Shuttered Subway in Cleveland draws huge crowds

Large crowds of people walked the bridge, toured the subway
Large crowds of people walked the bridge, toured the subway
Cleveland Transit Car 4127 in 1949, Courtesy Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University
Cleveland Transit Car 4127 in 1949, Courtesy Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Thousands of people toured the shuttered subway on the lower level of the Veteran's Memorial Detroit Superior Bridge on Saturday.

The bridge is owned by the Ohio Department of Transportation and maintained by Cuyahoga County. The county used to hold annual tours of the old subway until 2013, when it was closed for repairs and renovations. Those repairs finished in the fall, and the county said they reopened the bridge for an annual tour as quickly as they could.

"I think it was, just let's bring it back so people can feel it touch it and see what it's all about," said Michael Dever, the director of Public Works for Cuyahoga County. "I think it was important just to bring back the history, to show the general public the history of where the city has come from."

According to the county, the subway, opened in 1917 and held four sets of streetcar tracks. On the west side, streetcars entered and exited the bridge through tunnels under West 25th Street and Detroit Avenue. To the east, a tunnel system just off Public Square had four tracks that ran down the center of Superior Ave.

When operating, the subway had six station area and four restrooms. The subway made its final ride in January 1954.

Only remnants of the subway remain. Tracks covered by asphalt, stalactites growing down from the ceiling and subway tiles that line several walls.

Saturday's tour brought out thousands of people, who lined up around the block about 30 minutes before tours even started, and maintained a steady steam for hours.

"We like to show them the history of our city," said Katie Mielcarek. She and her husband brought their two children Anna, 6, and Owen, 3, to the tour.  "We're really proud of our city and what they're doing down here…we plan to kind of do all kinds of stuff like this and learn about their city and hope they take it with them later in life."

Those were sentiments echoed by other parents who brought their children to see the shuttered subway.

"I like taking them around and showing them the history of Cleveland, and we live a little bit out of Cleveland so I want to show them what's available," said Lou Tissler. Tissler brought his two daughters, Addie, 8, and Alexis, 10.

"I just want to make sure they know the history of Cleveland," said Tissler.

"It's kind of cool to hear the cars up there and think nobody's been down here for a long time," said Ace Voorhees. Voorhees and his friend Isaiah Timberlake excitedly talked about how they would be the first in line if the streetcars opened again. The two boys said they didn't know that the subway existed.

"Trolleys, like back then, people can just get on a train and move on, but now when I look up I just automatically hear cars," said Isaiah.

Several people said they would welcome the subway reopening, and street cars back on Cleveland streets.

"I think any sort of improvement to our public transportation system would be great. Moving people to and from, especially getting people downtown would be great," said Mielcarek.

"It would be nice to be able to have public transportation that got you around," said Tissler.

Cleveland 19 asked Dever, the director of public works, if that might be a possibility.

"It's highly doubtful. If anything, this may have an opportunity to be part of the towpath trail in the future."

Dever said, especially since there are plans to develop Irishtown Bend, making the lower level part of a towpath would make a lot of sense, but would take "time, money and planning."

Moving forward, the county plans to once again open the subway to the public annually said Dever.

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