Friday, March 30, 2018

My massive research piece is done. Or, one of them.

The Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula Railroad is, in my opinion, the most important railroad in Cleveland history. It wasn't the first. That would be the Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati Railroad (CC&C), a major and highly profitable line completed in January 1851 that linked Ohio's three biggest cities. But while the CC&C ran through Ohio's interior -- opening up vast new agricultural markets and killing off the Ohio & Erie Canal -- it didn't link Ohio with any eastern markets. And it was those eastern markets, like New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, where all the consumers and capital was. For cash-starved, almost completely rural Ohio to grow, it needed access to the east.

It was the Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula that linked Cleveland to Buffalo and New York City. It opened just six months after the CC&C.

The Cleveland & Pittsburgh Railroad opened in 1852. That was important, because east-central Ohio was rich in agricultural land and coal deposits. Pittsburgh was linked by rail to Philadelphia in November 1852, giving Cleveland its second outlet to the east. But the C&P had to cross the Allegheny Mountains. This meant trains couldn't pull heavy loads; extra locomotives had to be employed to get longer, heavier trains over the mountains. Even then, some trains had to be split up in order to get over the hump.

The Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula ran on practically level ground, and it had almost no curves.

The real key was Chicago. By 1852, four railroads in Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois had completed work, forming a continuous rail line between Chicago and Toledo. In 1853, two railroads -- the Port Clinton and the Toledo, Norwalk & Cleveland -- opened between Cleveland and Toledo. At last, Cleveland was linked which the economic powerhouse of Chicago.

Massive amounts of freight poured east over the Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula. Little move southeast over the C&P; Pittsburgh was interested in Ohio's coal, not Cleveland's goods. Between the Mahoning Valley and Pittsburgh, there was heavy traffic. But between Cleveland and the Mahoning Valley, there was little.

In 1881, the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad -- nicknamed the "Nickel Plate" because its rails were allegedly nickel-plated -- was built alongside the Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula from Buffalo to Chicago. There was so much traffic, two major railroads could exist side-by-side. That's astonishing.

Yet, Wikipedia had no article about the Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula. None. It was barely mentioned in other articles.

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Even more fascinating is the Erie War.

Until the 1880s, each state incorporated its own corporations. Most states refused to allow an out-of-state corporation to exist in-state. The kerfuffle that happened when a "foreign" corporation's board of directors interlocked with a "domestic" corporation was incredible. Scandal! Shame! Outrage! Social opprobrium!

Thus, the Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula could not build across Pennsylvania. Some entrepreneur in Pennsylvania had to create a corporation, raise funds, and link to the Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula. And someone in New York had to do the same to link Buffalo to the Pennsylvania border.

Surreptitiously, the leaders of the Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula encouraged just such a scheme. They discovered that a heretofore unknown canal operator, the Franklin Canal Company, had a charter to build a railroad along its canal towpath. The charter was so vague that it even permitted "branch lines" to other railroads where expedient. This was a godsend: While a railroad existed between the New York-Pennsylvania border and Erie, Pa., there was no railroad between Erie and the Ohio-Pennsylvania border. Okay, so the Franklin Canal ran from Erie south... but what about a branch line west to Ohio? That seemed permitted by the charger.

So the Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula got involved. When the Franklin Canal Co. floated half a million in stock to begin building its railroad, the Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula bought it all. When the Franklin Canal Co. floated a million dollars in bonds to pay for more railroad, the Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula guaranteed it and Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula-involved bankers in New York City bought the bonds.

At first, no one in Pennsylvania seemed to care. But the Franklin Canal had proposed building a railroad that was six feet wide (a "broad gauge" line). That was all right with the Pennsylvanians, because one of the two railroads from the Pennsylvania border to Buffalo was broad gauge, too. The Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula was a standard gauge (or close to it). Freight and passengers coming from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio would have to change trains in Erie. With little coordination between the two different railroads, freight and passengers might have to wait several hours, even a day or two, before boarding a train for the east. Passengers needed food, sleeping accommodations, reading materials, and things to drink. Freight needed warehouses to be stored in. Wagons were needed to cart freight and passengers. Wagons meant carriage shops, stables, veterinarians, hay providers, wagons to move hay, farmers to grow hay, timer and iron to build and repair wagons, stableboys... A vast network of businesses began to rely on the "break in gauge".

This was great, because the railroad threatened to kill off the harbor at Erie. Until the coming of the railroad, most freight moved east via ship. When the Great Lakes froze over in November for 15 weeks, vast warehouses were needed to store freight until the spring thaw. The railroads would destroy all of this.

Moreover, if the Franklin Canal Co. finished its line southward, this would open up a huge agricultural, coal, and iron market for eastern consumption. This would prevent Ohio and Michigan's coal, iron, and produce from being used, as it could be supplied faster (and, in the case of produce, fresher) than the tardy stuff coming from "out west".

The problem was, the Franklin Canal Co. had no interest in completing a line to the south. It had just enough money to build a line east to the Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula. A line south (two-thirds of the way to Pittsburgh) was useless. That coal, iron, and produce was much more likely to get tapped by a small branch line or two constructed by the Pennsylvania Railroad, and it would flow east via the Pennsy -- not north, northeast, east, and south via the Franklin Canal Railroad. The southern line would financially cripple the Franklin Canal Co., and then most of it would be abandoned anyway.

And then, wonderfully, the impossible happened: Another railroad linked Buffalo with Pennsylvania. This railroad was standard gauge. The road between Erie and New York agreed to add a line of rails so both broad and standard gauge cars could run on its line. The Franklin Canal Co. immediately announced that it was changing its track to standard gauge.

What was wonderful for the railroad was devastating to the town of Erie and the state of Pennsylvania. No more would Erie businesses thrive because of the "break in gauge". Those dreams of west-central Pennsylvania coal, iron, and produce flowing east became nightmares.

People in Erie rioted in December 1853 and January 1954, tearing up tens of miles of railroad track and burning bridges. They attacked railroad repair crews, beat railroad officials, and even threw the U.S. Marshal in jail when he tried to stop the riots. The Governor of Pennsylvania gleefully supported the rioters. The courts were powerless to intervene, and President James Buchanan (a complete dunderhead and coward) refused to send in federal troops to restore order.

In early February 1954, the Pennsylvania state legislature revoked the charter of the Franklin Canal Co., claiming that the legislature had been bribed way back in the 1840s to approve it.

The riots ended, although the violence didn't. Track was torn up and bridges damaged every couple of months for the next two years. In fact, a little blackmail was worked in the Pennsylvania legislature: The legislature agreed to keep the Franklin Canal Co. branch line to Ohio open. In fact, it offered to sell this line to the Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula. In return, however, the Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula had to build a spur from this branch to the harbor at Erie. This would help keep the harbor open and some businesses alive. Additionally, the Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula was forced to buy half a million dollars' worth of bonds of a new railroad between Erie and Philadelphia.

The Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula quietly agreed to the blackmail. The state of Pennsylvania ran the old Franklin Canal branch for a year or so, before turning it over to the Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula. A physical break just a few feet in length was retained in the rail line (keeping the "break in gauge" technically alive) until work on the spur to the harbor began. Once it did, the break was removed and trains could run continuously between Chicago and Buffalo.

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The Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula merged with several Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Pennsylvania railroads in 1869 to come the famous Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway. This railway was one of two backbones of the great Industrial Revolution in the United States. In 1914, the Lake Shore merged with the New York Central.

But let's go back to the Erie War...

Just when did the break in Erie go away? That is nowhere recorded. Vaguely, historians and railroad experts say "the 1850s" or "when the slavery issue took over the headlines in the 1850s" or "shortly after the Erie War ended".

That's not good enough for me. I dug for two weeks online, and could find nothing. That was shocking, because vast quantities of material are available online. I almost never have to go do physical research in a library. But this time I did. I spent weeks in the libraries in Cleveland, Ashtabula, and Erie digging for the information. I would spend 10 hours a day in a library in Erie, reading faded microfilm of Erie newspapers from the 1850s. I hit every train museum and archives between Toledo and Erie. I accessed corporate archives.

And for once, my research proved fruitless. The best I could come up with is that the physical break probably ended in 1856. Trains continued to stop in Erie nonetheless and switch locomotives and take on wood and water until 1891.

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