Students at a nearby school spent four months learning about a piece of Cleveland Heights history from the people who made it.
Teenagers from The Intergenerational School in Cleveland interviewed seniors from the Judson retirement community who helped halt an east side freeway project that would have destroyed the parks around Shaker Lakes and dozens of historic homes. Dave Harris compiled these conversations and other information including photographs and student drawings in his new book, The Legacy of Clark Freeway Fighters, to tell the story of the famous battle.
The is hosting a for the launch of the hardcover, coffee table style book from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday. Representatives from Judson, The Intergenerational School and the Nature Center who worked on the book with Harris will attend, and the event is open to the public. A portion of the proceeds from the $75 book will go toward the school.
“This book really allowed students at the eigth grade level to have conversations with these activists about what it meant to save their community, and really driving an effort that was highly organized,” Harris said, crediting the school for its work bringing people of all generations together. “The book is a collection of interviews and conversations between the 12- and 13-year-olds, and we had someone who was as old as 103.”
A grad school project at Case Western Reserve University that Harris coordinated inspired him to pursue the 80-page book. He co-directed the venture with Peter Whitehouse, a neurology professor at Case. Harris, 24, also founded his own company, Tec4Life, which interviews families and businesses and organizes their stories into memoir books and mission statements.
“It’s kind of like StoryCorps on steroids,” Harris, of Wadsworth, said. “Families realize how priceless it is to have their words in memoir books.”
Harris began working on the freeway fight project in January, six months after he graduated.
He collected about six hours of interview data, old photographs and newspaper clippings about the battle that started in 1963 when plans from Cuyahoga County Engineer Albert Porter went public. The Clark Freeway or I-290 would have run east and west along the Shaker Lakes to I-271 in Pepper Pike, with a north-south interchange at Lee, according to an article about the battle on the Cleveland Heights Historical Society website.
Cleveland Heights joined Shaker Heights residents and officials after the city saw how future plans for connecting freeways would impact its land.
“County Engineer’s maps showed Cleveland Heights would be on the paths of three future freeways: the Heights Freeway through East Cleveland, Cleveland Heights, South Euclid, and Lyndhurst; the Central Freeway along Cedar through the center of Cleveland Heights, and the north-south Lee Freeway that would connect the proposed Clark Freeway to Interstate 90,” according to the historical society.
Women led the movement, Harris said, and championed the idea to create a nationally recognized nature center to barricade the land from development with a landmark.
“They called themselves the ‘little ladies in tennis shoes,’” Harris said. “It became a living room movement, and because many were involved in the PTA, they were able to get the school on board with them. They were all inspired by civil rights and many were involved in the League of Women Voters, so you can imagine the power they had.”
In 1970, then Ohio Governor James Rhodes jettisoned the highway plans.
For more information about the project, visit Harris' site.