Sweeney’s Pasture was the kind of place which never appeared on maps but everybody knew where it was. Not only did the pasture provide a grazing area for farm animals but generations of West Parkers hiked, played, rode horses, and even hunted there. Sweeney's Pasture was a grassy field on the west side of West 143rd, stretching from Berwyn Avenue on the north to about Terminal Avenue on the south.
We probably would no longer know Sweeney’s Pasture ever existed but for the memories of our senior citizens. “I liked to go there to see birds and pick berries,” the late Ruth Hadlow told the author. “My brother and I would buy a Christmas tree at the old Asplin Basket Factory on West 150th, then pull it on a sled through the pasture to our house on West 143rd.”
“I used to ride a big horse around Sweeney’s Pasture when I was a kid,” says Bob Montgomery of North Royalton. “I used a stump to climb on the horse’s back.” Paul Varga, of Strongsville, recalls hunting in the pasture. “Of course, it was illegal” admits Paul, “but we did it. There were rabbits, quail and pheasants. I used a single shot twelve gauge which I still own.” Clarence Mey, of Brook Park, remembers the pasture “was just open land and trees. We used to pick mushrooms there and we’d find Indian arrowheads lying right on top in the dirt.”
The first solid clue to the origin of the name “Sweeney’s Pasture” came from Addie Feuchter Snell, of Orlando, Florida. Now in her 90s, Addie believes the pasture was named for a family which lived on West 143rd near the present PPG plant. “They were my neighbors when I was little,” says Addie. “I knew their children, Coletta and Mary Sweeney.” Research confirms Addie is right.
In 1880, Thomas J. and Nora Sweeney, born in America but the children of Irish immigrants, were raising a family of 11 children along present West 143rd Street, just south of Lorain Avenue. Apparently they were leasing the property because deed records reveal they didn’t actually own it until 1884 when they bought the land directly from early settler John M. West. (The same John West who was instrumental in the area later being named “West Park.”) Thomas J. Sweeney was a butcher, dealing in livestock, so it makes sense he would need nearby pastureland for cattle or sheep to graze on.
Right: William J. Sweeney (1875-1914) with his wife Mary Jane (Kelley) Sweeney (1874-1036). Courtesy of Ronald K. Lembright.
Among the children born to Thomas J. and Nora was William J. Sweeney, who wed Mary Jane Kelly in 1898. William and Mary Sweeney took up residence in a separate house a bit further south on the Sweeney property. They raised 2 sons and 5 daughters in that house, including Coletta and Mary, just as Addie remembered. William Sweeney, like his father, was a livestock dealer, once again demonstrating a need for nearby pastureland.
The author succeeded in tracking down a grandson of William and Mary Sweeney who confirmed the rest of the story. “I’m surprised anyone remembers Sweeney’s Pasture,” says 78-year-old Richard L. Lembright of Cincinnati. “My grandfather William was a meat broker. He would bring cattle in from the west, fatten them on his pasture, and sell them at the old stockyards on West 65th Street. He sometimes butchered some of the cattle right there on the farm. My mother, Eleanor, told me she once toppled into a blood trough and got covered with blood. She also remembered riding on the hay wagons along Lorain Avenue, looking over the side as she rode along.”
“My family talked about Sweeney’s Pasture all my life,” Richard goes on. “My mom said it stretched from Lorain almost to Brookpark Road. When I was very little my whole family – my father, mother, brother and I – lived there at my grandmother Mary Sweeney’s house. Her house was on the west side of the street (3726 West 143d), a two-story wood frame house. My mother told me it was one of the first houses in the area to have electricity. I remember sitting on my grandmother’s lap and playing with my dog ‘Betty’ on the front lawn.”
“My grandmother Mary was a widow because my grandfather, William Sweeney, was run over by a streetcar,” Richard explains. “They knew something had happened to him because his horse and buggy came home without him.”
Research in local records confirms William Sweeney died at age 39 on June 3rd, 1914, as the result of a cerebral embolism after being injured by a streetcar.
“My mother Eleanor was the oldest daughter, about 13 at the time,” says Richard. “She had to help her mother keep the family together. She worked as a bookkeeper at the nearby Lorain Street Lumber Company and later at the railroad. Her younger sisters eventually went to work, too. They sold off the pasture land bit by bit because they had no insurance.”
The early members of the Sweeney family are buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery at Puritas Avenue and Rocky River Drive where their gravestones stand to this day.
After World War II, the Bruscino Construction Company built hundreds of simple ranch-style houses on the empty land along West 143rd. They were snapped up by home-hunting veterans looking for an affordable place to raise their growing families. Many West Park baby boomers don’t realize they grew up in Sweeney’s Pasture.
The final resting place of William J. and Mary Kelly Sweeney is the St. Patrick’s Cemetery at Rocky River Drive and Puritas Avenue.