As many of you know, The Movement Project has found a new home in the beautiful and historic Pilgrim Church. As we have adjusted to our new location and neighborhood, we’ve discovered that not only is this place perfect to house the company’s rehearsals and administrative work, but it is also a wonderful location for opening up our new school (information on that can be found here!).
So what is it about this community that speaks to us? Why Tremont? Why Pilgrim Church? To understand the community we are now a part of, and to find the answer, it’s best to start from the beginning.
1850. Cleveland was bustling with horse and buggies and, soon, railroads. A few prominent Clevelanders, including Governor William Slade, Jr., John Giles Jennings (think Jennings road), and Thyrza Pelton decided it was time the city had its own university. Jennings and Pelton bought 275 acres of farmland overlooking the flats in what is now present-day Tremont, and set to work.
After setting up the university’s street grid (with intellectual--and lasting--names like Professor Street and Literary Street), they began building. The founders selected Asa Mahan, who was from Oberlin College and left due to conflicts with faculty there, to become the first President. Lincoln Park (which was then Pelton Park) became part of the campus and on March 5th, 1851, the university was incorporated. After a year, in June 1852, eight degrees were given, and things appeared to be on a roll.
Then fall came.
After tensions with the trustees, Mahan resigned as President in December, and almost year later, after steady decline, Pelton passed away, nailing Cleveland University’s coffin shut. Without her financial support, the University was finished after only two years of operation.
Remnants of this time include the park, the layout of the streets, and street names such as Literary, College, and Starkweather (from Samuel Starkweather, a University trustee).
Their Way or the Highway
Tremont had settled into a rhythm of a multicultural yet peaceful neighborhood. African-American, Eastern European, Appalachian, and other diverse groups of individuals occupied the area, and their cultures created a distinct flavor in the small haven just outside downtown.
When the highway system was developed, it brought in outside traffic to the neighborhood and opened Tremont up to a larger flow of people. Bridges were built, and that linked Tremont to Downtown more directly. This made Tremont accessible and convenient while still keeping a ‘small-town charm’ despite being so close to downtown. Many homes were demolished, though, around 400 in the immediate vicinity of Pilgrim Church. This hacked the population down considerably, leaving many places vacant.
The overarching influence of Eastern Europe affected the architecture, and people grew to love the neighborhood for its unique appearance. Artists began moving in during the 1970’s and 80’s due to Tremont’s central location and affordability. This sparked a revival...a revival we are still living in today.
Through the neighborhood’s ups and downs, Pilgrim Church has remained a constant stone figure on West 14th and Starkweather since it was built. Previously, the church had been a few blocks northeast of its present location, founded in a small schoolhouse. Once the congregation grew and things began to pick up, Pilgrim’s current building was established. Remember John Jennings and his involvement with Cleveland University? Well he and his wife were members of this early congregation, and it was due to them and other influential members of the congregation that funded the next step in Pilgrim’s history; Jennings Avenue Congregational Church. This sanctuary was built to house 600-700 individuals.
Despite being a church of diverse people (there were many sub-groups of Christianity represented within the congregation), Pilgrim was quite successful. By 1891, the church was outgrowing the space they had built, and the congregation decided to build a larger church a block away and present-day Pilgrim Church was truly born.
What happened to the old location? It was sold to the St. Augustine Roman Catholic congregation for $20,000. Not bad, eh?
Things were stable for several decades after this; the church functioned well and congregants consistent. However, after the population decline of the 1960’s and 70’s, Pilgrim began to struggle. The congregation shrunk down to 161, after having over a thousand a few decades before. Attendance on Sunday was even smaller--on average, only about 50 people came to worship.
Something had to change.
Pastor Laurie Hafner decided to guide the church into a new direction. Pilgrim became a flagship for the United Church of Christ, and after 16 years of her dedication, Pilgrim was on the rise. The UCC was a haven for individuals from all backgrounds (the UCC ordained the first openly gay person in 1972), and Pilgrim’s congregants were diverse and accepting.
What Pilgrim Church Means to Us
In 2009, Pilgrim celebrated its 150th birthday, and is still a hub of community events (take a look!) and culture. The Movement Project has been able to rehearse, work, take class, and have performances all within Pilgrim’s walls. The space is diverse, welcoming, and flexible, and the congregants have been supportive and enthusiastic to see the kindness Pilgrim Church has shared with us and the community.
Tremont, like Pilgrim, has become a flurry of activity. Vacant buildings are quickly becoming a thing of the past, here, and arts are flourishing. There are events (such as Arts in August), restaurants, art galleries, farmer’s markets, bars, shops, and cafes all over. Despite all of this activity and traffic, though, the neighborhood has a distinct sense of community. Tremont people want to help Tremont people.
This is why TMP is here. The sense of community and responsibility is strong, and the neighborhood is centrally located so visitors to our community can easily appreciate this rebirth as well. As Tremont accelerates forward, building and growing, there’s an overwhelming sense of potential. Of growth. Of promise.
And we are proud to be a part of it.