17th Annual BEF Article: Birmingham Celebrates 100 Years of Growth
by Andrew Ludanyi (This article appeared in the 1991 Festival Book):
The Birmingham neighborhood of East Toledo is on the threshold of celebrating its 100th anniversary. The people that built this neighborhood began to settle here with the transfer in 1892 of the Malleable Castings Company operation from Cleveland to Toledo.
The earliest church records show that a handful of Hungarian and Slovak settlers were already in this area by the autumn of that year. The farms that formerly occupied this region along with Maumee now began to give way to the construction of modest working class homes, built in the orderly rectangular pattern which still characterizes the neighborhood today.
The continuity of the neighborhood’s physical outline is less surprising than the stability of the profile of its residents. The core of the community was composed of Malleable’s work force which moved to Birmingham with the operations of the steel mill. They were mostly Hungarians, but the community included many other ethnic strains, particularly Slovak, Moravians and some Ruthenians.
Later, these first settlers were joined by other ethnic groups, including Bulgarians and Italians. By World War I, the basic profile of the neighborhood was well defined, both in terms of its boundaries and its inhabitants. Subsequent changes and new settlers simply added to its diversification, but they did not redefine the neighborhood’s basic Central European mix.
The continuity is most evident in the churches that have provided the neighborhood with its centers of activity. Saint Stephen Roman Catholic, the Magyar Reformed (now called Calvin United), Holy Rosary and Saint Michael Byzantine churches provided the solid center. They were later joined by the Zion Hill Baptist Church for the ever-increasing black population.
The churches were surrounded by a self-contained community that was almost completely self-sufficient in its material needs. All this was reinforced by the people’s relative isolation from the rest of Toledo by the “hard boundaries” of the Maumee River, the railroad tracks, Collins Park and years later by Interstate 280.
Through 100 years of existence, the people of Birmingham have survived many crises and challenges. They saw their young men march off to Two World Wars, as well as the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. They faced the Great Depression and survived. The people confronted red-lining and sustained the values of family and community. In 1974, the community also stood up to city hall and won the battle of the Consaul Street overpass.
In all of this, community pride and ethnic solidarity played an important role.
On the threshold of their centennial, the Birmingham community has a lot to celebrate. They have done what few urban communities can claim in an age of high mobility and urban decay. They have survived!
In the process, they have richly contributed to the economic life, industrial growth, cultural wealth, spiritual dimension and political activism of Toledo and Northwest Ohio.
It is now time to celebrate these achievement and to contemplate the prospects of the next 100 years.