Kaleidoscope: Portage County railroad history dates to mid-19th century

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Much like many other regions in the United States, Portage County does not see as much rail traffic as it did from the early to mid 1900s, which was considered the "golden age of railroads."

But there still are trains running through the county on four lines, two of which are quite busy under the jurisdiction of Class 1 railroads and two which see a smidgen of slow trains each week.

A small corner on the west side of Aurora still sees Wheeling & Lake Erie trains rumble through twice a day/night, crossing Old Mill Road near Tinker's Creek State Park. The speed limit is 10 mph.

The line runs from Solon and through Glenwillow, Twinsburg, Streetsboro, Kent, Brimfield, Hartville and Canton on its way to W&LE's Bellevue to Mingo Junction line near Brewster.

W&LE's Akron Barberton Cluster Railroad subsidiary travels from Akron into Kent three or four times a week, mostly to deliver grain to the Star of the West Milling Co. and tank cars to Crowley Tar Products.

As it nears downtown, it uses a short portion of the old Erie Railroad line -- referred to as "the upper tracks -- which passes the restored Tuscan-style depot which houses the Pufferbelly restaurant.

The lines which see heavy traffic are operated by Class 1 carriers Norfolk Southern (Cleveland to Pittsburgh by way of Macedonia, Hudson, Twin Lakes, Ravenna and Atwater) and CSX Transportation (Pittsburgh to Chicago by way of Newton Falls, Ravenna, Kent and Akron).

The latter line runs through Kent just 600 feet or so from my house. Trains average about 35 to 40 miles per hour on the NS and CSX double-track lines. NS crosses over CSX near Diamond Street in Ravenna.

TWO OLD ERIE ROUTES

Aurora once had another rail route passing through -- the Erie -- which ran between Cleveland and Leavittsburg, linking up with another Erie route that headed through Youngstown and eventually into Pennsylvania.

Tracks on the stretch from Leavittsburg to Chamberlain Road between Mantua and Aurora are gone and part of the route is a rail trail. The old Mantua depot still stands and a concrete bridge abutment along Route 82 in Garrettsville is still visible, now boasting a colorful mural of a steam locomotive.

Tracks remain from Chamberlain Road to Solon, but the crossings at East Garfield, North Chillicothe and Treat roads in Aurora have been paved over. That line hasn't been used for more than 12 years.

Short NS local trains still use the tracks from the west side of Solon to the east side of Cleveland.

The Leavittsburg to Cleveland line was chartered in 1848 as the Cleveland and Mahoning Valley Railroad and eventually was known as the Cleveland branch of the Erie.

Oil from rich fields in Pennsylvania to refineries in Cleveland was a major commodity shipped on the line, and Aurora cheesemakers shipped tons of their product on it in the early 1900s.

At one time, the Cleveland branch was double-tracked, but was reduced to one track in the 1960s-70s. Passenger trains also ran on the line, the last one being a Cleveland to Youngstown commuter train in 1977.

The Erie line from Youngstown through Kent originally was the Atlantic & Great Western, which ran from Salamanca, N.Y., to Dayton.

The first through passenger train rolled through Kent in 1863 and the last passed in 1970. The Kent depot was constructed in 1875. In the 1980s, the line from Kent to Akron was abandoned.

Kent was a huge Erie RR hub for many years. Car shops operated along Mogadore Road from 1865 to 1930 and a 30-track yard operated on the north side of town from about 1900 to the 1960s.

That yard's roundhouse was destroyed by fire in 1953 while awaiting demolition. Only two floodlight towers and the concrete remnants of a water tower remain on the grounds of the former yard, which now has a rail trail skirting its west side.

One large building and a smaller one remain on the car shops property. Most of the buildings there were destroyed by fire in 1930.

The Ravenna Army Ammunition Plant was an important venue along the Youngstown to Kent route. It ran on the north side of the arsenal, dropped off and picked up passengers in Windham and pulled cars into and out of one of the two large arsenal yards.

The Atlantic & Great Western originally was a broad gauge (6 feet wide) road. The Erie merged with the Delaware, Lackawana & Western RR in 1960, forming the Erie Lackawana RR.

PENNSYVANIA RAILROAD

Norfolk Southern's line through Portage County was completed from Cleveland to Hanoverton in Columbiana County in 1851 and originally was known as the Cleveland and Pittsburgh Railroad.

A stretch from Hanoverton to Wellsville along the Ohio River was completed in 1852 and the line was connected to Pittsburgh by 1853. It was acquired by the Pennsylvania RR in 1871.

Passenger service under PRR jurisdiction ended on the line in 1965, but Amtrak now operates its Capitol Limited passenger train over the line.

The Akron branch of the Cleveland and Pittsburgh was started in 1852, splitting off at Hudson and running through Stow, Silver Lake, Cuyahoga Falls and into Akron. It continued on to Columbus.

In 1940, the line was the scene of Summit County's worst rail disaster when a "doodlebug" self-propelled passenger car smashed head-on into a freight train at the Front Street crossing in Cuyahoga Falls, killing 43.

The last passenger train on the route ran in 1958, and the line was sold in 1994 to the Summit County Port Authority. Talk of operating a dinner train over the line surfaced a few years ago, but nothing ever came of it.

W & LE, BALTIMORE & OHIO

The Wheeling & Lake Erie and CSX (formerly Baltimore & Ohio) lines through Portage were the last to be completed in the late 1870s-early '80s.

The W&LE line originally was part of the Youngstown & Conotton Valley Railroad, a narrow gauge (3 feet wide) road. It later was known as the Cleveland Canton & Southern.

Old depots along the line still remain at Bedford, Glenwillow, Kent, Mogadore and Hartville. W&LE uses the Glenwillow depot. The line crosses the CXS and old Erie lines in Kent via a trestle and bridge.

The last regular passenger train on the Cleveland branch ran in 1938. Rail fan excursions offered by the Orrville Railroad Heritage Society and Midwest Railroad Preservation Society occasionally run on the line today.

A spur off the W&LE's Cleveland branch splits off near the Glenwillow depot to serve an industrial

park in Solon. It once extended 7 miles to Chagrin Falls, but was abandoned about 1980. The area where the line splits is called Falls Junction.

The CSX line through Kent, formerly B&O's Pittsburgh to Chicago mainline which runs along Route 5 and the southern border of the Ravenna Arsenal, also was a major provider of service to the ammunition facility.

The B&O's last passenger train ran through Kent in 1971.

The old passenger depot stands just north of the Summit Street crossing right down the hill from my house. It is used for storage by CSX. A freight house south of Summit Street was razed two years ago. Both buildings were erected in 1905.

AKRON, BEDFORD, CLEVELAND

Aurorans who are familiar with the large shopping area at Routes 82 and 8 in Macedonia probably have gone past a railroad relic, but didn't know it.

The two-story brick building on the northwest corner of the intersection -- east of the Spitzer Chevrolet dealership -- once served as a depot for the Akron, Bedford and Cleveland Railroad, which was among the first electric commuter railroads in the U.S.

The line ran from Cleveland to Akron, and when completed in 1895 was the longest railroad of its type in the world. The depot was built in 1905. Trains passed through Bedford, Northfield, Macedonia, Hudson, Cuyahoga Falls and Stow.

The ABC merged with some other Akron area electric railroads in 1900 to form the Northern Ohio Traction & Light Co., which operated passenger cars to as far south as Uhrichsville in Tuscarawas County.

Passenger service was discontinued in 1932, and the NOT&L Co. eventually evolved into electric company Ohio Edison (now part of First Energy).

Email: klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189

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