On this date: Iron Railroad organized
On March 17, 1849, the Iron Railroad Company was chartered by the owners of the local charcoal furnaces for the purpose of getting their pig iron to the Ohio River and getting supplies from the river to the furnaces. These same men would form the Ohio Iron & Coal Company and set out to form an Iron Town around the terminus of their railroad.
Iron Railroad President James Willard said of the enterprise, “Although the Iron Railroad will be very useful and valuable to the rich mineral region through which it passes, and the larger portion of its business will be derived from the iron establishments, still it ought not be considered as a mere local road; on the contrary, it is reasonable to suppose it will have important connections.”
This proved to be true, as the railroad only paid two cash dividends in 30 years, but it would eventually cease to be nicknamed “the railroad that went nowhere.”
Over the next two years, a six-mile narrow gauge line was built from Ironton to the Vesuvius Tunnel Mines. One of those mines was extended all the way through and every 6 feet, supporting timber stringers were supported by stone abutments. This tunnel was named for nearby Royersville. In November 1851, the first steam locomotive, an iron horse named the Essex, purchased from the Morris and Essex Railroad in New Jersey, debuted on the railroad. The Essex is currently on the bottom of Lake Erie, as the schooner upon which it was being transported sank during a storm. It’s possible the Essex was being transported on the steamer Clarion, which was transporting two locomotives when it sank during a storm in 1860, although newspaper accounts at the time do not give the names or owners of the lost locomotives.
In 1853, the Iron Railroad was extended to Center Station, near present day intersection of State Route 93 and Township Road 41 in Decatur. The train would back into a wye and return to Ironton; it would make two trips daily, with a one-way ticket on a passenger train costing 20 cents.
Other stations along the route were listed as Ironton, La Grange, Vesuvius, Pine Grove Crossing, Etna and Lawrence.
In 1858, pig iron sold for $8 a ton and the Iron Railroad posted a profit of $7,000. Soon after, a 97-foot long wooden bridge over Storms Creek was upgraded to a wrought iron bridge and remained in service until 1935. Remnants of the latest bridge are still visible spanning Storms Creek on Lawrence Street. The following year, the “Ironton-Greasy Ridge Free Turnpike” was approved and the road, later named State Route 75, now State Route 93, was built in close proximity to the railroad.
In 1881, the Toledo, Delphos & Burlington Railroad, a predecessor of the Cincinnati, Hamilton and Dayton (CH&D) was connected to the Iron Railroad. At newly-formed Bartles Station, a third line of rail was added to allow for standard gauge CH&D trains to traverse narrow gauge Iron Railroad rails. This problem was remedied in 1887 when rails were all adjusted to the wider, standard gauge, which is still the industry standard today. In 1905, the Iron Railroad was acquired by Detroit Southern, which later consolidated with other struggling railroads to form the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton (DT&I) in 1905. While this was mostly welcomed news, it meant dismantling the buildings of Center Furnace to allow for a double track spur to the newly built Superior Cement Company close by.
Henry Ford bought the DT&I in 1920 and spent $15 million to improve the tracks and equipment but, citing burdensome regulations, sold the line just 9 years later.
After multiple derailments and a ceiling collapse in the Royersville Tunnel, the last train made the trip through it in 1982. Most of the rail bed is still visible along Lawrence Street and State Route 93, and a DT&I car remains on display in Ironton. While these railroads mark a spot in history, the Norfolk Southern Railroad still runs through Ironton parallel to the river as it has for decades, and a train whistle can still be heard in Ironton and beyond as it has for the past 170 years.
Photos of these railroads and the men associated with them can be viewed at LawrenceCountyOhio.com, which is also now the online home of the Lawrence County Museum & Historical Society.
Nicole Cox is a trustee at the Lawrence County Museum and Historical Society and owner of LawrenceCountyOhio.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.