Located at the corner of St. Clair and East Boulevard, the Polish Cultural Garden was dedicated in 1934 with the planting of an elm tree from Poland. Originally designed as a sunken, hexagonal court, the Polish Garden was designed with organic material from Poland.
Poles were one of Cleveland’s largest nationality groups in the 20th century. Some arrived even earlier. In 1870, the first notable U.S. Census counted 77 Poles living in the city. The earliest Polish immigrants settled within the Czech community around Croton Street. Eventually, however, the Poles created their own settlement adjacent to Tod (E.65th) St. and what became Fleet Avenue. The area soon became known as Warszawa, after the capital city of Poland. Today, the area is known simply as Slavic Village today. Immigrants continued to move to Cleveland in the 1880s, increasing the Polish population considerably. Two more settlements grew up in the late 1880s and 1890s. The Poznan neighborhood was established around E. 79th St. and Superior Ave. and Kantowo arose in the Tremont area.
Cleveland’s Polish community continued to grow with the city’s need for workers. The largest influx occurred between 1900-14. The U.S. Census for 1920 records 35,024 Poles with several smaller neighborhoods having been settled by WWI: Josephatowo near E. 33rd St. and St. Clair Ave., Barbarowo at Denison Avenue, and along Madison Ave with other groups including Slovaks. All immigration after WWI was inconsequential and the Cleveland Polish community peaked in 1930 with a population of 36,668 foreign-born Poles.
The movement to the suburbs began as early as 1910. By 1970, only 6,234 Poles still resided within the city limits. The U.S. Census for 1990 estimated that only 1,635 Poles remained in the city, with Slavic Village being the community’s main center.
At the center of the Polish Cultural Garden stands an octagonal fountain decorated with allegorical figures that represent music, literature, science and astronomy. It has an ornamental border of jumping fish and small carved turtles along its base. The fountain was dedicated to the daughter of 16th century poet Jan Kochanowski. The little girl’s death at 2 ½ years of age prompted Kochanowski to write a series of 19 elegies. Fittingly, the fountain was built largely by the help of small donations from schoolchildren. It was dedicated in 1953.
Surrounding the central fountain are seven busts showing Polish notables. All the busts were dedicated between 1947 and 1966. Among the notables are 19th century composer and pianist Frederic Chopin (1810-1849), 16th century astronomer Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543), and 20th century physicist and chemist Maria Sklodowska Curie (1867-1934).