The WHEELING & LAKE ERIE RAILROAD, planned to run from the Ohio River through the coal fields of southeastern Ohio to ports on Lake Erie, was founded in 1871. By 1877 only 13.5 mi. of track had been laid. The W&LE temporarily ceased operations in 1879, but when agents of Jay Gould began buying large amounts of Wheeling's stock the following year, construction began again, reaching Martin's Ferry in 1891 and Wheeling by 1892. After the road fell into receivership in 1897, Cleveland banker MYRON T. HERRICK was appointed receiver. With the help of WILLIAM G. MATHER and EARL W. OGLEBAY, Herrick negotiated a 99-year agreement with the Cleveland Terminal & Valley Railroad, permitting the W&LE to run trains over the former's tracks into Cleveland. Herrick also managed the W&LE's purchase of the Cleveland, Canton & Southern Railroad in 1899. These two moves gave the W&LE access to Cleveland's industries and ports.
The Cleveland, Canton & Southern originated as the Youngstown & Connotton Valley Railway, organized 29 Aug. 1877 to construct a line from Bowerstown to Youngstown. The Youngstown & Connotton Valley purchased the bankrupt Ohio & Toledo Railroad in 1878, which ran from Carrollton to Oneida, and when its northern terminus was changed from Youngstown to Canton in 1879, the railroad's name was shortened to Connotton Valley Railroad Co. The Connotton Valley Railroad Co. continued its line to Straitsville after purchasing another small line in 1882. By 1885 the Connotton Valley road had a total of 160.59 miles of narrow-gauge (3' wide) track in operation, by then consisting of a main line from Cleveland to Coshocton and 2 branch lines.
The Connotton Valley's initial Cleveland terminus was a depot on Commercial St. When the tracks were later extended across Commercial St., along Canal St. to the corner of Ontario and Huron avenues, a new passenger depot was opened there in 1883. Most of the road's freight was coal, which was delivered to the Cleveland Rolling Mill and the Union Rolling Mill companies. The Connotton Valley also operated a 2,200' wharf along the Cuyahoga River. The company went into receivership on 19 Jan. 1884. Following its sale under foreclosure to bondholders on 9 May 1885, it was reorganized and renamed the Cleveland & Canton Railway. Its tracks were converted to standard-gauge by Nov. 1888. In May 1892 the Cleveland & Canton merged with 3 smaller railroads that the bankrupt Connotton Valley road had operated: the Waynesboro & Canton, which ran from Canton to Marks; the Coshocton & Southern, which ran from Coshocton to Zanesville; and the Cleveland, Chagrin Falls & Northern. To accurately describe the 209.59 mi. of track it now operated, the Cleveland & Canton added Southern to its name. The system's main office remained in Canton. In Cleveland, the road's tracks entered the city in the vicinity of Calvary Cemetery on Miles Ave. They ran in a northwesterly direction, crossing Harvard Ave., E. 99th, E. 93rd, E. 91st, and Broadway and Union avenues before heading into Morgan's Run. After exiting Morgan's Run, the tracks ran along the Cuyahoga River Valley to the vicinity of Ontario and Huron avenues. The Cleveland, Canton & Southern fell into receivership 15 Sept. 1893.
To speed up the movement of freight through the Cleveland area, a small beltline known as the Cleveland, Belt & Terminal Railroad was chartered on 13 May 1891. When the CB&T opened for traffic in Jan. 1893, its tracks ran from the Cleveland, Canton & Southern in the FLATS westward to the Big 4 (Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad) tracks near Denison Ave. J. W. Wardwell, the Cleveland, Belt & Terminal's superintendent, was appointed receiver in 1893 when the Cleveland Canton & Southern fell into receivership. Both systems deteriorated until they were purchased by the Wheeling & Lake Erie in 1899. In 1900 the W&LE had 435.7 mi. of track in operation, with the majority of its earnings coming from freight, particularly coal, coke, iron ore, stone, and sand. Its management and board were dominated by Clevelanders Myron T. Herrick, board chairman, and Robert Blickensderfer, president and general manager. The W&LE used the tracks and facilities of the old Cleveland, Canton & Southern and the Cleveland, Belt & Terminal railroads and its chief passenger depot at "VINEGAR HILL" (Ontario and Huron). It was used until 1929. All passenger service to Cleveland ceased in 1938.
In 1947 the W&LE's executive offices were in the Union Commerce Bldg. and general offices in the Huron Bldg. at Huron Ave. and E. 6th St. It maintained a freight station at 3959 E. 93rd St. and a yard at Campbell Rd. On 1 Dec. 1949, the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad was leased by the NICKEL PLATE ROAD (known formally as the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad).