Since a sandbar in the mouth of the Cuyahoga River was cleared in 1824, drying its swampy conditions, the Flats have been the cradle of Cleveland's industry. First enabled by the completion of the Ohio and Erie Canal in 1832 and then railroads during the Civil War era, the Flats allowed industrial valley companies such as John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Co. and Cyrus Eaton and William G. Mather's Republic Steel Corp. to thrive. They did so at the expense of the environment as the river, tinged red in the early 1930s by iron ore dust, commonly caught fire — most famously in 1969, spawning 46 years of less-than-clever burning river jokes.
The construction of the Innerbelt Bridge, shown in progress in 1958 and completed in 1959, dramatically altered the landscape of the Flats. In 2014, the span was demolished to make way for the new George V. Voinovich Bridge. Unchanged is the Nickel Plate railway underneath, completed in 1882 and now operated by Norfolk Southern. Just north of the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge in this photograph is the Stone's Levee viaduct. Only a small bit remains today, turned into a pedestrian bridge for sports fans journeying from parking at Collision Bend to the Gateway district.
After the 1960s, the Flats got a helluva lot more fun. In the mid-80s, clubs such as Peabody's DownUnder capitalized on the punk vibes of the '70s, which had fostered bands like the Dead Boys. By the late '80s, Clevelanders were flocking to nightclubs such as Club Coconuts and Shooters on the Water. In 1996, during the city bicentennial, lighting was installed on eight bridges, illuminating the river around the 5,000-seat concert venue now known as Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica.
The Flats East Bank is now one of Cleveland's most vibrant entertainment destinations. The partnership between the Wolstein family and Fairmount Properties has brought new life to a desolate corner of Cleveland with 241 apartments overlooking the river; FWD Day & Nightclub, Cleveland's first outdoor club; Zack Bruell's Alley Cat Oyster Bar; the 23-story Ernst & Young tower and more.