Slovaks began immigrating to Cleveland in the late 1870s, settling first around E. 9th Street near the Cuyahoga River. As the community grew some members moved to the lower Buckeye Road neighborhood between E. 78th Street and Woodhill Road. Others moved to the west side, settling in Tremont and in Lakewood’s “Birdtown.”
Because the Slovak state existed for only a brief time during WWII and only became a modern state in 1993, the Slovak community does not consider the recorded population data of Slovaks in Cleveland to be accurate. Many Slovak immigrants were identified by their country, which was Austria-Hungary before WWI and Czechoslovakia after WWI, rather than by their ethnicity. It is estimated that 35,000 Slovak immigrants were living in Cleveland by 1918. This number grew to an estimated total of 48,000 living in the Greater Cleveland area by 1970. By 1980, most Slovaks had moved to the suburbs, many to Parma. With the creation of The Slovak Republic on January 1, 1993, Cleveland Slovaks engaged in a series of cultural contacts with their now-independent homeland, including tours and trade missions. This activity reflects the Cleveland Slovak community’s interest in preserving cultural traditions and ethnic identity.
The Slovak Cultural Garden is comprised of three acres, spanning two levels, from East Boulevard to Martin Luther King Boulevard. At its heart is a sandstone terrace that opens onto an oval-shaped lawn that sits between busts of famous Slovakian community leaders Stefan Furdek and Jan Kollar. Initially dedicated in 1932, the Slovak Garden was rededicated in 1934, and again in 1939.
In the Slovak Cultural Garden the busts of Furdek and Kollar reflect the complexity of the story of Slovakian identity. A Catholic priest and a Lutheran minister, respectively, Furdek and Kollar embody both of Slovakia’s primary religious traditions. Furdek served as priest in Cleveland’s Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, where he ministered for 32 years until his death in 1915. He organized the First Catholic Slovak Union and the First Slovak Ladies Union in 1889. He was also a prolific author, writing an important reader that was used widely in Slovakian schools. Born in the 18th century, Kollar was a Lutheran minister who defended the language rights of both Lutheran and Catholic Slovaks against the encroachment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His poetry predicted Slovakian independence.