Police Buildings: First Central Station and Precinct, 1863-1893

At the time the first Central Station House was built at 97 Champlain Street, Public Square was surrounded by an iron picket fence with gas lamps at each corner and a 25-foot-high Italian marble memorial to Oliver Hazard Perry in its the center. In 1860, nearly half of Cleveland’s 43,417 residents were immigrants, the iron, steel and ship building industries were thriving, and the city’s millionaires started building mansions along Euclid Avenue.

The first Central Station was the home of the police headquarters, the police court and First Precinct Station from late 1862 to 1893. The building contained 54 prison cells, a jailer’s room, and city offices and by 1878 two additions were made to the rear of the original prison area.

Cleveland in 1853, by B.F. Smith

Cleveland Police First Precinct and Headquarters located at 97 Champlain Street in 1893, just before the building was demolished. Note the building to the right. That is the new First Precinct and Headquarters building.

The building first served as the headquarters for the city’s marshal system. Cleveland’s first City Marshal George Kirk supervised a Deputy Marshal and a number of watchmen. The watchmen served the function of modern day patrol officers. In 1866, the city adopted the Metropolitan System for it’s police force and on May 1, 1866 the Cleveland Police Department was officially created. City Council transferred two law enforcement buildings which had served the City Marshal into the control of the new Board of Metropolitan Police. These buildings were Central Station House on Champlain Street near Seneca (now West 3rd and the area of Terminal Tower) and the West Side Station on Vermont Street.

From May 1, 1866, until April 1, 1867, 592 “lodgers” were accommodated at the Central Station House. The Cleveland Police Department Annual Report describes these individuals as being mainly “indigent and inoffensive persons, who have sought care and protection at the hands of the Police in the night season.” 

In his 1867 Annual Message, Cleveland Mayor and President of the Board of Metropolitan Police Herman M. Chapin explained how the police department covered the community. The city’s nine square miles were divided into four districts, each commanded by a sergeant. The total force consisted of Captain John N. Frazee, who was Acting Superintendent, five sergeants, two detectives (assigned to Central Station House) and 58 patrolmen. The Board also appointed 21 special patrolmen at the expense of private parties to guard certain districts assigned to them by their employer.

Cleveland Police Officers photographed in the rear of Police Headquarters in 1868.

The First Precinct boundaries at this time ran from the Cuyahoga River along the lake shore to Erie Street, to Euclid Avenue, to Brownell Street, to Woodland Avenue, to Cross Street to C.C.&S. Ry., to Cuyahoga River, to Walworth Run to Erie Rd., to Columbus Street Bridge, down the river to the lake

By the fall of 1893, the first Central Station building was being torn down. “Brick by brick and stone by stone the once elegant central police station is slowly being torn down and in the course of a few days its usefulness as a central station will be destroyed.” ( Plain Dealer, 9/18/1893). During the constructing of the second Central Station, the headquarters moved to the Eighth Precinct Station on the west side. “The old central station will still have the patrol wagon in its precinct, but all reports will be made at the eighth.

The Plain Dealer reflected, “persons, young and old, black and white, male and female, have been confined within its walls on nearly every charge in the criminal calendar. Murderers have paced the narrow limits of these cells and spent sleepless nights wondering what the morrow would bring forth. Women, lost to all sense of decency, have made iron rafters and stone pillars echo with the sound of their ribald laughter, while aching hearts at home awaited the loved one that did not come.”

Plain Dealer, 9/18/1893

1874 County Atlas
1887 Plat Map
1881 Map

Central Station, 1862 – 1893