brooklyn 101: unlocking the mysteries of the cleveland brooklyns

We all know there's a Brooklyn in our backyard, but where is Old Brooklyn? Is it part of Cleveland? What about Brooklyn proper, or Brooklyn Heights? And (heaven help us) where-oh-where is Brooklyn Centre? And why is it spelled as if it's part of a proclamation from Merry Old England?

Probably because you practically have to go back to the Mayflower days to figure out the Brooklyns of Cleveland. Well, maybe not quite that far, but you do have to go back to 1818, when a chunk of Cuyahoga County was first organized and formally designated as Brooklyn Township.

Bordered by the city of Cleveland to the north, the Cuyahoga River to the east, the now-defunct Rockport Township to the west, and what we know today as Brookpark Road to the south, Brooklyn Township was essentially rural. As time marched ineluctably forward and the county's population grew, so did the need for schools and streets and all things collective. Cuyahoga County's original townships began to break off into towns and villages.

The city of Cleveland began annexing the lion's share of Brooklyn Township in 1894, eventually forming the neighborhoods we know today as Old Brooklyn and Brooklyn Center. The village of Brooklyn Heights was founded in 1903 and included parts of Brooklyn, Independence and Newburg Townships. Lastly -- and perhaps most righteously -- the southwest corner of Brooklyn Township remains today as the city of Brooklyn proper, which was founded as a village in 1927 and then a home rule city in 1950.

Still confused? Here's breakdown from a 21st century point of view:

Old Brooklyn

After Cleveland annexed the area one bite at a time, the neighborhood of Old Brooklyn was established by 1927. Bordered by Brooklyn Center to the north, the villages of Cuyahoga Heights and Brooklyn Heights to the east, the city of Brooklyn to the west, and Parma to the south, Old Brooklyn covers 5.76 miles and is home to about 34,000 residents.

Old Brooklyn is best known for the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and a bar called Murphy's Law, which inspired The Warsaw Tavern on the long running Drew Carey Show, the namesake of which is an Old Brooklyn native. Another notable, Anthony Bourdain of the Travel Channel's No Reservations fame, delighted in the handcrafted Old World offerings of the Sausage Shoppe, an Old Brooklyn institution since 1938.

The insider's list of neighborhood eats includes the Gyro Guys, who do it the original way on a vertical spit and Dee's Diner for classics like pot roast, deviled eggs and steakburgers. Gentile's Bakery, Wexler's Tavern and Michael's Bakery round out the roster.

Old Brooklyn may be urban, but there's plenty of greenspace to be found if you know where to look. With five acres, 204 plots and 180 gardeners per year, Ben Franklin Garden is Cuyahoga County's largest community garden.

"It's really popular," says Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation (OBCDC) Executive Director Robyn Sandys. "We donate thousands of pounds of food to various hunger centers around town every year."

On the commercial side, OBCDC leases a plot to Henninger Market Garden. Specializing in garlic, carrots, herbs and lavender, the site is home to Lucia's Fresh Produce and Old Brooklyn Lavender Farm.

Sandys also touts the area's interactive greenspaces, particularly the 135-acre Brookside Reservation, which features ballparks, picnic areas and a trail to the Zoo.

"A lot of people don't realize that's right here in the middle of our neighborhood," says Sandys. "We also have another trail that connects to the Towpath Trail," she adds, referencing the nearly mile-long Treadway Creek Trail in the 21-acre Treadway Creek Greenway. "Bike riding enthusiasts are finding that this area is a really great spot."

Brooklyn Centre

Back in the 1800's, Brooklyn Centre was the closest thing Brooklyn Township had to a swingin' downtown: It was a trading post. But hey, it graduated to a hamlet before Cleveland annexed it in 1894. Save a tiny kiss for neighboring Cuyahoga Heights, Cleveland surrounds Brooklyn Centre. Loosely bordered by the Jennings Freeway to the east, Old Brooklyn to the South, Fulton Parkway to the west and a zigzag of city streets that loop north to include Metro Health Center, this Cleveland neighborhood might be only 1.38 square miles, but it's home to about 9,000 residents as well as the area's only Level 1 trauma/burn center.

Catering to more finite eventualities since 1876, the historic Riverside Cemetery is the resting place for stand-out Cleveland residents such as blues legend Robert Lockwood, Jr., Cuyahoga County Library founder Linda Anne Eastman, and eight brewers including Leonard B. Schlather, whose bustling Ohio City brewery (est. 1857) was housed on the site now occupied by Great Lakes Brewing Co. Got Christmas Ale?

Other spots of interest include the popular Art House in the heart of Brooklyn Centre's Historic District, Brown's Bowling & Grill, which is the second oldest bowling hall in the United States, and The Ugly Broad, an alternatively titled tavern and grill. Brooklyn Centre also has its own Wiki site.

But what do people love about these two quirky old Cleveland neighborhoods?

"We're five minutes from everything," says the OBCDC's Sandys, who serves both Old Brooklyn and Brooklyn Centre. She cites the area's easy access to Interstates 71, 480 and 90 and Downtown. People also gravitate to the reasonably priced old stock housing.

"People say our communities are like a warm sweater," says Sandys.


The city of Brooklyn's 4.28 square miles are bordered by Parma to the South and Cleveland on three sides: Norfolk Southern's Cloggsville rail line separates it from the West Boulevard neighborhood to the north, Ridge Road and Old Brooklyn loosely borders the east, and Cleveland's Puritas Longmead neighborhood is they city's western neighbor.

"What makes Brooklyn great is the diversity of its people and its location," says Brooklyn Mayor and lifetime resident Richard Balbier. He touts city services, classic housing and balanced land use. With approximately one-third of the city zoned industrial, one-third commercial and one-third residential, "That's almost a perfect scenario," says Balbier. The city's 11,400 residents also enjoy the third-lowest property taxes in Cuyahoga County.

Utilitarian at first glance, Brooklyn is home to a host of hidden gems including a tiny 35-seat eatery that is humbly divine. Charles Michener touted Aldo's on Memphis Road in the April 2011 edition of Smithsonian Magazine:

"It’s a dead ringer for Rao’s, New York’s most celebrated hole-in-the-wall, only here you don’t have to know someone to get a table, and the homemade lasagna is better."

Just as venerable -- at least as far as the wee folk are concerned -- are Memphis Kiddie Park and B. A. Sweetie Candy. On rainy days, stop by the Brooklyn Historical Society Museum or check out a toy from the Cuyahoga County Public Library's toy collection, which is housed in the Brooklyn Branch.

Brooklyn Heights

Bordered by Old Brooklyn to the north and west, Cuyahoga Heights to the east, and Parma, Seven Hills and Independence to the south, the village of Brooklyn Heights may have a lot of neighbors, but it covers just 1.8 miles.

With more than a hundred acres under glass, Brooklyn Township was once one of the nation's leading greenhouse vegetable producers. Development has changed all that, but one Brooklyn Heights neighborhood still nurses the area's agricultural roots.

Schaaf Road features diverse housing stock overlooking an unparalleled view of downtown Cleveland as well as the panoramic vista of the Cuyahoga River Valley. Remnants of greenhouses haunt the neighborhood while Rosby's Raspberry Farm keeps the area's pastoral past alive with neat rows of berry plants available for picking August through October.

According to Mayor Michael Procuk, the village's population is stable at 1,500, although that number doesn't include the more than 60 alpacas that inhabit Vintage Alpacas off Schaaf road.

"They're friendly animals," says the mayor. But are they good residents? "Absolutely."

The village is split between industrial and residential usage with no retail. Although there may not be a secret noshing spot to reveal, Brooklyn Heights harbors part of a regional treasure -- the Cuyahoga River.

"Our hidden gem is the Cuyahoga River Valley," says Procuk. Over his three terms, he's focused on preserving the Valley and its associated greenspaces. Procuk sees the extension of the shared use trails and the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad as a boon for the entire region, offering residents accessibility options "other than jumping in a car and going down the Jennings Freeway."

"I picture the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railway taking passengers and cyclists to the Flats and Downtown, to the restaurants and the ball fields and the new casino," says Procuk. "As we preserve that valley and national park and all of its feeders and trails, the next several generations will be able to enjoy a whole different rebirth of Cleveland."

Photos Bob Perkoski
- Images 1 - 3: The Sausage Shoppe
- Image 4: OBCDC Executive Director Robyn Sandys at Wexler's Tavern
- Images 5 & 6: Wexler's Tavern
- Image 7: Dee's Restaurant
- Images 8 - 10: Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
- Images 11 - 13: Riverside Cemetery statues
- Image 14: Art House
- Image 15: Aldo's Restaurant
- Image 16: View of Cleveland from Brooklyn Heights
- Image 17: Rosby sign
- Images 18 - 21: Vintage Alpacas

Read more articles by Erin O'Brien.

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit for complete profile information.