Tribute to a Cle archivist: Two history buffs celebrate a career in CSU Special Collections

Bill Barrow’s retirement this summer after more than 20 years as the head of Special Collections at Cleveland State University Michael Schwartz Library marks the end of a significant era in Cleveland history.

During his tenure, Barrow developed and expanded the Special Collections into a vital resource for students, writers, and those who are just plain curious about Cleveland history.

The path to his position was roundabout. A Cleveland native, For 10 years Barrow worked in animal rights—managing a shelter in Tucson, Arizona. An interest in the history of Cleveland and the city’s expansion into the development of Heights neighborhoods on the east side led to a degree in library science and a master’s degree in the field of history, both at CSU.

Why study history? Barrow says it improves one’s mind—echoing the Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. remark when FDR asked why he read Plato.

Northeast Ohio’s expansion and development is particularly interesting to Barrow, with his history master’s thesis exploring real estate development in the Heights in the early 20th Century—a natural progression since he was involved in the real estate business for several years.

Perhaps Cleveland’s greatest development project was construction of the Terminal Tower, says Barrow, which he identifies as a particular interest. In fact, Barrow calls the building photos one of CSU’s Special Collections' greatest treasures in its extensive photo collection.

Numbering about half a million still photographs, the collection provides insight into Cleveland history—extending as far back as photography itself. Included in the photography collection are The "Cleveland Press” photo collection—donated to CSU in 1982—and the Cleveland Memory Project.

Asked to identify the Special Collections’ greatest asset, Barrow says it would be almost impossible to say, although the photo collection would rank highly.

The collection also includes an extensive library of Cleveland books, as well as artifacts, and virtually every aspect of Cleveland history is covered.

Several books in the Arcadia Publishing Images of America series owe their existence to CSU’s Special Collections.

Barrow says he intends to remain active in retirement, pursuing a number of interests in the Cleveland area and his lifelong interest in its history.

An affable man well known for his courtesy and ready cooperation with researchers, Bill’s departure leaves a great void to fill.

He leaves behind a tradition of service and knowledge of the area that will prove very difficult to equal.

May his retirement be long and fruitful.

About the Author: Tom Matowitz

Recently retired after a 37-year career teaching public speaking, Tom Matowitz has had a lifelong interest in local and regional history. Working as a freelance author for the past 20 years he has written a number of books and articles about Cleveland’s past. He has a particular interest in the area’s rich architectural history.

Angelina Bair
Angelina Bair

About the Author: Angelina Bair

Architectural historian Angelina Bair holds a master’s degree in library & information science from Kent State University. She has 16 years of experience working in archives, museums, and libraries and specializes in local architectural, historical, and genealogical research. Bair is currently working on a graduate certificate in historic preservation at Cleveland State University Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs.