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Interurban era not without problems

By Henry Timman • Feb 2, 2018 at 12:00 PM

The interurban era in northern Ohio must have been one of the most interesting and useful times in history. This era was 45 years from approximately 1893 to 1938. Prior to 1893, the main transportation was by horse and buggy or by railroad.

In 1893, an electric railroad line was built from Sandusky through Milan to Norwalk. At that time it was the longest electric line in the world and appropriately enough was called the Sandusky, Milan and Norwalk. There were other shorter electric railways here and there, but most of them were urban lines in larger cities such as Cleveland and Toledo.

In 1901, some forward-looking investors formed the Lake Shore Electric Company with the intent of interurban service between Cleveland and Toledo. They bought up some of the small companies such as the SM & N and incorporated them into their new business. Their line came west from Cleveland through Lorain to Ceylon Junction north of Berlin Heights. There the line split, with one branch going through Sandusky to Fremont. The other branch came south through Berlin Heights and along Ohio 61 and Gibbs Road into Norwalk and on to Fremont and Toledo.

As soon as a number of little problems were resolved, people here in northern Ohio enjoyed a wonderful means of transportation. The public highways often were impassable due to mud and ruts — and there only were 14,800 autos registered in the United States in 1901, anyway. Even with the electric cars, people often had to plan carefully to make a connection with a train for part of the route or have someone available to meet them at the depot and take them the rest of the way by horse and carriage.

The downside to electric railways was the frequency of accidents. Not all of these collisions were the fault of the company, but so many employees apparently had little training in how to handle emergency situations. One of the several serious collisions took place on June 2, 1904, near the present intersection of Ohio 61 and Wells Road, northeast of Norwalk. The community there was (and still is) known as Wells Corners.

An eastbound limited car headed for Cleveland rounded a slight curve and met head-on with a westbound freight which was supposed to be on a siding, but was not. Six persons died and a score were inured on the limited car. The neighbors responded immediately with home medical supplies and two doctors soon arrived. One of the fatalities was Clarence Ketchum of New London, who worked in Lorain. His estate received $4,350 as a settlement for wrongful death.

The worst hurt of the survivors was a man named Murdock MacDonald of Cleveland. He was one of seven or more severely injured who were “hospitalized” at Norwalk’s Avalon Hotel, since Norwalk did not have a hospital at the time to accommodate so many patients. MacDonald recovered eventually and four months later filed a damage suit against the Lake Shore Electric for $50,000. This was the largest damage suit filed in Huron County up to that time.

The case continued for two years and was settled out of court, so I wasn’t able to learn how much Mr. MacDonald received. His injuries had been such that the physicians doubted that he could recover, but he did and lived on for several years afterward.

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REMEMBER: My “Just Like Old Times” books are on sale at Colonial Flower and Gift Shoppe at 7 W. Main St. in downtown Norwalk. These preserve my earlier columns in permanent book form.

Henry Timman, an authority on Firelands history, resides in rural Norwalk.

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