The Caxton Building: A haven for artists and entrepreneurs for 120 years

The 1903 Caxton Building at the corner of East 8th Street and Huron Road was built by a group of turn-of-the-century entrepreneurs who wanted to accommodate the needs of the publishing and printing businesses that would be early tenants of the building.

The Caxton offered the best features of the early 20th Century design, including electric power generation on-site.

In its 120 years, the Caxton building continues its history of housing publishers, architects, artists, and entrepreneurs. The building was constructed to house its anchor tenant, George Adomeit, co-founder and president of the Caxton Company, a commercial printing and graphic arts business.

The company and the building were named after William Caxton, a 15th Century British printer who introduced the printing press to England.

Caxton Building exterior detailCaxton Building exterior detailOther early industrialists responsible for creating this printing haven include Ambrose Swasey and Worcester R. Warner, founders of precision tools and telescope manufacturer Warner & Swasey Company, and Alfred Cahen, founder of the World Publishing Company, which in 1951 the printed Webster’s New World Dictionary—the world’s largest American dictionary at the time. The top floor was occupied by Case Library’s 80,000 volumes.

The group bought the land in 1897 for about $85,000 and hired renowned Cleveland architect Frank Seymour Barnum to design the Caxton Building, an eight-story steel framed office building with reinforced concrete floors that could accommodate 300 pounds per square foot required for the tenants’ heavy equipment.

Barnum was known in Cleveland for his designs of 1882 Blackstone Building and Millionaires’ Row survivor George Howe Mansion while partnered with Forrest A. Coburn in the firm Coburn & Barnum. After Coburn’s death in 1897, Barnum created F.S. Barnum & Co.

Following the 1903 completion of the Caxton Building, Barnum went on to design the Park Building in Public Square—also with reinforced concrete floors.

The Caxton building was constructed between 1901 and 1903. Although Barnum originally designed the building to solely accommodate tenants in the printing and manufacturing industry, in 1902 he converted the plans to accommodate office tenants as well. The printers were housed on the south side of the building, while the north side had large windows to provide natural light for office workers.

Caxton Building entranceCaxton Building entranceThe exterior of the Romanesque style building is made of terra cotta, stone, and brick, with a large terra cotta archway that welcomes guests through the Huron Road entrance. The archway is adorned with carved faces—each one uniquely different—and other ornate details.

The building's center entrance on Huron Road is a large semi-circular archway with Romanesque Revival details, while the upper stories of the Huron Road facade are Sullivanesque in treatment, emphasizing the verticality of the building's construction and use of ornamental details, such as intricate floral designs and geometric patterns.

The decorative details reflect Barnum's interest in the eclectic mix of architectural styles that was prevalent at the time and contributes to its unique character and beauty.

The Caxton Building is a testament to Barnum's skill as an architect and his ability to create a building that is both functional and beautiful. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and declared a Cleveland historical landmark in 1976—one of the first buildings to be landmarked in the city.

The historic steel water tower atop the Caxton Building stands approximately 50 feet tall and is considered one of the most recognizable features of the building. It has been a part of the Cleveland skyline for more than a century and, illuminated at night in recent years, is visible from many parts of the city.

Today, the Caxton Building still draws entrepreneurs and small businesses, as well as first-floor bars and restaurants that cater to the fans headed to Progressive Field.

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Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.