Canalway is an active member of the Hulett Working Group, a committee dedicated to the preservation and public display of the historic ore unloaders and the associated artifacts. The group also includes representatives from the Cleveland Landmarks Commission, Ohio Historic Preservation Office, Committee to Save Cleveland’s Huletts, Cleveland Restoration Society, National Trust for Historic Preservation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Buffalo District, the Port of Cleveland, and the City of Cleveland.
Over the years, the Hulett Working Group has worked to preserve the Huletts and considered feasible alternatives for a public display that would relocate the Huletts or Hulett artifacts from their current position at the Cleveland Bulk Terminal.
History of Hulett Ore Unloaders in Cleveland
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 by the Wellman-Seaver-Morgan Company of Cleveland after 1903.
Once, there were more than 80 of the giant machines scattered throughout the Great Lakes ports with well over a dozen occupying prominent positions on Cleveland’s lakefront and the Cuyahoga River. Today, only components of two full Huletts remain. They are dismantled and stored in Cleveland at the 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 buckets could grab 17 tons at a time and replaced hand-held shovels, wheel-barrows, and mechanical hoists. By 1913, George Hulett’s ore unloaders had reduced unloading costs from nineteen cents to six cents per ton. 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 to 1992 until they were made obsolete by newer technology: “self-unloading” freighters equipped with their own boom and conveyor systems that did not require landside unloaders.
When Conrail made their announcement, Canalway Partners chose to fight that permit and found an ally in Cleveland and Mayor Mike White. According to retired Canalway ED, Tim Donovan, Mayor White stood with Canalway 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 fighting for the survival of the Huletts, this was good news – finally, these historic assets would rest in public hands.
At this time, Canalway Partners and allies began the process of preserving and finding a permanent location for the Hullets. As of 2022, this work is still in process.
Learn more about the Hulett Ore Unloaders: