It’s the only pre-Civil War home in University Circle, but it still lives on as an educational center that inspires students.
During the next 15 years, University Circle Inc. will invest $2 million in the historic Cozad-Bates House to protect and adaptively reuse the property. With that, a new, state-of-the-art interpretive center highlighting the area’s history as a hub of antislavery activism and honoring those seeking freedom through indoor exhibits and outdoor installations opens this spring.
As a result, WKYC Channel 3 partnered with Cleveland Metropolitan School District and Cleveland High School for Digital Arts to find ways to introduce the property, its history and its role in the Underground Railroad to area students.
“It’s the importance of being able to have community partners willing to extend learning and always looking to help,” says Jasmine Maze, principal at Cleveland High School for Digital Arts.
Maze, a Cleveland native who has served as principal of Cleveland High School for Digital Arts for the last five years, thinks the opportunity for students to learn the history contextualized with the city is equally important. She also appreciates her teachers’ willingness to think outside of the box and come up with “cool” projects.
Initially, the school’s video game design teacher, Dan McGlaughlin, developed a virtual 3D model of the space for students to explore remotely. Then, Jimmie Woody, the film instructor, thought it would be an excellent idea for students to visit the site and take pictures. During their trip to the Cozad-Bates House, Woody gave high school student Earl Roberts III and his younger brother, Evan Roberts, a camera to document their experiences.
“I really like the design and what they did [with the house],” says Woody. “I wasn’t expecting something like it in the area, and so close to Little Italy, given the history. It’s engaging. I just wish it was bigger.”
The Cozad-Bates House, located at 11508 Mayfield Road, was built in 1853, followed by additions in the 1860s and 1872. Through the Cozad family and others’ work, the house provided aid and a haven for freedom seekers waiting to travel by boat to Canada.
Woody thinks the Cozad-Bates House is an excellent first step toward preserving this history.
“I’m not sure how many Black Clevelanders know the role [the city] played in the Underground Railroad,” says Woody.
The goal of the partnership was to share the photos taken with WKYC. Woody says Earl and Evan took a lot of incredible shots.
“It was really good,” says Earl Roberts III, a stout young man who dreams of being a football player. “I had lots of fun and took some great shots.”
Roberts also says he learned a great deal, particularly about how many people were involved in the Underground Railroad — the mysteries, the routes — and about the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. He says he didn’t learn as much in school.
“This was my first time at an Underground Railroad site,” says Roberts. “I hope to go back and take more pictures.”
Although Roberts’ primary goal in life is to be an athlete, he and his brother have discussed starting their own photography business.
“I want to do photography,” says Roberts. “I just have to learn how to work the camera.”
He says this experience was a great start, adding the Cozad-Bates House has “good lighting.”
While at the site, Roberts took pictures of the rooms inside the interpretative center and images of his family and Woody engaging with the exhibition.
Roberts’ mother, Veronica Thornton, who accompanied the boys on the trip, says the partnership between WKYC and the school is “wonderful” and describes the project as a “combination of art and history.”
Thornton, who lives on the East Side of Cleveland, says she decided to come on the trip because she makes it a point to visit the museums in University Circle with her boys anyway.
“That’s like our bonding time,” she says. “That’s what we do. I like the arts in general.”
Plus, she didn’t know the Cozad-Bates House existed.
An artist in her own right, Thornton writes poetry and paints. She found the depictions on the walls interesting.
“It feels great to have been able to get an exclusive look. I feel special,” she says.
WKYC posted a link to the photos taken by the Roberts brothers on its website.
“That was a really good experience, including the interview I did with WKYC,” says Roberts. “I’m glad Mr. Woody is pushing me to have fun and be creative.”
Maze is happy with the results and says she learned more about the museum through this project.
“I definitely think learning about Black history is important, and I always enjoy seeing my students’ work, what their eyes catch, their perspectives,” says Maze. “It can be really telling what aspects jump out to teenagers.”
Maze also praises Woody for going above and beyond to engage the students. “He always makes sure the curriculum is reflective of the student population,” she says.