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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 10

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Road of the Century

Alvin F. Harlow

Creative Age Press, Inc.,
New York, 1947

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 12
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p245  Chapter XI
"Familiarly Known as the Lake Shore"


There have been half a dozen claimants to the honor of being the "first railroad west of the Alleghenies." The two earliest incorporations north of the Ohio River appear to have been the Ohio & Steubenville and the Detroit & Pontiac, both chartered in 1830; but as not a rod of track or even of grade was ever built by either, they do not count very heavily. The Erie & Kalamazoo, the Mad River & Lake Erie and a short stretch of very amateurish track built near Shelbyville, Ind., in 1834, all have their partisans; but Kentucky seems to have two pretty strong claimants. The Lexington & Ohio Railroad was chartered January 27, 1830, and its first rail-stone was laid October 22, 1831, before any of the above-named had ever swung a pick. But before the L. & O. was far advanced, it is asserted by local historians that a railroad with horse-drawn cars began operation between Bowling Green and Barren River, about a mile, in 1832. The Lexington & Ohio did not reach full operation between Lexington and Frankfort until 1835.

It is an interesting fact that all these ventures were stirring in the Middle West long before there was any rail connection with the East; indeed, before any rail project in the East was more than an unweaned babe. The inception of the Erie & Kalamazoo was almost coincidental with the birth of Toledo. It was projected in 1832‑33 by a Dr. Samuel C. Comstock of Port Lawrence, which soon afterwards became Toledo, and which was then supposed to be in Michigan, the state boundary being still indefinite. It was given a charter on April 22, 1833, by Michigan Territory, to build a railroad from Port Lawrence through Adrian "to some point on the Kalamazoo River," to be operated by steam or "animals."  p247 (A subsequent act terminated the road at Adrian.) The charter specified that after it had paid the cost of construction and operation and seven percent interest on the original investment, it should become the property of the state and would be a free road, save for a small toll to pay for operating expenses. What a disappointment the railroads proved to be to our forefathers!
[image ALT: A woodcut of a newspaper advertisement, consisting mostly of printed text but including a woodcut of a 'train' of one stagecoach carrying about a dozen people, pulled by a small locomotive.]

First advertisement of the Erie & Kalamazoo, 1837.

With the "Toledo War" of 1835, when both Michigan and Ohio called out the militia and the state boundary had to be fixed by Congress, Toledo was declared to be in Ohio and one-third — eleven miles — of the E. & K. Railroad was also in that state. An Ohio charter was soon arranged, and the company continued to function in its Toledo office, a fourteen- by twenty-foot shack which had formerly been a barber-shop. It was originally intended to use only wooden rails — no iron — but the wood wore out so rapidly even under the construction trains that strap-iron rails were mounted on the wood. When the line was opened to Adrian in the fall of 1836, horses drew the little one- or two-car trains; but early in '37, the first locomotive, the Adrian, built by Baldwin, reached Toledo via the lake, and was more than a nine-days' wonder. An ancient woodcut of the first train, with the "Gothic" three-compartment, semi-stagecoach-body passenger car, has been republished a thousand times, but we must reproduce it again or be accused of a vital omission. As on eastern roads, the lower part of the middle section was for baggage, with some passengers sitting above it.1

[image ALT: A woodcut of a small locomotive pulling two cars — an open boxcar and a passenger car of the so‑called 'Gothic' style, in the shape of a miniature gabled house — thru an idyllic pioneer landscape with a log cabin on a small lake in the background, and a horse and carriage slightly ahead of the train on the left, and in the foreground, a man gently waving his hat at the train: he has just cut down a tree and chopped it into large logs and rests on his axe-handle.]

First train on the Erie & Kalamazoo, 1837.
This was the so‑called "Gothic" passenger car.

 p248  The E. & K. having at the outset a monopoly and as yet no notion of what constituted fair rates, set some terrific charges — twelve shillings (about three dollars) to ride in the "Pleasure Car" over the thirty-three-mile line from Toledo to Adrian, four shillings a hundred for freight and a dollar on a barrel of salt. But they presently began to have some competition from the State of Michigan which compelled them to adjust their sights.


In the previous chapter we have sketched the state's great internal improvement project of 1837. The southernmost of its three railroads was to run from the navigable waters of the River Raisin — they could not get away from the idea of using water as a part of the rail line — through the southern tier of counties to New Buffalo on Lake Michigan. Construction began with only the aid of horses as motive power. In October, 1838, Baldwin shipped from Philadelphia the locomotive Ypsilanti, which was the only engine in service during the following season, drawing an occasional construction train. In January, 1840, all contracts were temporarily suspended for lack of funds, but grumbling was heard along the Southern that the Central track was being  p249 favored. Construction began again in a small way, and on November 30 the first train reached Adrian, thus supplying competition for the E. & K. The state also purchased the little River Raisin & Lake Erie for $32,500 and added it to the Southern, thus giving it access to the harbor of Monroe.

About this time a new state railroad commissioner was appointed, one John Van Fossen. It was now evident that the product of the state bond sales would not carry the two railheads to Lake Michigan, and Van Fossen decided that the best thing to do was to complete one line and spend no more time on the other. As he was a citizen of Ypsilanti, on the Central, that was the line chosen to be favored. Not only this, but he proposed to rob the southern of what it had. There was then lying on the dock at Monroe a consignment of strap rail for use on the Southern, and Van Fossen designed to take this, as well as what had already been laid on that line. Monroe, hearing of this, was stirred to its foundations. On the morning of December 12, 1840, posters and handbills appeared, carrying a proclamation by the mayor, beginning:

Whereas, Divers evil-disposed persons and depredators on public property, actuated by the Devil and John Van Fossen, are prowling about the streets of this city, with the avowed intention of seizing upon and carrying away from the Southern Railroad the iron, spikes, etc., now in progress of being placed upon the road for public utility, and some of which is already spiked to the work. . . .

Continuing, the mayor warned of the great injury to be worked upon the city of Monroe by such conduct, and the duty of all good citizens to take action against it. He therefore called upon them "to assemble at the Old Court House instanter at the ringing of the bell, for the purpose of deliberating upon the best mode of protecting without violence" the rights of the city and the Southern Railroad. The township packed the building at the sound of the tocsin, and resolved to resist to the utmost, but no definite plans were formulated there; not in public, that is. The leaders were too shrewd for that; only picked men were taken into confidence. That night what might be called the Monroe Tea Party took place. A large party of men assembled at the wharf, loaded the rails on the road's two or three "dirt cars," and attempted to pull them away with mules, while men pushed, but could not move them. A delegation thereupon went  p250 to the home of the engineer, awoke him from sleep and escorted him, protesting feebly, to the engine house, where others were already firing up the road's only locomotive. With this the cars of iron, with all the conspirators aboard, were taken to a lonely spot where there was a great deal of timber cleared from the right of way and piled beside the track. The men swarmed off the cars, moved some of the timber, stacked the rails there and covered them again with the logs and brush. Some citizens of Monroe wondered that night at hearing a train depart and return, but many of them no doubt guessed what was afoot.

Word of the mass meeting had been carried to Van Fossen at Detroit that day, and next day a steamer came hurrying down with a company of militia aboard, to "protect" the iron. Great was the discomfiture of the authorities when they could not find it. They dragged the river in three places, and hearing of the midnight train-trip, they went all the way to Adrian to search thereabout and at way stations. But the engineer proved staunch, and they never found it. Van Fossen's incumbency was short and stormy, and when another man succeeded him, an honest and well-disposed fellow, and he asked the citizens of Monroe where the rails were, they unhesitatingly told him.2

Under a new manager and with such small funds as a practically bankrupt state could dribble out, the track made snail-like progress. Meanwhile, the state was doing what it could to make Monroe a lake port; it purchased three vessels of modest size for passenger and freight service to Cleveland and Buffalo. The Southern railhead crept into Hudson in May, 1843, though the last four miles had only maple rails, because they could get no iron. Some strap rails were procured later, and in September, they reached Hillsdale, 68 miles from Monroe. That was as far as the Southern ever got under state owner­ship.

The building and operation of the road, as pictured by Wing's history, were primitive in the extreme. They had no regular engineer, experienced in railroad building, but just hired a surveyor by the month whenever they felt that they could afford a survey. The rolling stock included two locomotives — one almost worn out — three four-wheeled passenger cars and a few small freight cars. Trains were mixed; a car or two of freight next the  p251 engine, then a car for small packages — really express matter — way freight and the passengers' baggage, and finally the passenger car or cars. During the first two or three years there was no conductor, no brakeman; the engineer collected fares, and the fireman hustled way freight and baggage. There was no baggage checking; passengers just claimed their trunks and bags. The fireman, aided by section men and passengers, also loaded the wood en route.

The light engines had difficulty in starting even such small trains, especially in wet weather; so at each stop the engine crew would sprinkle the rails for several rods by hand with sand from a box in the cab. This would give the engine a foothold until it got the train under momentum, but if there was an upgrade between stations, the sanding might have to be repeated. This might go on until wood and water were exhausted, and they would have to pick up wood wherever they could and dip water in buckets from the nearest stream or puddle for the engine. Water-tanks at the stations were filled daily by trackmen, using hand force-pumps. Farmers piled wood in alleged cords at the wood stations, leaving their names on them. If wood was needed at stations or engine houses, a wood-car was left at one of the wood-yards, the section men loaded it, and the next train that came along pushed it to wherever it was wanted. Farmers often received as low as fifty cents a cord for wood.

In 1844, the state bought for $22,000 a ten‑mile branch of the Erie & Kalamazoo and added it to the Southern without greatly benefiting that concern. The commonwealth had now poured $1,300,000 into the concern and gotten nowhere in particular. And so Michigan languished in the slough of bankruptcy until 1846, when some fairy godmother used her wand, and Eastern capital came rushing to the rescue. That was the year when Brooks, Joy and Forbes took over the Central, and in the spring of that year the Legislature authorized the sale of the Southern line, whereupon some men in Detroit and thereabouts organized a company in the hope of buying it. But of the half-million dollars capital, though eleven men subscribed for 200 shares each, others signed for much smaller amounts, all the way down to five and ten shares. So nothing of consequence really happened until December 23, when the big money came rolling in, and the purchase of the road from the state was effected. Elisha Litchfield, a Detroit attorney, took 1,000 shares, another man 500, another 400.

 p252  The road was knocked down to this company for $500,000, of which $50,000 was to be paid in three months, the remainder in 18 semi-annual installments. And here into the horoscope of the decaying, rattletrap railroad enters the stalwart Litchfield family from upstate New York, though of Connecticut ancestry; three brothers, of whom Electus C., by some considered the biggest of the three, remains in the background as far as this story is concerned. At the first election, held on Christmas Day, a president and superintendent from Monroe were diplomatically chosen though Elisha Litchfield was made treasurer. The company was required to continue the line westward on the original survey to Coldwater, but from there could deviate from the state's course to Lake Michigan if it chose. It was also required to complete the branch taken over from the E. & K. to Jackson, which it did by 1853.

At the next election one finds the three Litchfields and our old acquaintance, John B. Jervis, among the directors, with Edwin C. Litchfield becoming president. In another year or two some solid New York Dutch money entered the till, as proven by the names of two new directors, Teunis Van Brunt and Jacob Ten Eyck, of the wealthy Cazenovia, N. Y., family into which Elisha Litchfield had married. Van Brunt became president in 1847. At the end of that year a Yankee genius enters, George Bliss, whom we saw in Steelways of New England as the builder of the Western Railroad, later the Boston & Albany, and who was destined to push the Southern track through to Chicago. The company's headquarters were in Monroe — though sometimes in '48‑9 the board met at "the public house of Rockwell Manning in the village of Adrian" — and it aimed at making Monroe a major port. In '48 the Buffalo boats running out of Monroe were aided to the extent of $30,000, and they were practically taken over. And it was only four years after Morse sent his first message that the Southern contracted with the Atlantic & Mississippi Telegraph Company to string a wire along its right of way, though it had not yet occurred to anyone to use the new gadget for dispatching trains.

The extension west from Hillsdale progressed slowly, but meanwhile the company began acquiring feeders, first scooping up the Erie & Kalamazoo. Bliss and Washington Hunt of Lockport, N. Y., had just bought that little road and put an end to its decade of trouble — lawsuits on debts, government by committees, commissions, trustees, receivers. Bliss and Hunt had discounted $103,500  p253 of the company's outstanding debts, for which stock was issued to them. Frederick Harbach, the company's engineer, promptly began changing the track of the E. & K. from the four-foot, ten-inch width prevailing in Ohio to standard gauge, which had been adopted at the start by the Michigan railroads. In 1849, the road was leased in perpetuity by the Southern, and the lease has passed through its successors to the New York Central. A little has been cut off both ends, so that now it does not reach either Toledo or Adrian, and is only 21.82 miles long.

The union, says the Monroe County historian, virtually ended the rivalry between Monroe and Toledo, and it was Monroe's own child, the Michigan Southern, which struck her down. Bliss became president in August, 1849, and he saw far more promise in Toledo than in Monroe; from that time, Toledo was favored as the eastern terminus. One of the first things the new company did was to better the steamer service to Buffalo and then to buy several of the boats. By 1852 it owned some of the finest vessels on the lakes. Meanwhile, its railhead had been moving westward slowly. A mass meeting of citizens of Branch County at Coldwater, the county seat, in March, 1850, protested against the "monopoly" of the Michigan Central Railroad, and the uselessness of terminating the Michigan Southern in its own state instead of extending it to Chicago. The Legislature coincided in this view and gave the company permission to go ahead, only specifying that it must touch the St. Joseph River before it left the state; also, it must lay the heavy T‑rail, "so that trains may whiz along at thirty miles an hour," said the Coldwater Sentinel. On December 10, 1850, the track reached Coldwater, and a ball was given at the best hotel in celebration of the event, with a trainload of visitors in attendance, from Adrian, Monroe and Toledo.

Pushing through Sturgis, the rails headed for South Bend, Indiana. In that state, the builders knew what they wanted. There was an embryo railroad there, all ready to be taken over. In 1835, John B. Chapman of Warsaw, Indiana, a member of the Legislature, introduced a bill permitting the incorporation of the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad; but he was so roundly laughed at by other members for his ambitious name that he at length consented to whittle it down to "Buffalo & Mississippi," though he "would not yield another mile." Under that title the company was organized in Elkhart, May 25, 1835. The directors asked the Secretary of War what steps, if any, had been taken towards the  p254 building of a railroad from Maumee Bay to the Mississippi River under a recent Senate resolution, and the answer was, None. The new company's stated object was the construction of a line from Maumee Bay to the head of navigation on the Illinois River. Neither Toledo nor Chicago was mentioned in the application for the charter, those two towns being not yet of sufficient importance to be considered as termini or even noticed. After some brisk soliciting, the board got around to advertising for bids on construction of track from Michigan City 12 miles southeast to La Porte. Contractors went to work there and at other points eastward towards Ohio, but that panic year and a particularly virulent prevalence of malaria in the Kankakee swamp country halted the enterprise and well-nigh killed it.

From 1839 to 1847, the company was in such a low state of vitality that there was hardly even a board meeting. The legislature passed two or three acts calculated to revitalize it, but in vain. In 1847, President William B. Ogden and Judge Niles, one of the directors, made an effort to resuscitate it. They called upon all delinquent subscribers to come in on a certain day and pay what they owed. Just one man showed up, and he had two shares! In 1848, State Commissioners were appointed, and in 1850 they reported that they had organized a new company, the Northern Indiana, the first of that name, which was to build eastward from La Porte to meet the Michigan Southern. Significantly enough, George Bliss, John Stryker, Edwin C. Litchfield, Charles Butler and William L. Marcy, all Michigan Southern men, were among the Northern Indiana directors. There were now, by grace of the infinite wisdom of the politicians, three corporations stepping on each other's toes — the Buffalo & Mississippi west of La Porte, the Buffalo & Mississippi east of La Porte and the Northern Indiana. But back in 1837 the Legislature had changed the name of one of the B. & M.'s to Northern Indiana, which we may call No. 1, though the company did not accept the new name until 1851. It then issued a circular (containing a folding map actually five feet long), setting forth its condition and prospects, and stating its conviction that "this company has the existing, and as it believes the exclusive right to build a railroad from Michigan City around the head of Lake Michigan to Chicago." This was a challenge to the Michigan Central.

On March 3, 1851, Ohio chartered the Northern Indiana (No. 3) of Ohio, on whose board are found the names of two Litchfields, John B. Jervis, Stryker and Butler, to build from Toledo to the  p255 Indiana boundary, there to connect with No. 1. Of course these roads were subsidized, one might say backed, by the Michigan Southern. On November 30, 1850, another company, the Northern Indiana & Chicago, was organized to build the Illinois extension from the Indiana boundary into Chicago. And again we find well-known names on the board — Bliss, Litchfield, Jervis, Butler, Stryker.

Meanwhile, what was the Michigan Southern doing? The provision that it must touch the St. Joseph River before entering Indiana was, it is said, slipped into its charter by partisans of the Michigan Central to annoy and deter the Southern in its race with that road for the new highly desirable goal of Chicago, and to foil its desire to build a fairly direct line en route through Elkhart and South Bend. As the railhead was approaching White Pigeon, four miles from the state line, Judge Stanfield of South Bend proposed to the company that he would rase the money and build the four-mile stretch from White Pigeon to the border and lease it to the Southern, thereby giving it its direct line without violation of its charter. This was done, and for ten years — until the company succeeded in getting its Michigan charter altered — that four-mile piece of track remained the personal property of Judge Stanfield, operated by the Southern under lease.

On August 22, 1851, the track crossed the state line from Stanfield's road to that of the Michigan Southern of Indiana, and on Saturday evening, October 4, the rails reached South Bend, and the "first train from Lake Erie," drawn by the locomotive John Stryker entered the town amidst the roar of cannon and the tumult of most of the county's population. When the first train started east on Monday morning, the cannon fired 17 rounds more. The speed with which the track had been built — 30 miles in 42 days — was believed to be "almost, if not entirely without parallel in the annals of our country," and it really was not a bad record for those days. West of La Porte, it was evident that to go via Michigan City would be too much of a detour, so it was decided to utilize one of the numerous early charters and build directly from La Porte towards Chicago, as the NYC main line runs today.

There were dozens of quirks and entanglements in the various charterings and amalgamations in upper Indiana, including clashes with the Michigan Central, which would be too tedious and funnel-shaped to record here in full. Suffice it to say that President Bliss of the Michigan Southern drove the rails into  p256 Chicago late in February, 1852, beating the Michigan Central by three months. To be exact, it was not the Michigan Southern which built that track into Chicago, but the Northern Indiana & Chicago, which Bliss also headed. East of the state line, the Southern, absurdly enough, was operating over three other Northern Indiana Railroads, as well as a few oddments still belonging to the Buffalo & Mississippi, including one scrap which for a short time in the company's early history, had been only a plank road covered by stagecoaches. But more changes were just around the corner.

In 1853, Northern Indiana (1) and Northern Indiana (3) of Ohio were fused, to form Northern Indiana No. 4. This was now rapidly completing the line from Toledo to Elkhart, the present "Road of the Century." And even that was not all. On April 1, 1854, Northern Indiana (4) combined with the scraps still owned by NI (2) to form a new Northern Indiana, No. 5; and in February, 1855, No. 5 was amalgamated with the North Indiana & Chicago and the Buffalo & Mississippi to form Northern Indiana No. 6, with Jervis as president and Edwin C. Litchfield as treasurer. It appears that No. 5 controlled the western division of the Buffalo & Mississippi merely by virtue of an assignment of lease of the track of that company to the Michigan Southern.

As a final fillip to this solemn comedy, two weeks before the consolidation just mentioned, the State of Michigan had authorized the Michigan Southern to combine with the still unborn Northern Indiana No. 6 as the Michigan Southern & Northern Indiana Railroad. Acquiescence was obtained from the Indiana solons, and on April 25, 1855, the companies were joined, Jervis (who had succeeded Bliss in the executive chair in 1852) signing the documents as president of both companies. An old acquaintance, John Wilkinson of Syracuse, became president of the new corporation, Jervis remaining as engineer.

[image ALT: A woodcut of a locomotive of a classic type, with a funnel-shaped chimney and a cowcatcher in front and a square cab in the rear.]

Governor Marcy, a Michigan Southern & Northern Indiana wood-burner

The M. S. & N. I. had 315 miles of rails — from Chicago to Toledo and Monroe, with a cross-line from Toledo through Adrian to Jackson. It entered Chicago over five miles of track owned jointly with the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific, with which it had also joined hands in building its station in that city — a partner­ship which has continued to this day.​3 The Michigan Central  p257 had flirted with the Rock Island by throwing out a controlled line, the Joliet & Northern Indiana in 1854, from what is now East Gary as a cutoff to a connection with the Rock Island at Joliet; but the closer tie with the Michigan Southern still held.

[image ALT: Two adult men standing face to face, each carrying a lantern, wearing a stovepipe hat, and with a full beard and sideburns; they look at each other with a weird expression of concentration, and produce an impression of utter kinkiness. For all that, they are merely mid‑19c railroad conductors obliged to keep the pose for the early camera.]

Michigan Southern
& Northern Indiana
conductors in 1864.

The development of that Indiana industrial area at the head of Lake Michigan is one of the marvels of our story. When the Central and Southern were streaking through Lake County, in the northwestern corner of the state, in 1851‑52, there was not a town in the county along the line of either of them — nothing but sand dunes, scrub growth and swamp. In the latter 1860's, a small meat-packing plant was founded at State Line station, later christened Hammond, in honor of the packer, and for two decades it was one of the Central's best sources of revenue.​4 But it was thirty-six years after the coming of the rails when East Chicago was founded. That, however, was the breaking of the dam. Whiting was founded a little later, Indiana Harbor was created out of the wilderness in 1901, and Gary, mightiest of them all, was born in 1906.5

 p258  But this is getting far ahead of our story. In 1855 the M. S. & N. I. was using an early type of sleeper, Kasson & Sons' "Night Cars," and it is claimed that one of these provided another experience for George M. Pullman which strengthened his determination to devise a sleeper that you could sleep in. In a folder issued jointly by this road and the Lake Shore in 1860 we read of another great improvement — "Salisbury's Petticoat Dusters," to be "used on all day trains over this line the ensuing season, removing entirely the greatest inconvenience to summer travelling — dust." The petticoat dusters were a sort of shield suspended from the car bodies, partly enclosing the trucks; but they did not stop the dust and were soon discarded.

Primitive operating conditions are revealed in a hearing on a wreck which occurred on an April night in 1853 at the crossing of the Southern and Michigan Central tracks about eight miles south of Chicago. A Southern passenger train ran into a mixed emigrant and freight train on the MC, two cars near the middle of the train being filled with emigrants, of whom 18 were killed and many injured. The Central engineer testified, "Am required to have a headlight; my light won't burn; have not used it for two trips. I saw the light of the Southern Michigan train half a mile from crossing; shut off steam and whistled down brakes; did not reverse the engine, supposing the train would stop without it. . . . I supposed I had a right to the track." His conductor testified, "The head light was not up; was not lit because it would not burn, for want of wicks. . . . We had only two brakes; these are on the way car."6

The contribution of the Southern to the development of Chicago and the Middle West was enthusiastically chronicled by the Democratic Press of Chicago, which reported on June 29, 1854, that 1,200 passengers and 800 emigrants, 2,000 in all, had arrived on the four trains of the Michigan Southern in one day; and about the same number arrived on another day in that week. "Is it any wonder the West is growing?" asked the editor. And on a day in October of the same year, "13,769 passengers arrived and departed from the depot of the Michigan Southern last week."

 p259  The M. S. & N. I. went into things in a large way. In addition to its five steamers on Lake Erie and a line which it operated from Chicago to Milwaukee and Sheboygan, it aided the Detroit, Monroe & Toledo Railroad, which was built in 1855‑56 and leased in perpetuity by its benefactor on June 1 of the latter year. It loaned, bought and guaranteed, right and left. It loaned its eastern connection, the Cleveland & Toledo, 150 tons of rails and had a hard time getting either rails or money in return. In '55 it guaranteed payment of principal and interest on $200,000 in bonds of Cincinnati, Peru & Chicago Railroad. In 1857, when the blowup came, it was found to own $325,400 stock of the St. Louis, Alton & Terre Haute, $275,000 of the Detroit, Monroe & Toledo, $85,200 of Chicago, Alton & Terre Haute, $52,500 of the Buffalo & Toledo Transportation Company and $50,000 stock, $100,000 in notes and $25,000 in bonds of the Detroit & Milwaukee. It had just begun double-tracking its line between Elkhart and Chicago.

Jervis was dissatisfied with the trend of events in the company and resigned as director on June 1, 1857. Wilkinson had retired from the presidency in May and had been succeeded by Edwin C. Litchfield. At that time an optimistic statement by the board showed assets of $2,279,000 and a floating debt of less than $200,000; but they asked for a $1,500,000 stock issue. Within two months the stockholders were aware that something was wrong. The company was being sued for debt all over the country; the May report had evidently been subjected to some juggling.

The stockholders arose in their wrath, and on August 4 the board resigned en masse and Litchfield retired as president. In a long letter of resignation, he set forth that when he came into the company it was a little strap-rail affair ending in the woods near Hillsdale and with earnings in 1848 of only $71,580, while in 1856 its earnings, he declared, were $2,700,000. He was treasurer from 1850 to '55, during which time the company was highly prosperous. In October, '55, he went abroad to sell some of its securities, resigning as treasurer before his departure, and was absent until April, 1857. Not until his return, he insisted, did he know that they had not accepted his resignation, but that he had all along been publicly regarded as the treasurer. He said he was not satisfied with conditions he found upon his return; in short, he had an alibi.

Jervis did not regard it as valid, and he and Litchfield carried on a war by letter through the newspapers. Shortly after the  p260 board's resignation, a circular evidently emanating from it was sent to the stockholders, announcing that it had stopped payment, the reason given being that Wall Street brokers had combined to depress the value of the company's stock. As the New York Evening Post said on the following April 5, "How the depression of the selling price of shares should affect the company's means of paying its debts was not shown."​a At the time, said the Post, "the money market was easy and there was no lack of confidence among capitalists;" but that the delinquency of the M. S. & N. I. was the falling snowflake that started the avalanche; in a short time the panic which has given that year a black mark in history was on.

The Post revealed that the transaction which finally destroyed the credit of the company was the discovery that more than $700,000 worth of stock had been secretly issued and hypothecated to brokers, to raise money to meet current expenses. The New York Herald charged that corruption was rife in the old board; that costs in 1854 were 61 percent, in 1855, 65 percent and in '56 were 70, while stockholders and public were led to believe they were only 50 percent. It added that more than $800,000 handed out in dividends was not earned; that the rent paid to the "Railroad Family" (meaning the Litchfields) for the New York offices was $4,500, "double what it would be anywhere else;" that "an old boat worth perhaps $15,000," had been bought by one of the "Family" for $23,000, the company charged $20,000 for two years' use of it, and $20,000 more when it was lost; that sums of money had been set aside for "Family" use without interest, while the company was paying often two or three percent per month for borrowed funds; that the company's money had been squandered, not only on other projects already mentioned, but on the Mad River Railroad, Des Moines Navigation Company, etc.

Litchfield said that in earlier years, when they had "a united board and officers cooperating in good faith," they weathered financial storm and stress in safety; but lately, "when for the first time . . . Treachery reared its head inside the Company offices and around the council board and avowed the purpose of sacrificing the vital interest to gratify private hostility," it was impossible to make headway against such influences. "The treachery referred to, we presume," retorted the Post, "was the exposure by some of the directors and stockholders of the company" of the chicanery going on higher up.

 p261  Washington Hunt wrote to Bliss on September 19, saying, among other things:

I congratulate you sincerely upon being out of harm's way in this universal crash of the Railroad interest. The Michigan Southern now appears like a vast wreck. Its endless expenditures and reckless mode of financiering would destroy the best concern in the world. A new and rigid course of management may save the bonds and give some value to the stock. It will be a great and difficult task.

Six days later, Bliss was one of those called to that very task as a new board was elected, Jervis, Schuyler Colfax, the Indiana politician, Hiram Sibley, the telegraph magnate, and others being among those elected. An interim president who had served about a month retired, and Jervis took the executive post. Bliss remembered in after years that when the new board had its first meeting in the company's office in New York, they had to borrow chairs from neighboring offices, all the office furniture having been seized by the sheriff for debt. There were then pending 155 suits against the company in five states. Interest on bonds and even employees' wages were far in arrears, and all sorts of expedients had to be adopted to make ends meet. Jervis gave it up in disgust in the spring of 1858, and Bliss came in for two years — two thankless years of staving off creditors, who were persuaded to be patient only by Bliss's tireless efforts and the presence of a regime in whom they had more confidence. Nevertheless, the lingering depression in the business world, the bond interest so far in arrears that foreclosure was loudly threatened, and a dreadful accident caused by a washout near Mishawaka, Indiana in June, 1859, which took 43 lives, cast such a cloud over the company that its stock fell to 5 and 6; and at that, a group headed by Henry Keep, a New York plunger whom we have met before, began buying it.7

The Litchfields had sold out long before the stock fell to such a low estate. In 1861, after Bliss had retired, the new treasurer wrote to him, asking if he could account for 66 bonds, par value $66,000, which could not be found. Bliss replied that the bonds were "scattered broadcast" before he took office; he hinted at  p262 some peculiar use of them "by the Litchfield administration," and added that "it will be a matter of surprise if they can all be traced." Our last word from the Litchfields comes in 1862 when Elisha is found bringing suit against the M. S. & N. I. for commissions for indorsing paper for the company, "and other compensations for pretended services," to quote the directors' report. But he was now pitting his strength against a tough antagonist.

Henry Keep and his coterie who had bought control of the road for a nickel or so on the dollar, were among the luckiest men on the record, for along came the Civil War just then, all the northern railroads were overloaded with business, and quotations on shares shot upward. Through business of a sort was being done between New York and Chicago over a string of half a dozen railroads. In the summer of 1863, when Commodore Vanderbilt was believed to be buying into New York Central, Addison G. Jerome, foreseeing that M. S. & N. I. would be a part of a future unified New York-Chicago line, began buying its stock.

On July 25, it stood at 81, Jerome was buying steadily and it was still going upward. Some have thought that Vanderbilt was in with Jerome on this flyer, but this is unlikely. On August 17, the stock touched 113, the highest in its history. Jerome thought he had bought all that was to be had, but messenger boys kept bringing it into his office, and he refused none of it. Then, early in September, the stock began to sag; Keep and his pals were selling short. On September 13, there was a flurry, when all stocks fell sharply. M. S. & N. I. had stood at 104½ the day before; now it was 88 and still falling; by September 26, it was down to 79. Jerome had to unload at a disastrous loss and was ruined. He died a few years later; but not before he had learned that Keep had issued 15,000 fresh shares of stock, swelling the company's capital from $9,000,000 to $10,500,000, and selling most of the increase to the unsuspecting Jerome. To make the transaction appear righteous, Keep had used the cash to buy and retire $1,500,000 worth of the company's 7 percent, second-mortgage bonds. Stedman comments satirically:

Who would have the audacity to criticise a directorate thus zealous to safeguard the interests of the property? . . . Keep had with wriggled out of the corner by an arbitrary inflation of his company's stock, replacing a debt on which the road had to pay seven percent a year by an increase in a species of obligation on which it was paying nine percent. . . .

 p263  They were having the deuce's own time with gauges in Ohio in 1862‑63. The Atlantic & Great Western (Erie) was thrusting its sprawling, six-foot track towards Cincinnati, but promised to halt at Galion if the existing roads between there and Cincinnati would widen themselves to six feet. This seemed out of the question, so the big boy went right on. The trouble encountered when service from standard gauge roads outside the state must be continued over the Ohio gauge led to experiments with compromise widths of 4 feet 9 inches and 4 feet 9½ inches, which theoretically would carry both 4‑feet‑8 and 4‑feet‑10‑inch cars. The Michigan Southern & Northern Indiana had become so definitely a part of the New York-Chicago line by this time that Amasa Stone, Jr., of the C. P. & A. wrote to its vice-president in September, '62, urging him to make some new cars then building in the 4‑foot‑9 width. The vice-president replied that it was too late; some of the cars were completed and others nearly so.


In 1829, the very year of the birth of Stephenson's Rocket, one Colonel Clinton, a civil engineer, had a dream of a railroad to be known as the Great Western, which was to be built from New York to the Mississippi River at a cost of $15,000,000. But he was quickly discredited by another genius who proposed to span the same distance at a cost — right of way and all — of only $1,000,000, or $900 a mile! His plan was so simple that it seemed railroads ought to be extended everywhere. He would just build it on piles, driven ten feet apart, on which 9- by 3‑inch plank were to be set on edge, those planks serving as the rails, with no iron surface.

Some years drifted by without action on this worthy idea, until Ohio began going slightly daft on the subject of railroads; the lawmakers were handing out charters to all and sundry, though most of the promoters did not have a hundred dollars to bless themselves with. The state had built and was still building an extensive system of canals, but was apparently unworried over railroad competition with them, as New York was. Among others was a revival of the post-and‑plank idea under the name of the Ohio Railroad, to skirt the Lake Erie shore from the Pennsylvania line to the Maumee River at Manhattan, then a paper city, a rival of Toledo, of which it later became a part. Organization of the company was effected in a dwelling house at Painesville,  p264 Ohio, 31 miles northeast of Cleveland, in April, 1836. Its charter was recklessly liberal, giving it banking privileges which were a painful memory for decades thereafter; for it issued $400,000 in paper money which soon became about as valuable as sassafras leaves.

In the following year, when the nation's financial fabric was coming apart at the seams, Ohio chartered twelve more railroad companies. True, the depression did not jolt the Midwest quite so hard as it did the seaboard, because the people there had not so far to fall; they were poor already, and living off the land. But it made the selling of wilderness stocks and bonds in the East practically impossible, so the Legislature, as a last resort, decided to try necromancy. In 1838, they passed the notorious "Plunder Law," which permitted any railroad, turnpike or canal corporation to borrow from the state bonds to the extent of 50 percent of the company's capital stock which had been actually paid for. This last phrase was construed with great liberality. Any subscriber could turn in as payment on his stock subscription a deed to a parcel of ground at his own valuation. After collecting a quantity of this paper, the company could certify to the State Auditor that it had sold so much stock and had, say, $200,000 paid in, whereupon it was entitled to borrow $100,000 in state bonds. So many projects sprang into being as a result of this measure that, as one Ohio historian has said, "it was seen that the bond mill at Columbus would break down under the demand," and the law was repealed before utter ruin overwhelmed the commonwealth, though not before turnpikes and canals had borrowed nearly $2,000,000 and railroads $682,000.

The Ohio Company had been among the first in line. Seven of its promoters who, as a critic grumpily remarks, would have been hard put to raise $25,000 among them, unhesitatingly subscribed for $600,000 in capital stock and managed to wangle $219,000 in bonds from the state, which, in the end, proved to be a total loss for Ohio taxpayers. But even state bonds were not easy to sell, and the directors debated other means of raising money, such as buying a decrepit bank in Cleveland and setting it to grinding out paper money, or buying flour with the company's notes and selling it in the East at a profit. The scrip was printed and put into circulation, but the flour scheme never worked very well.

The route east of Cleveland was surveyed, but now a new squabble arose in the board over the question whether to start  p265 building east or west from Cleveland. The western faction prevailed, and the first pile was driven at Fremont in 1839; for that survey took a rather wide swing to southward, the projectors not venturing to essay the crossing of Sandusky Bay, as the present main line does. The plan of the dreamer of ten years ago was followed in part; big piles, 12 to 16 inches in diameter and varying in length according to the irregularities of the surface, were driven ten feet apart, and as the road was to be double-tracked, there were four rows of them. Now came the variation from the old plan. Upon the stringers connecting the posts, cross-ties were laid, then a wooden rail on the ties, and on this was to be a strap-iron rail. The chief engineer believed that the track could be built for $16,000 a mile.

Contractors and laborers were paid almost entirely in that company scrip already mentioned, which became a general circulating medium along the right of way, though at various discounts. The Lower Sandusky Whig reported in July, 1840, that the pile-drivers were well into the Black Swamp, and advancing at the rate of 500 or 600 feet daily. But not long after that the work faltered and then ceased, with only about one-third of the wooden structure completed and no iron applied. When the company gave up the ghost in 1843, it left nearly every citizen in its territory in possession of some of those notes, which were never redeemed. Remains of some of the posts were still visible nearly fifty years afterward.

East of Cleveland the survey slumbered until 1845, when the Erie Railroad was pushing towards the lake, and Judge W. W. Branch, of Madison, Ohio, began talking of a line along the shore to meet it. It was Branch's first idea to revive the old Ohio charter, but he found that so many of the records were lost that he began all over again. A new charter was procured in 1848 for the Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula Railroad. The need for it was shown in a preliminary survey by Frederick Harbach (published in 1850) in which he found that 75,000 hogs and 20,000 head of cattle had been driven eastward on foot along the line of the proposed railroad towards Buffalo during the preceding season. At the organization meeting in Cleveland in 1849, Alfred Kelley, Ohio's financial genius, was elected president, but he refused to serve, and Hemon B. Ely of Cleveland was then chosen as the first executive.

Stock subscriptions were badly needed, and Branch toured the lake shore as a missionary, organizing meetings in every town.  p266 He was not a wealthy man; he could buy only one share of the stock for his own, but he atoned for his poverty by his fanatical zeal, maintained against much disbelief and discouragement. Many considered it the height of folly to suppose that a railroad could compete with the lake steamers between Buffalo and Cleveland. When Branch in rebuttal, transported by his ardor, soared to the height of predicting the Pacific Railroad and the products of China coming eastward over the C. P. & A., he was greeted by derision, some city editors even delicately alluding to him as a lunatic. But he did win support.

The historian of Ashtabula says that so much of that town's money was invested in the C. P. & A. that it delayed the development of local industry. Enough cash was raised to enable the company to sign a contract for construction in 1850 with the firm of Harbach, Stone & Witt. Harbach, formerly engineer for the Michigan Southern, died in '51; but the other two, Connecticut-born Amasa Stone, Jr. (1818‑83) and Stillman Witt, were later railroad directors and executives. Stone, in fact, was destined to play a great and eventually tragic part in Ohio's rail history.

This energetic firm pushed the track through rapidly. It was not yet completed when the company endeavored to consolidate with the Cleveland, Columbus & Cincinnati (which ran only to Columbus), the Little Miami and the Columbus & Xenia, to form a through line under one owner­ship from Cincinnati to Erie, Pennsylvania. But the amalgamation did not jellify for some reason, and then the C. P. & A. made a joint operation agreement with the C. C. & C. And here we come to the only instance of which this author is aware, of a railroad named by the public. Alfred Kelley, president of the C. C. & C., said in his 1851 report to the stockholders, "Of equal importance in fully developing the capabilities of your road is the connection with the Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula, familiarly known as the Lake Shore Road." People had been calling it that from the very first. Kelley left the C. C. & C. that year to become president of the C. P. & A. and solve the problem of getting it into Pennsylvania.​8 In the 1852 report of H. B. Payne, acting president of  p267 the C. C. & C., he says of the C. P. & A., "During the month of November, the Lake Shore Road was so far completed as to admit of the passage of trains to Erie. A contract has been entered into . . . for operating the two roads jointly. . . . The equipment is owned in common. The running expenses are defrayed out of the joint earnings. . . ."

[image ALT: missingALT.]

Early Station: Columbus.

Mr. Payne presented only a bare outline of the picture when he said that the road was open to Erie. There were goings on up that way which we must now chronicle — one of the strangest episodes in railroad history.

Between Buffalo and Toledo there developed a gaggle of little roads strongly remind­ful of the chain between Albany and Buffalo, only not so coherent. No stretch of road on the continent was so bedeviled by differences in gauges. First of all to be authorized was the Erie & North East, projected from Erie, Pa., up the shore to the New York state line, and intended to bring the New York & Erie Railroad on from Dunkirk to Erie. Approved on April 12, 1842, it could not even get organized until four years later, and then two years more elapsed with nothing done. It was expected that the N. Y. & E. would meet it at the state line, but that company had all it could do to stagger into Dunkirk in 1851. A separate company, the Dunkirk & State Line, was organized to bridge the gap, but found difficulty in getting on its legs.

Meanwhile, another railroad was promoted in the spring of 1848 by the village of Fredonia, in Chautauqua County, three miles south of Dunkirk. Committees were appointed, subscriptions were obtained in Chautauqua and Erie Counties, and on June 6, 1849, the Buffalo & State Line Railroad was organized at Fredonia, with Dean Richmond and James S. Wadsworth of Geneseo, of New York's famous political family, still represented in our Congress. The bitter irony of the outcome was that when the railroad was built, Fredonia, which had played so large a part in giving it birth, was left off the main line and had to be content with a branch.

A serious complication was in the making. The Buffalo & State  p268 Line was to some extent being backed by the Albany-Buffalo chain of railroads (already becoming known as the Central Line), which were of standard gauge. The Erie, as we know, was a six-footer, and the Erie & North East and the Dunkirk & State Line were planned to be of the same width. On the other side of this little neck of Pennsylvania were the Ohio railroads, of 4‑foot‑10‑inch gauge, established by state law in 1848; to which Pennsylvania retorted by forbidding a mile of track of the "Ohio gauge" to be built within her borders. As for the city of Erie, at first it was not at all interested in being connected with Ohio by railroad. If Ohio wanted an outlet to the Atlantic seaboard, let her get it in some other way; a not infrequent example of community thinking in those days.

[image ALT: A woodcut of a locomotive of a classic type, with a large funnel-shaped chimney and a cowcatcher in front and a square cab in the rear.]

Vulcan, an all-driver machine of the Buffalo & State Line Railroad

But some miscreant stole into the Legislature in 1848 and procured a charter for the Erie & Ohio Railroad, to cover that thirty-mile stretch between Erie and the Ohio boundary. Screams arose at once, not only from Erie, but from Philadelphia, which was pushing the Pennsylvania Central Railroad towards Pittsburgh. It was clear, said a manifesto of the mayor and council of Erie, that a railroad line along the shore from Buffalo into Ohio would be "for the exclusive benefit of New York; that Philadelphia could hope to derive no advantage from it, but on the contrary, much injury." Philadelphia echoed these sentiments, so the Legislature hastened to undo its error by repealing the Erie  p269 & Ohio charter, thus rearing, as it modestly boasted, what it believed to be "an insurmountable barrier to the progress of the New York Railroads west."

For five years Pennsylvania was kept busy repelling insidious invaders. Stop them at one crevice, and first thing you knew, they would be creeping in at another. But now the building of the Great Western Railway of Canada towards Detroit and the interest of the Buffalo-Albany roads in it jolted Pennsylvania into a realization that she might be cutting off her own nose to spite her face.

With that, a new idea dawned on Erie; let the railroads come, but make the break in the gauge at her own depot. This brilliant conceit flowered in a law on March 11, 1851, which provided that all railroads from the city of Erie to the New York border must be of either 6 feet or 4 feet‑8½‑inches gauge, while all from that city to the Ohio line must be 4 feet‑10 inches width. This would compel a change of trains by all passengers at Erie, possibly a layover of a few hours and the inevitable spending of some money there. As the mayor of Erie said:

The Roads of New York sought to pass through a portion of Pennsylvania without conferring any advantage upon the State — in fact, drawing away trade from her own metropolis and conferring no local advantage even upon Erie, unless there was a break of gauge. So manifestly did this appear, and so just was the claim of Erie to this trade that, as we have said before, it was at once conceded to her.

Erie had another fear — namely, that the New York railroads would somehow defeat or weaken her long-cherished project, the Sunbury & Erie Railroad, designed to connect her with central Pennsylvania and thereby with Philadelphia. Ohio was seen as allied with New York in this nefarious plot:

If the foreign companies succeed in their schemes, there is one great monopoly of railroad interest from Albany to Chicago, rich and power­ful enough to buy out or trample upon any rival interest, combining a moneyed power which is without a parallel in the history of the country. We propose making at Erie a break in this interest, and it is this in reality which the railroads fear.

Erie believed that the people of the entire lake shore region would some day thank her for saving them from this vast monopoly.  p270 But now the forces of evil were slinking in through another loophole, though for a long time the trick was not suspected. The Franklin Canal Company had been chartered by Pennsylvania in 1846 to connect Franklin, on the Allegheny River, with Lake Erie. It built a part of the canal, but as railroads seemed to be the new fashion, it obtained permission in 1849 to lay a track on its towpath. The outside influences seemed to have permeated its councils, for it apparently forgot the location of its towpath and laid a track of the Ohio gauge between Erie and the Ohio line, 5⅝ miles of which was nowhere near its towpath. In November, 1852, the first train ran over it between Cleveland and Erie; it was to this line that Payne referred in his report.

Whilst the law of March 11, 1851, was in effect, said the Erie mayor, that city was "safe; the interests of Pennsylvania were protected and the selfish, aggressive schemes of the New York Companies were checked." But the repeal of the law "by any means, fair or foul," had been resolved upon by the foreign railroads. He declared that one prominent lobbyist had boasted that the act would be repealed, even if it cost $50,000. It may very well be that some improper influence was used on the solons; it is not likely that they repealed the law as the result of an attack of common sense. As we have already remarked, sometimes the use of money has been found in the last resort to be the only means of wringing from venal politicians a measure of justice and a cessation of obstruction to the common good.

"To the lasting disgrace of the Legislature of Pennsylvania," said the mayor, the boast was realized, the law was repealed on April 11, 1853, and "Erie was thus left singly and alone to battle for her interests and those of Pennsylvania." Seeking lines of defense, Erie now charged that the Franklin Canal Company had violated its charter (which was true) in building that piece of track not on its towpath. Alfred Kelley, who, in behalf of the Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula, had bought a considerable interest in the Franklin Company, now bought from it on his own that scrap of track declared illegal, and as its right of way was liable to challenge, he rebought that, sometimes having to buy whole farms.

Matters were now rapidly approaching a climax. As the railroads said, "The selfishness of Pennsylvania prevents a uniform gauge through the borders of the State," and compelled the transfer of passengers and freight twice within twenty miles; for the Buffalo & State Line, which had absorbed the never-begun Dunkirk  p271 & State Line, was of standard width, the nineteen-mile Erie & North East was six feet, while at Erie you encountered the Ohio gauge. "Foreign" interests had begun to get a foothold in the E. & N. E., and in self-defense the town of Erie sought to bypass the B. & S. L. by chartering the Erie City Railroad, a six-footer which would run directly to a connection with the New York & Erie. But on November 17, 1853, the other companies moved towards their own solution. The E. & N. E. and the B. & S. L. both agreed to change their tracks to the Ohio gauge, thus making possible real through service between Buffalo, Cleveland and Toledo. The two companies — now both well under the control of the newly-organized New York Central — planned joint operation, and even identical dividends for the stockholders of both companies. The B. & S. L. offered to buy $100,000 worth of stock in the Franklin Canal Company, to enable it to extend southward towards Pittsburgh, while the C. P. & A. even proposed to buy $50,000 worth of Erie City Railroad stock — to grab control of it, as the citizens saw the deal.

As "A Member of the Erie Bar" stated it in a pamphlet, the rail conspirators plotted "to introduce a foreign, bastard and illegitimate gauge into the State," and to interpose it "between the great west and market, thereby preventing that vast region from enjoying the facilities and advantages of an uninterrupted communication between them and the great commercial emporiums of the country." As we contemplate all the facts, it is pretty difficult to make sense out of the learned counsel's argument.

The railroads acted swiftly. On December 7, they put a large force to work, changing the track to the Ohio gauge, and it was rapidly done. Nine days before this, the City Council of Erie, expecting the action, had named a heavy fine for "Obstructing the streets," and called on the High Constable to remove the obstructions. The H. & C. did not lack possemen. Crowds of citizens, whom the railroads called mobs, demolished two of the company's bridges which spanned streets and tore up the tracks at other street crossings. At Harbor Creek, seven miles to eastward, where the railroad had crossed a highway in a long diagonal, the citizen mob ripped up a long stretch of track and destroyed a bridge. They were quickly replaced, and in one night destroyed again; once more replaced and again dismantled — "abated by order of the Commissioners." A gap of seven miles was thus made in the railroad in midwinter, and at first many passengers walked the whole distance. Then some enterprising  p272 neighbors began operating vehicles, some open to the weather, some curtained, between Harbor Creek and Erie, charging a dollar for the trip. At least one passenger, a woman, had her feet frozen during this journey in an open wagon.

Governor Bigler of Pennsylvania was in full accord with these doings. He telegraphed to Erie on December 12:

My sympathies are with the people of Erie, and whatever my duties and the laws permit, shall be done for them. If my presence can be of any service, I will cheerfully come out to your place. Let me hear from you by telegraph.

In a short time he did visit Erie and spurred the opposition to the gauge change. In a special message to the Legislature, he said:

It so happens that Pennsylvania holds the keyb to the important link of connection between the East and the West, and I most unhesitatingly say that when no principle of amity or commerce is to be violated, it is the right and duty of the State to turn her natural advantages to the promotion and welfare of her own people. . . .

Neighboring states, he sneered, possessing similar advantages, might be willing to put them at the disposal of Pennsylvania, but he had never noticed anything in their conduct to warrant such a claim.

The next incident was on December 27, when "an armed force" invaded the state from New York, and in the words of the Member of the Erie Bar, found "a number of the citizens of Harbor Creek assembled for the purpose, in a peaceful and legitimate way, of protecting their rights and preventing the unlawful encroachments of the Railroads upon their public thoroughfare." There was a scuffle, and two citizens were slightly wounded by pistol shots fired, it was said, by a B. & S. L. conductor. Four Harbor Creek residents were arrested by a United States marshal and taken to jail at Pittsburgh.

A few nights later, a gang drove the employees from the depot at Harbor Creek and cut the telegraph wires. The marshal and his deputies, under order of a federal court, were superintending the re-laying of the track at Erie when they themselves were arrested on a warrant from a local judge on a charge of false imprisonment, but gave bail and were released. Now the High  p273 Constable of Erie ordered the track-layers to quit work and they did so. Three days later a mob of women, "mostly German," it was said, marched to the State Street bridge, which had been built by the marshal, and destroyed it. They were making slow progress with the job when they were joined by others, said to be men wearing dresses, and the task was hastened.

By outsiders this was derisively called the Erie Peanut War. Some doggerel verses, supposed to be sung by food venders who profited by the delays at Erie, ran, in part:

Here's your nice, sweet cakes!

Two for a penny.

Here's cakes, sweet cakes!

How many, how many?

We must sell and you must buy

To get our living — try them, try!

Stop the thousands rushing past!

They have no right to go so fast.

When here's your nice, sweet cakes!

Here's your nice, sweet cakes!

Two for a penny.

Here's cakes, sweet cakes!

How many, how many?

We must sell and you must buy

We must live and you must die!

When our kind persuasion fails,

Burn the bridges! break the rails!

For here's your nice, sweet cakes!

Here's your nice, sweet cakes!

Two for a penny.

Here's cakes, sweet cakes!

How many, how many?

We have baked and you must eat —

Here's a man shot in the street!

Now, we're sure the rushing mass

Will drop their coppers as they pass —

For here's your nice, sweet cakes!

While the war was in progress, Alfred Kelley visited the home, near Erie, of Judge James Miles, who had aided him in rebuying the Franklin right of way. Hearing that threats had been made in Erie that he would be mobbed if he showed his face there, Kelley and Judge Miles drove into town and walked calmly about  p274 the streets. Nothing happened save that one brick was thrown, which struck the Judge but did not injure him seriously. There were those in Erie who did not share in the anti-railroad sentiment, and factional ill-feeling in the town did not disappear for years. Old friends became bitter enemies, church congregations were split, and merchants who leaned towards the railroad cause — "Shanghais," they were called — were boycotted by the "Ripper" or anti-railroad element.

In January, 1854, Pennsylvania annulled the Franklin Canal charter, and the question of the power of a state to kill a charter after millions had been spent on the work was raised. Long litigation in the state and United States courts ensued; but Kelley had gotten an order which threw the federal government's protection over the railroad on the valid ground that it was a post road, and it continued to operate. Pennsylvania, finally seeing that it was licked, gave in and chartered the railroad from Erie to the Ohio border. But resentment over the affair smoldered for long afterward, and the derailment of a train in 1860 was attributed to the old grudge.

Some of the track built in the heat of conflict was evidently not of the highest quality. In September, 1856, the E. & N. E. directors warned the president of the Buffalo & State Line "as a matter of precaution against accidents, the speed of Trains should be materially lessened in passing over the Trestle Bridge upon the Erie & North East R Road." Nor did all continue to be sweetness and light along the lake front. In 1862, the roads east of Erie quarrelled with the C. P. & A. and talked of paralleling it from Erie to Cleveland, but the trouble blew over. On May 15, 1867, the Buffalo & State Line and Erie & North West agreed to amalgamate under the name of Buffalo & Erie. And on June 22, 1868, the Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula officially changed its name to Lake Shore, after that name had been in popular use for seventeen years.

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A Lake Shore poster of 1870. The Chicago station pictured was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1871.

[A larger, fully readable version opens here (1.0 MB), and two close-ups also open in a separate window: the Chicago station the drawing-room coach]


The demise of the Ohio Railroad in 1843 was followed by years of almost total inactivity in rails between Toledo and Cleveland. Lake steamers were doing all the business from Toledo eastward. But Sandusky and other intervening towns were restive. The better steamers ignored Sandusky, and other towns had no lake service. Rail projects were bound to appear, and one did organize  p275 in 1846, a child of Sandusky christened with the unimaginative name of the Junction Railroad, and planned to run from Toledo via Fremont, Sandusky and Elyria to Cleveland. The detour through Fremont indicated reluctance to attempt the bridging of Sandusky Bay.

The Junction concern puttered for four years without getting started, and then Norwalk launched a rival line, the Toledo, Norwalk & Cleveland, organized at her court-house September 24, 1850. It was to swing in an 87½ mile, southerly-bending arc from Toledo through Fremont and Norwalk to Grafton, a town on the Cleveland, Columbus & Cincinnati, 25 miles out of Cleveland, whence it expected to run trains into Cleveland. That the Ohio gauge law was already pretty much of a dead letter is proven by the fact that while the T. N. & C. planned the orthodox Ohio gauge, the Junction announced that it would be standard. It was of course looking ahead to a connection with the Northern Indiana (also standard) at Toledo.

The appearance of a rival spurred the Junction promoters to action. They raised some money and began construction between Sandusky and Cleveland, and in 1851, had their charter amended. Hoping to overreach the T. N. & C., they now proposed to bypass Toledo, crossing the Maumee at Perrysburg, eight miles southwest of that city and joining the Northern Indiana at Swanton, 18 miles west of Toledo — a pretty high-handed attitude towards a cocky, bustling young city of 6,000 population. But Toledo had its revenge; miles of grade and a costly bridge 780 feet long across the Maumee River were never used. The Junction also now desired to avoid Fremont, through which its rival was to run, but for some reason failed to have its charter amended in this respect, and so organized the Port Clinton Railroad, which was to build from Toledo directly to the west shore of the bay, opposite Sandusky. It was a separate corporation, yet all contracts and other papers were written in the name of the Junction Railroad, muddling the Port Clinton's legal status considerably.​9 The Junction also had trouble at its eastern end, where Cleveland would not let it cross the Cuyahoga River into the city to make connection with eastbound railroads.

The Toledo, Norwalk & Cleveland was a brash, up-and‑coming enterprise. On January 24, 1853, less than two years after organization, it opened its line from Toledo to Grafton, and within  p276 six months returned a 5 percent dividend to stockholders, though it strained a point to do so, and probably did it to impress the Junction Company, which was not doing so well. The T. N. & C. track was actually not yet in a finished condition; most of it was unballasted, and the ties were small and inferior. As for the Junction, it claimed to be open between Sandusky and the Cuyahoga River that summer, but its track was as bad as the other's, and its temporary bridges were unsafe. Men in both companies saw that they would be better together than apart, and on September 1, 1853, they were consolidated as the Cleveland & Toledo Railroad.

The daring project of bridging the shallow Sandusky Bay was now put through, and via the Port Clinton Railroad, the Northern Division, as it was called, joined the T. N. & C., or Southern Division, a few miles east of Toledo. The grade and Maumee River bridge of the extension to Swanton were abandoned, and after it had lain idle for thirteen years, the bridge was sold in 1866. In 1855 the Maumee was bridged at Toledo, and trains began crossing into the city, making direct connection with the M. S. & N. I. The ferryboat was taken from there to Cleveland, to use in transferring passengers and freight across the 160‑foot Cuyahoga River, the city still refusing the Northern Division permission to bridge it. For this reason that division was little used for through business, the Southern, though longer, having an entrance to Cleveland over the C. C. & C., which complained bitterly if much traffic was sent over the other route.

Finally, in July, 1856, a deal was made whereby the C. C. & C. leased to the Cleveland & Toledo a half interest in its tracks, depots and other property at and between Cleveland and Grafton for twenty years, for $65,000 annually. By this deal, said the C. & T. directors in their 1857 report, the company gained essential access to "the Great American Lake Shore Road" (C. P. & A.). Also, the C. C. & C., at the suggestion of Superintendent E. B. Phillips of the C. & T., agreed that whenever it was desired, the track between Cleveland and Grafton would be narrowed one-half inch from the Ohio gauge, "it being found that locomotives and cars of either 4 feet, 8½ inches or 4 feet, 10 inches can run on a 4 foot, 9½ inch track."

Nothing but experience could teach them that such makeshifts were unsafe. It is significant that in that same year they reduced the speed of trains, and found that this "contributed much towards the reduction of repairs and in the economy and facility of  p277 keeping the track and equipment in good order." The truth is that they were just trying to fool themselves. As the demand for speed increased, one railroad after another finally admitted that these compromise gauges simply would not do, and went over to standard.

With the panic of 1857 the picture darkened. The Northern Division was still in bad order. The directors had tried unsuccessfully to make a fair arrangement with the Mad River & Lake Erie Railroad by which they might operate one train a day each way between Cleveland and Toledo via Sandusky and 18 miles of Mad River track between Sandusky and Clyde, on the Southern Division. That failing, they decided in 1858 to abandon the Port Clinton track west of Sandusky. Litigation began; stockholders of the Port Clinton sued to prevent the action, while the town of Perrysburg brought suit, demanding either that the Swanton extension be built or money refunded on stock which the town had bought.

For the next four years the C. & T. travelled a rough road. It won its fight to dismantle the line west of Sandusky Bay, service ceasing there on December 31, 1858. The track was torn up and all New York-Chicago traffic went via Norwalk & Fremont. But strange the mutations of time! That old right of way was more direct; fourteen years later it was reopened, and is now the New York Central's main line, the Road of the Century, while the Southern Division via Norwalk is just a back street.

After two years of depression, the C. & T. was out at elbows, though not quite as seedy as its connection to westward, the Michigan Southern. In September, 1859, Amasa Stone, Jr., president of the C. C. & C., was actually seeking donations for the M. S. & N. I. as one of the Neediest Cases. He wrote to the Buffalo & Erie and C. & T., saying that if they would put up $17,000 each, the C. C. & C. would do the same, to aid their stricken neighbor. The Buffalo & Erie treasurer complied, but he sent $7,000 of his contribution in the form of a draft on the Cleveland & Toledo, a debt which he had been trying to collect. The remaining $10,000, he wrote, he was sending in cash by express. "5,100 of the currency is in Buffalo money, which please give the best circulation you can."

Rate wars added to the distress. A Michigan Southern passenger agent, forced out, went over to the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago and at once proceeded to make trouble. The passenger rate between Chicago and Cleveland via M. S. & N. I. and C. & T.  p278 was ten dollars; this man established an arrangement with the C. C. & C. via Crestline, Ohio, and slashed it to six dollars. The other roads had to meet the cut, but the M. S. & N. I. still charged eight dollars between Chicago and Toledo. The natural result was that a traveler from Chicago to Toledo would buy a ticket to Cleveland, save two dollars and still have a piece of his ticket left to sell. Such nonsense could not endure long, of course, but railroads seemed unable to stay away from it. In 1886, E. B. Phillips, then president of the M. S. & N. I., wrote to J. H. Devereaux of the Lake Shore, complaining that much passenger business coming from the East via Lake Shore was being routed via Crestline and Fort Wayne, to the great detriment of the Michigan Southern. He said that many passengers actually thought they were going over the C. & T. through Toledo until they were well out of Cleveland, headed for Crestline. "A party of Israelites was taken from here to Cleveland by Crestline a few days since for half price."10

But these bickerings were destined soon to have an end. As the decade of the 1860's waned, new forces were being felt along the way from Buffalo to Chicago, quickening the pulse-beat of the four railroads then comprising the chain, though it did not control them. One of these forces was Legrand Lockwood, head of a power­ful New York brokerage house which was interested in all four of the roads. Lockwood was a long-time ally of Henry Keep, and in 1866 had been a leading figure in rallying NYC stockholders to the support of the Keep-Fargo coup. That alliance soon lost control of the Central to Vanderbilt, as we have seen, but Lockwood remained on friendly terms with the latter, and through traffic over the Central and the chain west of Buffalo continued to move smoothly. But Lockwood saw that consolidation of the four was necessary, to prevent any interloper — such as J. Gould or Vanderbilt, for example — from getting control of one of the links and spoiling the game.

Commodore Vanderbilt — now that son William and son-in‑law Clark had convinced him of the importance of solidifying a route to Chicago, and now that he had jumped beyond that city and bought largely into Chicago & Northwestern — was also interested in Gould's current attempt to steal into Chicago. The balance in Ohio had been disturbed by his Erie, which had been throwing its six-foot weight around in most annoying fashion. It had gotten into Cleveland and Cincinnati, and now Gould had his  p279 eye on Chicago. In 1868, he planned to run a line from his Atlantic & Great Western at Akron to Toledo, and he suggested to President Phillips of the M. S. & N. I. that that road lay a third rail from Toledo to Chicago to create a six-foot gauge, so that Erie trains might run through to the midwestern metropolis. Phillips and his board were seriously considering the proposal when two things — one a flat warning, the other a symptom — gave them pause. The three other roads leading to Buffalo — in other words, Lockwood — remarked that such a course could not be tolerated; and Vanderbilt, hearing of the proposed alliance, began buying heavily of M. S. & N. I. stock early in '69.

To foil both of his rivals, Lockwood now proceeded to move along his own lines. On February 11, he combined the Lake Shore (then only seven months old under that name) with the Cleveland & Toledo to form a new Lake Shore. Vanderbilt continued buying M. S. & N. I. stock, and in May it was up to 119. But on May 8 Lockwood struck a second time, combining the Lake Shore with the M. S. & N. I. to produce a new corporation under that rippling, euphonious name so fondly remembered by all who knew it, Lake Shore & Michigan Southern. At the election of officers at Cleveland in June, Elijah B. Phillips, the Massachusetts Yankee who had been the head of the M. S. & N. I. for three and a half years, became the first president of the new company. Horace Clark and other Vanderbilt henchmen were there to vote their holdings, which were sufficient to obtain a place on the board for Clark. Predictions were made in Wall Street that he would become president when the Buffalo & Erie was added to the chain, which took place on August 10; but Clark's elevation was delayed until the following year.

And thus was born one of the greats among American railroads, the one which for nearly half a century thereafter, was also "familiarly known as the Lake Shore."11

The Author's Notes:

1 Middle-western roads had no end of trouble with snakeheads. M. Brigham, in a letter to the Toledo Blade, January 13, 1882, told of an early experience on the E. & K. One cold December day he entered a car and essayed to sit beside a friend, but saw that the seat cushion there was "out of order," and so sat down opposite it. As they bowled along, a snakehead shot up through that very seat and came right at his neck. He grabbed it with both hands, but it forced his head and shoulders crashing back through the thin partition into the baggage compartment. The fact that the whole rail had come loose from the track and was being carried along with them, plus a thick winding about Brigham's neck, saved him from serious injury.

Various episodes on neighboring roads testify to the devilish sense of humor of the snakehead. On the Michigan Southern one came slithering up between a man's knees, caught the front of the coat, vest and overcoat, tore them off and pinned them against the roof, without serious injury to the wearer, save to his modesty and temper. However, a new suit of clothes saved the company from a lawsuit. It became the custom in the Middle West to carry hammer and spikes in the cab, and if either of the engine crew saw a loose rail-end, and the engineer could stop in time, the fireman would go out and spike it down.

2 The account of this episode and the following description of early conditions on the Southern have been condensed from Talcott E. and Charles R. Wing's excellent History of Monroe County, Michigan, New York, 1890.

3 Iron plates in the sides of the elevator cabs in the La Salle Street Station office building still bear the initials, "L. S. & M. S. and C. R. I. & P." testifying to a friendly association which, as this is written, has continued for nearly a century.

Thayer's Note: The La Salle Street Station complex was demolished in 1981. Like many Chicagoans, I remember it, although only in its worst days at the end of its life. There is an interesting thread on it, with photographs, at Trains.Com.

4 There are many people still alive who will remember the yellow refrigerator cars belonging to G. H. Hammond, once seen in all parts of the country.

5 A twentieth century outgrowth of this busy area is the Indiana Harbor Belt Railway, owned jointly by the New York Central (30%), Michigan Central (30%), Milwaukee and Northwestern (20% each), and having 284.6 miles of track of its own, including branches, yards and sidings, plus 64 miles of leased lines.

6 We wonder whether there exists a specimen of the wood token, a copper disk about the size of a nickel, with "M. S. & N. I. R. R." on one side and "½ cord" or "1 cord" on the other. Farmers were supposed to be near their woodpile when a train stopped to pick it up, and the engineer handed out these tokens in payment, which the farmer in turn could cash in the pay car or at the nearest bank at the agreed price per cord.

7 The annual report shows that in 1859 the company had 91 locomotives, 76 first-class passenger cars, 32 second-class and emigrant cars, 23 mail, baggage and express cars, 568 box cars, 105 stock cars and 273 flats. It was evidently doing a considerable business.

8 Lest we seem lyrical in speaking of that transplanted Connecticut Yankee, Alfred Kelley, let us quote the dignified and objective Dictionary of American Biography, which calls him "the founder of the State's canal system, the preserver of its public credit and the author of its system of banking and taxation. . . . It is doubtful," the Dictionary continues, "whether the enterprises of any other man so deeply affected the material welfare of Ohio and of Cleveland in particular as did those of Alfred Kelley." Henry Clay said of him that "he had too much cast-iron in his system to be popular." But he had also so much steel in his frame that with him involved in an undertaking, capitalists considered it a worth-while investment. His achievements with the canals and the State's finances had very nearly made him Ohio's first citizen when he went into railroads.

9 The Port Clinton's capital was $100,000, of which only about $11,000 was ever subscribed, and $550 paid in.

10 Letter in Cleveland archives.

11 There is much evidence that the name Lake Shore was being commonly applied to the whole string of roads, long before the amalgamation. For example, when there was a serious disaster on the Buffalo & Erie near Angola, N. Y., December 17, 1867; the rear coach of a train left the track on a viaduct, plunged forty feet and burned, only two of its sixty occupants escaping alive. The car next in front of it bounced along the ties until it had crossed the bridge, then rolled down the embankment, killing twelve more. Harper's Weekly and other publications spoke of this as occurring on the Lake Shore Road, although the B. & E. was not combined with the others until twenty months later.

Thayer's Notes:

a The American public was fed the same line during the 2008 mortgage fraud crisis; we were blithely told that because the values of homes had fallen, somehow their owners' ability to pay was compromised. The value of my house fell like everyone else's, but believe it or not, we kept on meeting our mortgage payments on it; I was very puzzled by the argument when it was touted over the financial and news channels — pretty successfully, too — to a gullible public. The difference with the situation in the text, though, is that under the current socialist system, the American taxpayer (and more specifically the unprotected middle class) wound up footing the bill for the pincer-like collusion of the deadbeats and their bankers.

b An allusion to Pennsylvania's nickname of the Keystone State, already current by then. Although the origin of the nickname is unknown, by mid-century it was already widely used in reference to its power in the economy and transportation systems of the United States.

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