The Lakeside and Marblehead Railroad
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Along the south shore of Lake Erie about halfway between Toledo and Cleveland, there is a small peninsula of land that juts northeastward, interrupting the otherwise smooth contour of the coast. This land is called the Marblehead Peninsula.

The Peninsula's land is quite fertile and has served several generations of farmers and fruitgrowers quite admirably. But just underneath the rich topsoil lies another gift: limestone. Limestone can be used for agriculture, in steel production, and for building structures and foundations. And there is lots of it.

It didn't take long for early Peninsula pioneers to begin taking advantage of their land's geological treasures. Alexander Clemons, one of the earliest settlers, got his small quarry underway by 1834. He was joined over the next few decades by many others. More than ten outfits were going at it by the 1880's.

But as nice as the quarrying was on the Peninsula, there was still a large problem: how to get the stone away from the place. The only method amounting to anything was shipping it by water. But that worked only when the lake wasn't iced over–about eight or nine months per year most of the time. When the water froze, quarrying stopped.

Fortunately, railroad construction was in vogue in the 1800's, and in 1872, the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad rebuilt its northern Toledo-to-Cleveland mainline. This track touched the southern base of the Marblehead Peninsula just before crossing Sandusky Bay on its approach to Sandusky. And thus was born the possibility of building a short railroad from the LS&MS up to quarries on the eastern part of the Peninsula.

The rail line eventually built was called The Lakeside & Marblehead Railroad (L&M), taking its name from the two principal communities it served. Built in 1886, exactly 6.88 miles long, it was soon purchased by the large Kelley Island Lime & Transport Company, an acquisitive conglomeration that consolidated all of the area quarries into one huge operation by the middle 1890's.

In all, the L&M served the KIL&T Company and its home towns for 78 years–till 1964. And along the way, it utilized a rich variety of equipment: converted narrow gauge passenger cars, 0-6-0 switch engines, Fairbanks-Morse and McKeen gasoline motor cars, and first generation diesel switchers.

Our book, The Lakeside & Marblehead Railroad, tells you the interesting particulars about this limestone line. It was written by Dean K. Fick as part of a collaboration of three railfans with more than 75 years of collective experience with the L&M. Their years of intimate knowledge of the line add up to a story worth telling and a book worth owning.

Published: Dean K. Fick on
ISBN: 9780965862448
List price: $9.99
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The Lakeside and Marblehead Railroad - Dean K. Fick

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Chapter 1: Settlement of the Marblehead Peninsula

The United States Government encouraged its citizens to move westward after the Revolutionary War. Americans, a young, restless, and primarily eastern people, were still driven by the spirit that led them to go it alone in the first place. Their manifest destiny, they believed, was to claim all of North America as their very own.

Forces other than destiny forced people to move west, too. The new nation’s population doubled from 5.3 million in 1800 to 9.6 million in 1820. Cities absorbed many of the new arrivals, but the United States economy was based on agriculture, and that meant every person required lots of space―and west was the direction where virgin agricultural land was to be found.

The wilderness that was Ohio became a state in 1803. Roads in Ohio, where they existed, were very primitive affairs, and getting around on them was a real problem. Even under the best of conditions, it took four horses and a whole day to move one and a half tons of weight eighteen miles along a road. And so, pioneers heading west almost always used water transportation to get there.

As the westward movement built momentum, ship traffic began to increase on the Great Lakes, especially after the War of 1812. The Erie Canal, which was the greatest construction project that had yet been undertaken by Americans, was completed in 1825. It stretched from the Hudson River to Buffalo, New York, effectively connecting the eastern seaboard to Lake Erie.

The industrious Canadians built the Welland Canal in 1833 so ships could directly navigate between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.

Great Lakes ships depended upon favorable winds to get where they needed to go until Robert Fulton launched the nation’s first practical steamboat, the Clermont, in 1807. By 1810, steamboats were common in the waters of eastern rivers, and around 1818, the first Great Lakes steamer, Walk-in-the-Water, paddled its way happily up and down the coasts with nary a thought given to the winds. Others soon joined it, though sailing vessels were by far still the norm.

Some migrating pioneers, whether traveling by water or land, decided to stop in northern Ohio. Here, about halfway between the present day cities of Toledo and Cleveland, they found a small peninsula of land jutting northeastward into Lake Erie, interrupting the otherwise smooth contour of the coast. That peninsula is today called the Marblehead Peninsula. It is a mostly flat, dry strip of land twenty-two miles long and one-and-a-half miles across. South of the Marblehead Peninsula is Sandusky Bay. Two islands, today called Kelley’s and Johnson’s, lie close by the Peninsula’s northern and southern sides respectively.

All Peninsula land―and the entire section of the country where it is located―once belonged to Connecticut. Connecticut’s original land grant stretched westward all the way to the Pacific.

The national government asked to be given most of Connecticut after the revolutionary war, and that state obediently ceded all concerned territory to the government―except for 3,800,000 reserved acres that its kept for itself.

In 1792, Connecticut granted some 500,000 acres of this reserved land to those of its citizens who had been burned out of their homes by the British during the revolution. These territories thus came to be known as Firelands. All of the Marblehead Peninsula except the very western end lies within the Firelands boundary.

Some Connecticut land grant recipients stayed put in their eastern state and sold their grants; others decided to move west. Those who moved brought familiar place names to Ohio with them: Danbury, Norwalk, and others.

Danbury, an unincorporated hamlet located on the south side of the Peninsula, is one of the Marblehead Peninsula’s earliest settlements. Here, in 1811, a United States customs office was established under the direction of Colonel Peter Ferry. Surrounded as they were by wilderness, Danbury citizens fervently hoped that their town would grow to become one of the leading ports of entry in Ohio, but geography and the passage of time defeated the town’s ambitions.

Sandusky (then called Ogontz Place), a mainland town much more centrally located a few miles to the southeast, quickly outgrew Danbury. The customs office moved there after ten years, and Danbury remained a small, unincorporated town.

On the eastern end of the Marblehead Peninsula, Benajah Wolcott, a man originally from the Connecticut Danbury, established a homesite in 1809. Doing so made him one of the earliest notable settlers in the area. He had first come to the Peninsula in 1806 while surveying the Firelands with Moses Cleaveland, organizer of the Connecticut Land Company and the man for whom the city of Cleveland is named.

Trying to make water transportation as safe as possible, the United States Government erected a lighthouse in 1822 on Rocky Point, at the very eastern tip of the Marblehead Peninsula, and hired Benajah Wolcott to become its first keeper. Interestingly, the new lighthouse was constructed of limestone quarried from the Peninsula itself. Benajah Wolcott may have gained some inspiration from the lighthouse builders when he dug out some of this stone for a house in 1822. The high quality of the limestone began to be noted.

Eleven years after the lighthouse went up, another pioneer named Alexander Clemons began to quarry and ship limestone from Cunningham’s Island (today called Kelley’s Island), the island north of the Peninsula.

Alexander had arrived in the area in 1817 from Portland, Maine with his father, mother, and brother Elijah. The interesting thing about Alexander’s island quarrying activities is that he probably didn’t have any legal right to undertake them. This was of no consequence, however; when the Kelley family bought the island and renamed it in 1834, they retained Alexander’s services briefly in helping them to establish their own limestone operation.

Alexander Clemons was a very industrious man. About this time, he evidently made up his mind that Peninsula limestone was to be the key to his future. He was correct about its high value. When tested, the stone was found to be the best building stone then available in the region. Its proximity to the waters of Lake Erie was another benefit because, as previously mentioned, water transportation was the most efficient way to move material during these years.

Clemons wasted no time before getting started. Moving to the mainland in 1834, he purchased approximately 133 acres of land on the Peninsula’s northern shore at the eastern end, near the lighthouse, and opened a new quarry the very next year. His quarry was probably the first impetus for large scale settlement of the Peninsula’s eastern part. Only three houses stood in what is now Marblehead when Alexander arrived, but many more quickly followed. The population grew to nearly 500 people by 1840.

The area around Alexander’s operation was first called Point Clemons or Point Prospect, but it soon began to be called Marble Head or Marblehead. The origin of the name is thought to be a case of either mistaken identity or commemoration. Some say that newcomers had misidentified the Peninsula’s limestone as marble; others suppose the town was named after Marblehead, Massachusetts. Certainly the geography of the Ohio peninsula might have reminded pioneers of the Atlantic coast.

While Alexander’s quarry was shipping some of its first stone for the locks at Sault St. Marie, Michigan, a new transportation technology, the railroad, was almost ready to make its debut in the area.

Chapter 2: Railroad Development in Northern Ohio

Railroading in the modern sense began in England with the opening of the Stockton & Darlington Railroad on September 17, 1825. England was far ahead of the United States in steam engine and iron technology, notwithstanding the success of early American paddle steamers. Most New World inhabitants remained centered on water transportation during these years. Only a few people thought that railroad technology might soon become the wave of the future.

During the 1830’s, the idea of railroads suddenly caught fire and intrigued more than a few people in America―in fact, the reported success of some early eastern lines caused Ohioans to go mildly insane over the idea. Men with little or no money began to project lines all over the place. The state encouraged them by passing its infamous plunder law (quickly repealed), which allowed any railroad, turnpike or canal corporation to borrow from the state up to 50 percent of its paid-in capital stock.

The first action on a railroad through northern Ohio occurred in 1831 when the state legislature granted a charter for a line between Sandusky and Columbus. That line never materialized, but on September 7, 1835, General William Henry Harrison broke ground with Governor Vance at Sandusky for the Mad River & Lake Erie Railroad, which was projected to run from Sandusky to Columbus and Cincinnati by way of Springfield.

The Mad River & Lake Erie was envisioned to be a horse-drawn affair, but in October 1837, while the MR&LE’s president was on a trip to the east to purchase equipment, he stopped briefly at the factory of Rogers, Ketchum and Grosvenor in Paterson, New Jersey. There he was shown a small locomotive with an innovation never before seen on such a machine: a whistle. Charmed by its sharp blast, he resolved immediately to purchase the early steam engine. Upon such whims were great precedents set. The locomotive’s gauge was 4 feet, 10 inches, which became the standard gauge for most of the railroads in the state for many years.

The Mad River & Lake Erie named its locomotive Sandusky and quickly shipped it to its namesake Ohio town, where nearly everyone in town turned out to take a look at it. Afterward, Sandusky went to work helping to construct its own track, which consisted of planks topped with strap iron five-eighths of an inch thick, T-shaped iron rail still being uncommon.

About the same time the Mad River & Lake Erie got going, another plan was underway to construct a rail line close to the Lake Erie shore from Pennsylvania to the Maumee River near Manhattan, which later was to become part of Toledo. The new line was to be called the Ohio Railroad.

Its promoter believed that he could reduce construction costs to a mere $16,000 per mile by doing away with land grading―he would simply suspend the line from piles driven into the earth, build wooden stringers between the piles to support nine-by-three-inch planks, and put strap iron on top of the planks to serve as rail. This was an idea that was bound to fail, technologically speaking

In 1840, the Ohio Railroad began to drive piles along its right-of-way near Fremont, moving westward into the Black Swamp that covered the northwestern part of the state. It made progress at the rate of about 500 feet per day, but by 1843, work ceased and never resumed. The line had run out of money. Local residents were left with only worthless company scrip that had served as a de facto local currency. The remains of the piles driven into the earth were visible in some places as late as 1890.

The Mad River & Lake Erie Railroad made better progress. It reached Bellevue by 1838 and arrived in Tiffin by 1841. English novelist Charles Dickens, who was traveling through the area at the time, rode from Tiffin to Sandusky on the Mad River & Lake Erie after a bone jarring carriage ride from Cincinnati. Boarding in Tiffin at 2 o’clock PM, he was able to take his dinner in Sandusky that evening.

The Mad River & Lake Erie successfully moved traffic in northerly and southerly directions from Sandusky, but there were no east-west lines in northern Ohio during this time. Passengers going those directions invariably used established steamship routes on Lake Erie. However, towns like Norwalk, farther from the shore, had no regular passenger service. Their citizens, who were shaken and rattled on poor or non-existent roads, began to clamor for railroads.

The first proposed railroad between Toledo and Cleveland was conceived by citizens of Sandusky and Elyria.