Beneath the Veterans' Memorial Bridge, crossing over the Cuyahoga River, is an abandoned deck which once provided an exclusive right-of-way to Cleveland's streetcars, while motor vehicles whizzed by overhead.
Making great time from Cincinnati I stopped only a few times to use the restroom and once to purchase a scrumptious lunch from a speedway gas station after constantly hearing their advertisements on 700 WLW. Following approximately 4.5 hours of driving, I pulled off of I-71 and onto W. 25th St. Cruising by dilapidated buildings advertising "peep shows, "W. 25th St. eventually turns from "blight" to "bustling" as I pulled by the West Side Market. I hadn't been in Cleveland since 2005 and never really had the chance to look around the city, much less photograph anything. Aside from the SUV driving morons who don't know how to parallel park, this was a nice area of the city. An accidental right hand turn forced me to drive over the bridge into downtown above the abandoned subway line and stations, turning around I pulled into the County Engineers Office at the southwest end of the bridge.
Every Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend the Cuyahoga County Engineers Office puts on free, self-guided tours of the subway. Immediately I was greeted by a friendly volunteer staff who guided me towards the subway entrance. As passengers would have entered back in the 1950's, I strolled down the steps past the tiled walls, descending into the "Catacombs of Cleveland."
I have to admit, I was wondering if this was going to be worth the drive, but as soon as I stepped onto the bottom deck of the bridge I knew it was. The first sight of the mammoth structure was pretty cool. The bridge really is a fine example of the kind of architecture you don't see today and it's underside is something most people don't get to see or even know exists.
The lower deck of the bridge was once used to carry the Red Line of the Cleveland Transit System's network of streetcars. And according to the free historical booklet given out at the tour: "...The Subway served as a major hub for commuter transportation until the discontinuation of streetcar service on January 24, 1954."
From the historical guide: "The "Subway" contained six station areas, four restrooms, an electrical control center and pedestrian tunnels that provided access from one side of the Subway to the other beneath the tracks."
The lower deck of the bridge provides for some nice views of downtown Cleveland:
The most interesting part of the tour though is the station beneath Detroit Ave. and W. 25th St. In contrast to Cincinnati's Abandoned Subway, Cleveland's actually served passengers up until 1954. As you walk down the bridge into the station, big band music from that time era was playing over loud speakers the tour guides had set up. If you've ever played the game "Fallout 3," the music really gave you the feel of being in the game listening to "Galaxy Radio." If you're not sure what I'm talking about, Fallout 3 is a game that takes place in 1950's esque destroyed America following a nuclear war. For an example of the music I'm talking about check this out, let it play in the background if you want (launches in a new window). LINK.
Here in the station, remains of the tracks can been seen as paint peels off the wall and floodlights light up what once used to be a bustling public center, now abandoned.
The "Cleveland Subway" is a testament to a time when public transportation in America was thought of differently. These days, many cities around the USA including Cincinnati, are seeing the benefits of and working to develop modern streetcar systems, just half a century after most of them abandoned streetcar service. The Cuyahoga County Engineers Office did a great job setting up the tour and I am glad I made the 4.5 hour drive both ways for it. Following the tour I decided to walk down to the West Side Market and catch a ride on the Cleveland RTA's heavy rail line, walking from the abandoned subway station...
...to an active one:
Due to Cincinnati's lack of rail transit, the only time I had ever ridden any type of subway/heavy rail system was during my 8th grade trip to Washington D.C. in 2001. I hardly remember the experience, so attempting to ride Cleveland's RTA was a bit challenging for an out of town pseudo-tourist with no rail riding experience. The desk at the station wasn't staffed, there were no instructional signs and the automated ticket kiosks were turned off with paper signs on them which read "coming soon." I had no idea how to navigate my way around or how to even pay for the subway ride once I got on the train. I watched a train come by in each direction as I tried to figure out how it worked. After about 20 minutes of confusion, a street flower salesman calling himself "T" sat down next to me and introduced himself. T instructed me on how to pay for a ticket and how to navigate, so I boarded the train from Ohio City with him and headed into downtown Cleveland.
We talked as the train pulled into downtown and beneath the main rail hub at Tower City Center. T recommended that I not get off here since I would probably get confused with all the tracks and such, so I stayed on board and rode to the next stop: Campus St.
The train rolled into the Campus St. station, I shook T's hand and said goodbye, thanking him for his help. The Campus St. station was far less ornate than the stations at Tower City and Ohio City, to be honest I was a bit nervous. As the train pulled away I realized I was the only person at the station and unlike where I started my adventure, there was no clock to tell me when the next train was coming.
I could barely see the Cleveland skyline above the highway overpass behind me, realizing I was now pretty far north of where I had parked my car. After a good 15 minutes of waiting, two smaller trains came by and didn't even stop. I began to wonder if my next adventure would be my first ride in a cab. As I was about to walk up to street level and attempt to figure out where I was, up rolled another Red Line train. I hoped on, paid the fare and rode the train back under the city center and to the Ohio City station where I reunited myself with my Toyota Corolla. The experience of my ride on the RTA was great and it made me even more so bitter that Cincinnati never completed a rail transit network. Even though the Browns are worse than the Bengals, Cincinnati can learn something from Cleveland when it comes to Rail Transit. Cleveland gets it right and the RTA line is a safe, quick way to get around town. A similar system connecting
The hour was getting late. I had spent nearly two hours taking in the subway tour and photographing it then another hour and half goofing around on the RTA rail line. I was due for a double shift at work the next day and had another 4.5 hour ride home. I drove around the city a bit looking for some good views of the skyline till I happened upon one I liked:
After taking the photograph of the skyline I noticed that the parking lot I pulled into was surrounding a very large abandoned building. It got me thinking...maybe one day I'll have to make a return again to Cleveland for some "Great Lakes Discovery."
I then spent the next 4.5 hours driving home listening to the Reds beat up on the Indians in a final game of interleague play rivalry.
To see more photographs of the abandoned Cleveland subway line, check out the full collection of photographs in the Queen City Discovery Photo Gallery (launches in new window).
Also check out the QC/D update on Cincinnati's Abandoned Subway
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Previous update: June 7, 2009 :: The Reds have been losers for the past 20 years, the Cubs for over a century.