ.

Article Categories