“The Flats.” It’s been the name for the heavy industrial area around the Cuyahoga River, next to downtown Cleveland, since time immemorial.
“The Flats.” The moniker is apt. The topography is low and level, perfect for unloading barges and freighters and running railroad track to haul the ore and coal and other raw materials off to Lorain and Youngstown, Akron and Dayton.
It once must have been an extraordinary, crowded bustling place, one of the engines of the American industrial age, chock full of shouting men and whistles, pallets being hoisted into the sky and swung wide, carts and rail cars rolling ponderously past, pellets and cinders and smoke and dust.
“The Flats.” It’s an area that has been squashed and crushed by countless heavy loads and heavy machines. Now it’s been left prostrate and depressed by economic forces beyond its control, empty and desolate on a Sunday afternoon, with only seagulls circling overhead, crying out to the scudding clouds.
The Flats. It’s still there, with its many special bridges that lift far above the water to allow the freighters to glide slowly by, its rusting railroad spurs, its loading areas and piles of slag and cracked, weedy concrete and brick and highway overpasses that loom far overhead. It served before, and it could serve again.
If you want to get a sense of how the wheels of commerce turned back at the turn of the 20th century and how things have changed since those long ago days, the Flats is a good place to visit.