The Collinwood School Fire Memorial Garden - Does Anybody Care?

I would imagine that if you've lived in the Collinwood neighborhood for any length of time that at one point or another you would have at least driven past the Collinwood School Fire Memorial Garden in front of Memorial School on East 152 Street. The garden that exists today is the current version of the more extensive gardens that graced the site in years past. This Garden commemorates the Collinwood School Fire of March 4, 1908 where 172 children, two teachers and 1 rescuer, a resident of the community, lost their lives. The school fire itself and its aftermath was a very trying time in our community. The garden was meant to help the community heal by placing something living where life was lost.  We still strive to do this today when we place flowers at the site of a tragic event. This is why the Collinwood Nottingham Historical Society was started – to preserve the history of the community and especially the memory and the story of the Collinwood School Fire.  Along with this comes the task of safeguarding the garden that exists.  To this end, the Little Red Cap Project  was formed out of the Collinwood School Fire Committee of the Historical Society in the hopes of garnering the support of concerned residents to help preserve and maintain the garden.

In fact, the very existence of the garden was legislated to ensure that there would always be a remembrance. In 1909, the Ohio General Assembly passed House Bill #140 declaring that "a memorial should stand in perpetuity to honor those who lost their lives in this school fire tragedy.”

With the reopening of Memorial School, because the garden is on the grounds of the school, it falls under the jurisdiction of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. When the original Memorial was in place there was a greenhouse associated with the school where flowers were grown by the students for the Memorial. When the first Memorial School closed in 1979 this ceased.  The private owner of the property never really maintained the garden that was there prompting residents and the Waterloo Business Association to develop a new Memorial Garden in 1991.  

Having said all this, just to remind you of the memorial itself– it’s the big concrete and tiled "flowerpot" in front of the school and it's a mess. We don’t intend to demean it but it is ceasing to be a meaningful memorial. The Garden itself is looking rather rough right now - and it deserves better.

It is a garden though, which means it needs ongoing work. We can't weed one day, for instance, then expect it to stay neat forever; anyone who does "garden" knows this! Yet, aside from the students at Memorial (who can only give the Garden limited time) & a few hardy volunteers, the Garden lays neglected.

This, too, is a big space! The plantable area of the memorial measures roughly 20’ x 40’ and is elevated roughly 3 1/2 feet. Since there's also a deep bench around the base and the walls are slanted back, access to this planting area is sometimes very challenging. 

So, this begs the questions: What do we do here?  What is needed to make this a better place in the community?  What are the issues with the site? What resources do we have available? LET’S CREATE A DIALOGUE ABOUT THE GARDEN.  If you have any comments, questions, suggestions, the Little Red Cap Project Committee needs to hear from you. You can reach us through Mary Louise Daley at or (216) 664-4236.

IT IS TIME TO GET SERIOUS ABOUT this important piece of Collinwood history.  March 4, 2018 is the 110th Anniversary of the Collinwood School Fire and it will be here before we know it. We would love to be able to re-dedicate this Garden - & celebrate our community's job "well done!"



Mary Louise Daley

Resident of neighborhood since 1956. Worked on East 185th street since 1970.

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Volume 8, Issue 8, Posted 1:19 PM, 08.11.2016