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Cleveland-designed and Cleveland-built, the Hulett Ore Unloaders revolutionized the hauling of iron ore on the Great Lakes and contributed greatly to the wealth and prosperity of Cleveland and the nation. They were invented by George H. Hulett in 1898 and built (after 1903) by the Wellman-Seaver-Morgan Company of Cleveland.

Once, there were more than 80 of the giant machines scattered throughout the Great Lakes ports with well over a dozen occupying prominant positions on Cleveland’s lakefront and the Cuyahoga River. Today, only four remain. Two smaller versions in Chicago, still working. The other two, dismantled and stored on the Cleveland/Cuyahoga County Port Authority’s C&P Ore Docks.

The invention of the Huletts introduced a speedy, efficient, economical and innovative new technology for transferring iron ore and other bulk cargoes from the holds of lake freighters directly into railroad cars. The Huletts drastically lowered the costs and the time needed to unload iron ore. Their enormous grab buckets (in this case, 17 tons in one “bite”) replaced hand-held shovels, wheel-barrows and mechanical hoists. By 1913, Geroge Hulett’s ore unloaders had reduced unloading costs from nineteen cents to six cents per ton. Thus they enabled the production of low-cost steel in large quantities, and thereby profoundly affected American social, cultural and economic life.

The four extant Cleveland unloaders were erected in 1912 on a Whiskey Island dock on the shores of Lake Erie. They were listed at that site in the National Register of Historic Places, listed in the inventory of the Historic American Engineering Record, honored with National Mechanical Engineering Landmark status, and designated as a Cleveland Landmark.

In June of 1992, Conrail announced that they would abandon the Huletts and seek demolition permits from the city of Cleveland. The Huletts operated on Whiskey Island from 1912 -1992, and were made obsolete by newer technology: “self-unloading” freighters equipped with their own boom and conveyor systems, and not requiring landslide unloaders.

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When Conrail made their announcement, Canalway Partners chose to fight that permit and found an ally in Cleveland and its Mayor Mike White. Mayor White stood with us not because he wanted to save the Huletts; he did so because for once, Conrail needed something from his city and he would use that opportunity to extract a price. To gain his support, Conrail was given a long list of to-do items, ranging from parcels to be donated to the city, to bridges needing repair and a fresh coat of paint. By the time Conrail complied, they had shifted their intentions and instead sold the property to the Cleveland/Cuyahoga County Port Authority. For those of us fighting for the survival of the Huletts, this was good news – finally, these histroic assets would rest in public hands.

Canalway Partners found other allies along the way, including the Cleveland Waterfront Coalition, longshoremen, former principals in the steel union, LTV workers and others. This group worked to bring a National Engineering Landmark to the Huletts.

After gaining control of the property, the Port Authority commissioned a study, a Master Plan for the C&P Ore Docks. That Master Plan did not take into account the future of the Huletts. It was only after the study was complete that a separate study analyzed the impact of the Huletts. That separate study concluded that the Huletts would prevent 2 ships from simultaneously docking to unload materials on the C&P and thus inhibit profitability for the tenant.

The separation of the Huletts from the Master Plan would prove to be a significant error in judgement as litigants took both the Port Authority and Army Corps of Engineers to federal court to claim “segmentation” – that the Port knowingly avoided the issue of the Huletts in their Master Plan. A subsequent permit to dredge the dock alongside the site of the former Huletts triggered the court action.

The Port Authroity requested a demolition permit from the city of Cleveland in December of 1999. The Landmarks Commission denied the needed Certificate of Appropriateness and granted a 6-month stay for the Hulett’s preservation. At that time, the Landmarks Commission only had powers to grant such a stay for a period of 12 months. (Of note, a legacy of this Hulett issue was that Cleveland passed new legislation granting the Landmarks Commission the ability to deny demolition for an indefinite period.) By June, the Port Authrority was back before the Landmarks Commission asking for the demolition permit. This time, the adminiostration was ready to seek a compromise position.

The Landmarks Commission through Planning Director Hunter Morrison crafted a set of conditions by which 1 Hulett would be dismatled and stored for a period of five years; a “foundation” would be created, headed by the city of Cleveland Landmarks Commission, Olgelby Norton and the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority. The Mission of the foundation was to find a site, raise the money to reassemble the Huletts.

Faced with a question to wage an “all or nothing” battle for the Huletts, Canalway Partners and the Cleveland Waterfront Coalition split from other Hulett allies and worked to enhance the compromise position. We advocated for the ability to raise additional funds to salvage a second Hulett. The Landmarks Commission in a controversial vote allowed for the extended compromise to find those additional funds. The organizations were notified three months prior to the selected demolition deadline that $272,000 would be needed to save a second machine.

The organizations campaigned and were successful in meeting the challenge. In January of 2000, the Huletts were demolished and dismantled; the five year clock started.

The Cleveland Waterfront Coalition took the lead in an effort to analyze potential sites for relocating the Huletts on behalf of those who contributed to their preservation. The study reviewed 17 locations along Cleveland’s waterfront. It evaluated site size, historic context, ownership, access to water as a method of transporting the Huletts and interest. Of the 17 sites, four were determined to be acceptable. Three were in private ownership. A discussion was held with the owners to determine their interest in selling land for a Hulett relocation. From those discussions two sites dropped from contention. The fourth site was Dock 32, where the Steamship William Mather has recently relocated.

In addition to this study, appraisals were conducted on public and private property affiliated with Canal Basin Park. A request to an owner of one waterfront parcel allowed for soil borings to determine if the property could host the Huletts. The investigation concluded that it could.

Genevive Ray left Cleveland and the Waterfront Coalition in 2003 and Canalway Partners stepped in to work with Ryan McKenzie to complete the outstanding work. At the same time, in 2004 Canalway Partners met with newly-elected Mayor Jane Campbell’s Planning Director to discuss preferred location for the Huletts. The city was embarking on an extensive lakefront study and OCFC wanted to ensure that both parties would agree on a site. We did; it was Canal Basin Park.

With a site determined, Canalway Partners began to work with Cleveland to find funding for land acquisition. NOAA funds ($3 million) were secured to purchase land for Canal Basin Park. Afterwards, Canalway Partners embarked on a purchase negotiation for the site that could host the Huletts. An elongated process ended with no deal, but not without effort as Tim Donovan and then chief-of-staff Chris Ronayne met to pitch the deal.

Canalway Partners was working on a critical path where site control was needed prior to any fundraising for the Huletts.


 

Learn more about the Hulett Ore Unloaders:

The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

The Cleveland Memory Project