CWRU Links

INTERURBANS

INTERURBANS. Early in the 20th century, Ohio became the heartland of the electric interurban railway, and Cleveland emerged as one of its foremost centers. Interurbans most heavily served the areas skirting the shores of Lake Erie. They were ideally suited to its gentle landscape, its well-developed urban-oriented agriculture, and the large number of relatively closely spaced cities and towns, and residents of Cleveland were riding electric intercity cars almost as soon as they appeared. In 1895 local promoters HENRY A. EVERETT and EDWARD W. MOORE, who organized the Everett-Moore Syndicate, opened the 35.5-mi. Akron, Bedford & Cleveland Railroad Co., which ran between the communities of its corporate name. The AB&C (later the expanded Northern Ohio Traction & Light Co.) prospered, and its backers launched several other interurban projects in Greater Cleveland. By 1910 the city boasted 6 separate electric interurban systems. To the east there was the consolidated CLEVELAND, PAINESVILLE & EASTERN RAILROAD and its subsidiary, the Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula road. This 85-mi. network, with headquarters in Willoughby, consisted of: the 58-mi. main line from Cleveland to Painesville; the parallel "Shore Line Div." between Cleveland and Willoughbeach; and the 6-mi. "Fairport Div.," a branch that connected Painesville with Fairport. The CP&E, through its CP&A line, connected Fairport and Ashtabula and on to Conneaut via the Pennsylvania & Ohio Railroad, where it met the Cleveland & Erie Railway. That carrier interchanged at Erie, PA, with the Buffalo & Lake Erie Traction Co. for various eastern points, providing a direct link between Ohio's interurbans and those of New York and New England.

Interurbans

The Eastern Ohio Traction Co. (later reorganized as the Cleveland & Eastern Traction Co.) was another interurban that penetrated the countryside east of Cleveland. Its 33-mi. main line crossed the sparsely settled and at times hilly terrain between Cleveland and Chardon, a region with poor steam railroad service. The company also operated a 14-mi. appendage from "C&E Junction" (near Fullerton) southeast to Middlefield. Separate from the Eastern Ohio Traction Co., although operated jointly with it, was the Cleveland, Youngstown & Eastern Railway. Prior to 1910 this firm had been officially part of the Eastern Ohio, and for a decade the public commonly referred to it as the "Chagrin Falls & Garrettsville Branch." Although this 42-mi. interurban never reached Youngstown, it tied Cleveland with Garrettsville via Warrensville, CHAGRIN FALLS, and Hiram. South of Cleveland, the Northern Ohio Traction & Light Co. (originally the Akron, Bedford & Cleveland) provided extensive service. The initial Cleveland-to-Akron stem soon grew into a nearly 150-mi. system. By 1910 lines ran from Akron through Canton and Massillon to Uhrichsville, from Silver Lake Junction to Ravenna, from Akron to Wadsworth, and from Massillon to E. Greenville. The NOT&L also provided Clevelanders with a connection to the Stark Electric Railway at Canton, a road that ran easterly to Alliance, Sebring, and Salem. After Jan. 1913, Clevelanders used the NOT&L for a more direct trip to Alliance via the newly opened Cleveland, Alliance & Mahoning Valley Railway, a company that by 1915 also reached Newton Falls and Warren.

Clevelanders enjoyed the same widening access to the hinterland through the mighty CLEVELAND, SOUTHWESTERN & COLUMBUS RAILWAY. Developed by F. J. Pomeroy and MAURICE J. MANDELBAUM, promoters similar in stature to Everett and Moore, the nearly 250-mi. CSW&C by 1910 consisted of 2 major units, the "Southern Div." and the "Western Div." The former ran from Cleveland through BEREA, STRONGSVILLE, Brunswick, and Medina to Seville. From this junction, a branch extended directly to Wooster, and the main line veered southwesterly through Lodi, Ashland, and Mansfield to Bucyrus and an interchange with the Columbus, Marion & Bucyrus Railroad and the Columbus, Delaware & Marion Railway for Columbus. The Southern Div. also consisted of a Puritas branch, a 5-mi. line that linked the Lorain St. Station in Cleveland with Puritas Springs. The CSW&C sported a close relationship with the 12-mi. Mansfield & Shelby Inter-Urban Railway, an interurban that tied the 2 communities of its corporate name. The Western Div. of the Cleveland, Southwestern & Columbus was not as large as the Southern, yet it served several sizable towns. Its principal route stretched from PUBLIC SQUARE for 42 mi. to Wellington, and passed through N. OLMSTED, Elyria, and Oberlin. Several branches linked Berlin Heights, Norwalk, Grafton, and Amherst, creating a network of interconnections between the rural towns and villages and the growing city of Cleveland.

The LAKE SHORE ELECTRIC, one of America's premier interurbans, provided Clevelanders with direct access to Toledo and convenient connections with various midwestern electric roads, as well as another route to Norwalk. Organized by the Everett-Moore Syndicate in 1901 out of several predecessor firms, the LSE ran 120 mi. from Cleveland through ROCKY RIVER, Lorain, Vermilion, Huron, Sandusky, and Fremont to Toledo. The company likewise operated a 42-mi. parallel route that left Ceylon Jct. 45 mi. west of Cleveland, for Berlin Heights, Norwalk, Bellevue, and Clyde and rejoined the northern artery at Fremont. Unlike most other Cleveland interurbans, the LSE's core physically resembled its steam-road competitors. Yet the LSE faced considerable "street running," tracks in or along public roadways rather than on private rights-of-way. The often direct approach to cities and towns, however, proved to be one of the attractive features of this transportation form.

The linkages formed by these systems provided reliable passenger and freight service, and Cleveland's extensive interurban network seemed universally popular, at least prior to World War I. Unquestionably, these electric carriers offered the public clean and convenient service. Unlike the steam railroad, the electric car boasted "no cinders, no dirt, no dust, no smoke." Electric roads could be operated with greater frequency than steam ones, since interurbans enjoyed dramatically lower operating costs. Most interurbans ran on hourly or semihourly schedules and stopped (except for "limiteds") virtually anywhere, while steam trains commonly made only a few daily trips, pausing at only a few points. There also existed the attraction of cheaper rates. Typical charges for interurban travel in the Greater Cleveland area were substantially less than those of steam lines. In 1907, for example, the New York Central priced a 1-way ticket from Cleveland to Toledo at $3.25; the Lake Shore Electric offered rides between these two cities for only $1.75.

There were additional advantages, particularly for those who were drawn to electric interurbans as a business venture. An electric line could penetrate an area with inadequate or no railroad service (Medina County is a leading example), mainly because of lower overall construction costs (most did not embrace the high construction standards of the steam roads). With the advent of traction routes, real estate prices nearly always rose, often considerably, and at times to the personal benefit of these backers. Since all of Cleveland's roads furnished extensive package and express service, and several more moved carload freight (the NOT&L, CSW&C, and LSE led in this field), those using this service could compete more successfully in the marketplace. Their dependence upon buggies or wagons traveling over primitive roads, repeatedly made impassable by the weather, hindered full development of commercial activities, especially agriculture. The interurban effectively shattered the isolation for rider and shipper alike. A Seville resident using the CSW&C explained this nicely in 1913: "Shoppers can take advantage of Cleveland sales; farmers can expect their produce to arrive in city markets in good condition; and everybody can enjoy an outing to a motion-picture show." It also was true that city goods ranging from hardware to drugs flowed into the neighboring environs. Wholesalers, of course, were found in Cleveland, and not in the Sevilles of northeast Ohio.

Railroads, especially electric ones, allowed residents to shop conveniently in other market towns, Cleveland in particular; thus the interurban liberated the consumer. Naturally, Cleveland businessmen sensed how they might tap the hinterlands. Dry-goods merchants, for one, commonly paid the car fare if a patron bought a suit of clothes or made a similar purchase. Unquestionably, the region's interurbans aided Cleveland storekeepers more than they did those in surrounding places. In 1897, for example, Oberlin merchants distributed a handbill with the scare headline, "RUIN! Follows in the Wake of the Electric Railroads!" There was increased opposition to Cleveland's electric railroads in the 1920s, as the automobile, and to a lesser degree the motor bus, siphoned off riders, the principal source of revenue to the interurban. Residents objected to excessive "street running" of passenger cars, and disliked even more the growing practice of freight trains operating through the ever-increasing congestion on area roads. In the public's mind, trucks, which could either skirt main avenues or maneuver more easily through traffic, appeared to be a better transportation alternative to the fixed rail interurbans. Furthermore, repeated track repairs on streets sparked considerable disgust. By the late 1920s, rubber-tired competition caused the decline of Cleveland-area interurbans, who were dying from lack of ridership. Already the weakest ones had folded, the Cleveland, Youngstown & Eastern abandoned its operations in 1925, and the Cleveland, Painesville & Eastern quit a year later.

Cleveland's 3 most robust interurbans, which lasted the longest, responded to the challenges of the post-World War I era; both the NOT&L and CSW&C bought better passenger equipment. The former acquired 30 attractive steel cars from the Cleveland-based G. C. KUHLMAN CAR CO. in 1920-21, and the latter purchased 6 steel Kuhlman-built cars in 1919 and a dozen lightweight ones from the Cincinnati Car Co. in 1924. The LSE, together with the NOT&L, successfully pushed for the standardization of boxcars for interurban freight service, and by 1926 both roads operated this state-of-the-art rolling stock. The two roads also were joined by the neighboring Penn-Ohio Public Service (formerly Mahoning & Shenango Railway & Light Co.), to operate a coordinated package and carload freight business. The joint firm provided billing, solicitation, and freight handling for both, but left car operations to the individual roads. The LSE also pioneered in the transport of 18' or less motor-truck trailers by designing a special flatcar that could roll under them. In spite of their progress, depressed times and keen competition in the 1920s led to the junking of the physical property and the sale, when possible, of rolling stock and other equipment to an admittedly limited user market. Companies, such as the NOT&L, that produced excess electric power either moved exclusively into that economically viable field or profitably sold off these operations. The devastating impact of the hard times that followed the stock market crash of 1929 killed the remaining 3 companies: the Cleveland, Southwestern Railway & Light Co. (formerly the CSW&C) closed in 1931; the NOT&L folded in 1932; and the Lake Shore Electric limped along until 1938. On 14 May 1938, its last car left Public Square for Toledo; only the CLEVELAND UNION TERMINAL, the Shaker Rapid, and the city surface lines still used electric traction. Ten years after the LSE stopped, Ohio's last interurban, the Youngstown & Southern, abandoned its electric operations. What was once viewed as the wave of the future in intercity transportation had collapsed totally; the state's interurban era had officially ended.

H. Roger Grant

Univ. of Akron


Christiansen, Harry. Northern Ohio's Interurbans and Rapid Transit Railways (1965).

Hilton, George W., and John F. Due. The Electric Interurban Railways (1960).