Focus on Fostoria - Jul_14_04

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Fostoria Focus - July 14, 2004

The History of Fostoria Has Always
Been Right on Track

By Leonard Skonecki

If you had to pick Fostoria's most prominent physical characteristic, you'd have to pick railroads. No matter where you are in Fostoria, it's almost a sure bet you'll be able to see them, hear them, or even feel them.

Even when the trains themselves aren't around, we go bumping over their tracks putting our shock absorbers through their paces

Fostoria's acquaintance with railroads dates back to the founding of the town in 1854. That's when construction began on the Fremont & Indiana Railroad.

The F&I was a glad tiding to the elder Charles Foster who was constantly thinking of transportation. As the owner of the Foster Store, the leading commercial enterprise in the area, Foster realized the importance of transportation to Fostoria's future.

Ohio was frontier country then. Money was scarce. Foster took crops in trade for the goods he sold.

He organized wagon trains to take the produce to Lake Erie where it was shipped to eastern markets. Foster was also an energetic booster of a plank (log) road between Fremont and Fostoria.

The trouble with plank roads in the Great Black Swamp area was that they rotted and needed replacing. The F&I held the promise of more permanent, dependable and extensive transportation. Its proposed route was from Fremont to Fostoria, on to Findlay, and west to Fort Wayne.

The F&I reached Fostoria in 1860, by which time it was bankrupt. It bounced from one set of owners to another like a pinball.

In February 1865, it became the Lake Erie & Louisville. In 1879, it was the Lake Erie and Western (LE&W) and opened its depot on North Street, the current Camp Fire building.

The LE&W was always plagued by operating problems and an uncertain schedule. LE&W came to stand for "leave early and walk."

Other railroads came to Fostoria. In 1872, the Chesapeake & Ohio reached Fostoria.

On July 22, 1873, track was laid in Fostoria to begin the westward expansion of the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) to Chicago. B&O's choice of Fostoria was important. Passengers and freight could now go east and west.

The work was finished in under two years. The line became one of the most heavily used stretches of track in the U.S.

In 1877, the road through Fostoria to Toledo on the Columbus & Toledo RR was opened. In 1881, it became the Hocking Valley. The HVRR was a major coal hauler. It eventually became part of the C&O.

The Ohio Central began life as the Atlantic & Lake Erie in 1868. Its principal purpose was to haul southeastern Ohio coal to Lake Erie.

By 1882, the younger Charles Foster and his associate Calvin Brice of Lima bought into A&LE. Eventually, it became part of the New York Central system.

In 1880, there was a fierce rivalry between Tiffin and Norwalk on one side and Fostoria and Bellevue on the other to determine the route of the New York, Chicago & St. Louis RR. Foster, through his old friend Henry Flagler, became involved in the NYC&SL and the line went through Fostoria and Bellevue.

Tiffin and Norwalk were disappointed and on May 23, 1881, the Norwalk Chronicle called the line "the great New York and St. Louis double-track, nickel-plated railroad." That is how it became known as the Nickel Plate.

Construction on the Nickel Plate begins in 1882 and by 1884, the line was complete between Buffalo and Chicago.

Fostoria was also served by three interurban trolley lines. The interurbans hauled freight, passengers and mail and served Fostoria for more than three decades.

In 1898, the Tiffin, Fostoria & Eastern interurban began service. The TF&E at one time had the distinction of operating the only double-deck interurban car in the country. It had fringe around the top.

In 1901, the Toledo, Fostoria & Findlay interurban railway opened between Fostoria and Findlay. In 1905, it reached Pemberville. In 1908, it reached Toledo.

The TF&F and TF&E both operated recreational parks, Reeves Park in Arcadia and Meadowbrook in Bascom, to attract leisure ridership

The third interurban was the Fostoria & Fremont which began operation in 1911. In January 1932,it was the last to close as interurbans around the country fell victim to competition from automobiles.

In 1916, 104 interurbans passed through Fostoria daily.

In earlier times, the railroads were a major source of local jobs. In 1907, 201 Fostorians were employed in railroading. By 1916, that number was 225.

In June 1950, the Nickel Plate, B&O, C&O and NYC cooperated on the installation of a $1 million, all-relay traffic control system.

By the late 1940s, so many trains blocked Fostoria's streets that the "grade separation" (underpass) project began. In September 1953, Gov. Frank Lausche cut the ribbon at the mid-block for the grade elimination project. In 1954,140 trains per day passed through Fostoria.

In November 1953, the C&O picks Fostoria as the site to make the first test of rubber plating to absorb the shock of heavy traffic.

Throughout the 1950s and 60s, rail passenger ridershp declined as more and more people owned cars. In April 1959, the New York Central ended passenger service in Fostoria. In April 1971, the last B&O/C&O passenger trains through Fostoria were discontinued.

Nonetheless, trains remain important to Fostoria. Today, with the addition of the auto mixing center, the impending construction of three new grade separations and the potential for train tourism, trains continue to dominate Fostoria's physical landscape and color our economic thinking.