Centenial - page5

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1954 Centennial Book

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The history of Fostoria is essentially the history of the development of transportation and industry with agriculture, business, and human relations, closely associated, and no more thrilling chapters can be written than that about Fostoria and the building of her railroads.

One of the strongest features of Fostoria's industrial and commercial set-up has been her almost unexcelled position as a railroad center. Few larger cities can boast of a better situation. Her five great railroads radiate like the spokes of a wheel, with Fostoria as the hub. New York and other Atlantic seaboard cities are less than 700 miles away, and Chicago and St. Louis less than 500 miles to the westward. Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, and Lake Erie with their new possibilities for overseas commerce are less than 100 miles to the north, while Cincinnati and the fast growing Southland lies only two or three hundred miles away.

The story of how Fostoria's railroads were planned, financed, built, and developed reads like a "cloak and dagger" tale, (far too long for this short account). Taking them for granted, as we do today- unless we are held up at a crossing- it is difficult to appreciate and understand the immense problems faced by the courageous, and it must be admitted, sometimes rash railroad builders of the 1850's, 1860's, 1870's, and 1880's when all the roads were built.

The greatest problem of the frontiersmen and pioneers were better transportation, an easier, quicker, surer, and more economical method of getting their crops to market, so that they could pay for their as yet undeveloped lands, support their families, and build and enjoy schools and churches. Too poor to finance the needed roads, canals, and the railroads out of their meager local resources, they usually vainly attempted to get Federal aid. The States could not do much to help except to issue incorporation papers, so these builders had to borrow, usually from Eastern or European capitalists, and often the over-optimistic, but too poorly-planned, projects failed with disastrous consequences for everybody.

The L.E.&.W.Railroad

The building of the L.E.& W.R.R., the first railroad through Fostoria, was a good example of the problems faced by these early railroad pioneers. Originally named the Fremont and Indiana R.R. Co., it was planned to extend from Fremont, through Rome (Fostoria) by way of Findlay to the Indiana state line, there to connect with other lines which would reach on to St. Louis Construction was begun in 1854, but did not reach Findlay until 1859. Already insolvent, it was sold at sheriff's sale, to another company which became known as the Lake Erie and Louisville R.R.Co. By 1871, it had again run into difficulties and again was sold by the sheriff of Sandusky County. By 1874, the railroad had reached from Findlay to St. Mary's, Ohio, but in 1877, was again sold at sheriff's sale. It soon came under the control of Calvin Brice of Lima, a rising young financier and a future senator from Ohio. Associated with him was Charles Foster, Jr., of Fostoria, then in the House of Representatives and soon to be Ohio's governor. Both men were to be dominant figures in the building of the Nickel Plate a few years later. Finally, in 1879, the struggling road appeared under the name of the Lake Erie and Western, (L.E.& W- often nicknamed the Leave Early and Walk, by the irreverent drummers who had to patronize it.) It was during the next year, 1880, that Sandusky bonded itself for $60,000.00 (a lot of money in those days) to build a line to connect the city with the L.E.& W. at Fremont. More trials and tribulations followed. In 1899, the New York Central took over the road, but sold it to the Nickel Plate in 1922, which still operates it. The six passenger trains which it once operated through Fostoria are long since gone, and it is mostly useful to the Nickel Plate as a part of a double track system between Fostoria and Arcadia.

The Ohio Central Railroad

The experience of the Ohio Central which was organized to haul coal from southeastern Ohio to Lake Erie at Toledo was very similar to that of the L.E.&W. Originally chartered in 1868 as the Atlantic and Lake Erie, it too, ran into all the usual troubles, went into receiverships repeatedly, and like it, finally came under the control of the Brice-Foster group, who completed it from Toledo to Middleport, Ohio in 1882. In 1885, it was reorganized as the Toledo and Ohio Central. It did not do well, and finally in the period of rail mergers during the 1920's and 1930's, it became a part of the New York Central System and has prospered.

The Nickel Plate Railroad

Probably no railroad construction ever caused more excitement and rivalry between towns than did the New York, Chicago, and St. Louis, better known to the railroad world as the Nickel Plate. It was projected by a group of New York and Ohio financiers, with whom Charles Foster was closely associated, to connect Buffalo and Chicago, paralleling Vanderbilt's Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Line, as it was then called, but now the New York Central. It was charged that the whole project was simply a scheme to blackmail Vanderbilt into buying the new line to prevent ruinous competition. (This was before the days of the ICC and its authority to regulate railroad affairs- and the way the various interests cut each others throats was not amusing, especially to the innocent small stock and bond holders.) The road was adequately financed and quickly built, after the route was determined, but the Company's delay in deciding just where the rails should be laid between Arcadia and Vermillion almost caused war between Bellevue and Norwalk, and between Tiffin and Fostoria. However, Bellevue offered better inducements than Norwalk could afford, and Fostoria and Charles Foster won easily over Tiffin and General Gibson, who however, became the first president of the new Road.

Construction began early in 1882, and within two years trains were running into Chicago. What was possibly the first freight shipment on the still uncompleted road was a load of 40,000 bricks made in Fostoria and shipped from Arcadia to McComb for the building of a new school house in Shawtown, a few miles west of McComb.

As had been planned, Vanderbilt had to buy out the Syndicate which had built it and it was operated, but not very well, by the New York Central, until the Van Sweringen Brothers of Cleveland bought it in 1916, as a part of the great system they were planning to put together. Since then, it with the C.& O. with which it was soon merged have become one of the great rail systems of this area.

The Baltimore and Oho Railroad

The construction of the Chicago Division of the Baltimore and Ohio was comparatively quiet and unexciting. In the early 1870's, President Garrett of the B&O decided that the road should be extended westward to Chicago, which promised to become the great railroad center of the United States. Instead of building westward from Pittsburgh, the new line was started at a point on the line from Newark to Sandusky. This became known as Chicago Junction, and then later changed its name to Willard, in honor of the B&O's then great president, Daniel Willard. The actual track laying began in Fostoria, on July 22, 1873, and the work was completed and trains were running into Chicago by November 23, 1874. Since then, the road has been double-tracked, and is one of the busiest carriers in the country.

The Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad

The present Columbus-Toledo section of C&O was built between 1872 and 1877 by the Columbus and Toledo Railroad which later became the Hocking Valley. The line from Columbus was opened to Marion on October 15, 1876 and through Fostoria to Toledo on January 10, 1877.

In 1881 the Columbus and Toledo became the Hocking Valley, which was controlled by the Chesapeake and Ohio after 1910. In 1930 the Hocking Valley became the Hocking Division of the C&O.

There was very little difficulty in building the road, and it is characterized by splendid alinement and easy gradient. Though the surveys for it were made in the 1860's and early 1870's, when little attention was given to the matters of minimum grades and maximum tonnage trains, a very low gradient was easily obtained in subsequent grade revision work.

The Mansfield, Coldwater and Lake Michigan Railroad

One of the railroads planned during these years, but which never was built was the Mansfield, Coldwater and Lake Michigan. Newspapers of the 70's and 80's had much to say about it, and the maps of the period, show it as running from Mansfield to Tiffin, paralleling the B&O to Fostoria and then wandering off to the northwest, presumably toward Michigan. There was also a time which it was planned that the C.H.&D. (Now the Cincinnati-Toledo Division of the B&O) would build a line to connect with Fostoria, but it too was never done.

Seventeen different railroads have at some time or other, been planned to go through or have a terminal in Seneca County.

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The Tiffin, Fostoria and Eastern was one of the first interurban electric railways in the United States. The first cars ran over its lines in 1898. In 1901, the company established Meadowbrook Park, which since that time has continued to be one of the most popular playgrounds in northwestern Ohio, while the electric line which began it, is only a memory.

The Toledo, Fostoria and Findlay Interurban was organized in 1900. It first was built from Findlay to Fostoria. By 1905, it had been extended to Pemberville, and soon thereafter, reached Toledo. A branch line ran across to Bowling Green. Soon after the line was completed to Fostoria, Reeves Park at Arcadia was open as a resort park and was very popular for many years, but has about disappeared, as of course, the T.F.&F. has done.

Fostoria's third interurban electric line was the Fostoria-Fremont Line. It was built somewhat later than the other two, but went out of existence in the early 1930's when the others were forced to discontinue operations and to pull up their rails.

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The Northwestern Ohio Fair Company was established in 1885 and operated a Fair in Fostoria for several years. The fairgrounds were in the south end, north and west of the present Bersted plant. Says an old history, "It was one of the best Fairs in the State, honestly and fairly run." It had beautiful grounds, of about forty acres, including a fine grove. There were 400 stalls for horses and cattle, with many box stalls. The half-mile track was counted as one of the very best in the state with a grandstand seating 1,200 people.

PIX#5 "Fresh Air Kids", starting on an excursion, about 1900.

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Information courtesy of Joan Fleming