When it comes to railroad lines, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad is one of the most recognizable names from the storied past of railroads. It dates to roughly the 1820s and has a vast and rich history. When I went to Fostoria, Ohio, last year on a vacation trip mainly to see the railfan park, I managed, of course, to get some history of the railroads there. I noticed the old B & O depot on Main Street is still standing. I could not find when the depot was originally built, but if I had to guess it would be roughly the 1920s? I just don’t know for sure to be honest. It is no longer used as a train station but is now maintenance offices for two different rail lines, one of which is CSX. A train station was a busy place, especially before automobiles started to fill the highways. You might say it was the “social media” of that era, though contact was face to face and not through a computer. Fortunately there are still a few depots still standing and in use today.
Former B & O Railroad depot in Fostoria, Ohio
Last week I talked about the home of former President Rutherford B. Hayes in Fremont, Ohio. On the grounds of the estate is a walking/jogging trail. At least part of the trail on the property, if not all of it, was once a military road used during the War of 1812 and known as the Harrison Trail. It connected two forts in the Sandusky Valley. Apparently, too, this was also part of an old French and Indian trail. You will see in the photo a rock alongside the trail. On the rock is a small sign with brief information about the Harrison Trail. The grounds around the President Hayes estate are known as Spiegel Grove. There is quite a bit of history associated with Spiegel Grove, too, but for this week I will just note the fact the walking trail was once an important military road. Roads, of course, would have been fewer in number in the early 1800s and not nearly as developed as they are now. It was common for the military to build roads in order to develop needed connections.
Former military trail in Ohio.
It’s not very often at all I get a chance to visit a house once lived in by a United States President. Last year, while visiting Fostoria, Ohio, for the main purpose of seeing trains in a railfan park, I decided to take a short drive to Fremont, Ohio, to see the former home of our 19th president, Rutherford B. Hayes. He was president from 1877 to 1881. Hayes was a Civil War general, U.S. Congressman and governor of Ohio. The original portion of what became a 31-room mansion was built between 1859 and 1863. Hayes moved his family into the house in 1873 before he left to become governor. The house was added on to and remodeled before he came back from the White House. Hayes died in 1893. And indeed, the mansion is absolutely beautiful. It has been wonderfully restored and taken care of. The tour guide that day was very helpful and knowledgeable. She provided insight into pre-1900 life. I also walked around on the grounds and saw some interesting sights. Unfortunately the presidential museum was closed for renovation at the time I was there.
Mansion of former President Rutherford B. Hayes.
In Elkhart County, County Road 17, a limited access road, is a familiar and well traveled road. I drive on a portion of it to get to work each day due to construction closing the road I previously drove on. Before County Road 17 was built, there was what is now known as Old County Road 17. The photo shows where the old road dead ends just a little south of State Road 119. When the new road was built, it eliminated a portion of the old road. Some of the old road to the south has become the current CR 17. I have been told by some who have lived in the area a long time the old road was known as “lovers lane.” It was a cruising road too. I was also told some of the old road was at one time nothing more than a trail. A portion of CR 17 south of County Road 142 is still a dirt road. As transportation needs change, so do the roads eventually. What worked in the past sometimes just doesn’t work anymore. A slice of local county road history.
Old County Road 17 in Elkhart County.
Clearly, the rural landscape has changed in recent years. Depending on the location, not only is there less farmland as subdivisions have been built more often, but the older agriculture related buildings are not as evident as they once were. That could include old wooden barns, silos, chicken houses, corn cribs and more. Shown in the photo is one example of an older building still standing. It is a poultry building of some type that may have served as a corn crib in the past with a cupola on top. A cupola kind of adds a finishing touch to a building. Those are not so common anymore either. This building is on State Road 14 just slightly west of South Whitley. Whitko High School is on the other side of the road not far away. If I did my research correctly, the building was built in about 1920. This was part of a large farm at one time and still may be. I’m more inclined to take photos of older ag buildings because they are being torn down as property owners realize they are too expensive to maintain and pay taxes on. A reminder of our farming heritage.
Old corn crib near South Whitley.
Following up on a post of a few weeks ago, here is another building in Goshen that used to serve as a garage and automobile dealer. Built in 1917, it is located in the 200 block of South Main Street in downtown Goshen. Robert Stoller owned the garage for a few years by himself and was also in a partnership with Walter Zahrndt. Thus the name Stoller-Zahrndt Garage. Hudson cars were sold for a few years before it became a Studebaker dealer, which it remained until 1951. Later the business was relocated to U.S. 33 where many car dealers seeking more space relocated. When the building was built, all of the automobile dealers in Goshen were downtown. After World War II, things changed and dealers had to stock more inventory and needed more space. Much of the façade for the building on South Main Street remains and now it is occupied by two different businesses. Also of note is this garage was listed in the AAA directory of 1946 of authorized service stations.
Former garage building in downtown Goshen.
Electric interurban railways were popular in the early 1900s, particularly before automobiles came on the scene. This area had three actual interurban lines, one of which was very short lived. And there were others proposed but which never materialized. These were aptly dubbed “paper railways” because they never made it off the paper they were proposed on. Often what happened was poor financing and-or planning. One such line would have came through Syracuse (and other points to the south) and up into Elkhart County. Some grading was done but no track was ever laid and no interurban cars ever ran on the line. Since some of the grading was done there are places where it was evident the line would have ran. This one in the photo is just north of County Road 52 in what is now a field in Elkhart County. Eventually the line would have went through Benton on its way to the north, but it never happened.
Remnant of proposed interurban line in Elkhart County.
This week’s post is a little different than normal. It’s not exactly a remnant, but is still a reminder of the past. At the Gilmore Car Museum in Michigan, there is a very neat replica of a 1930s Shell gas station. I’ve been through the station more than once and it really is a very well done recreation with all the memorabilia and things you would have found in a gas station of that era. You can see some of it in the photo, such as the building itself or the vintage gas pumps. I’m actually old enough to remember when gas was still pumped by an attendant who came out and took care of your needs. They usually washed the windshield and checked your tires and oil too. Obviously things have changed a lot since those days. Gilmore Car Museum is worth checking out, by the way. It is one of the best car museums in the Midwest. I’ve been twice and may go again this year.
Shell gas station recreated at Gilmore Car Museum.
While visiting family in South Whitley, I often take walks in the town. I’ve noticed what could have been a remnant of a road just off Calhoun Street and north of the railroad tracks. I became curious, as I often do, and started looking at whatever older maps that are available for research. As it turns out, my curiosity was more than just that. There really was a road in that location. Both the 1889 and 1916 maps show a road and also show it connecting with Maple Street, which once crossed the railroad tracks going to the north. Apparently this was the case before the old Gripco factory was built. Then I found another map in the South Whitley Library from 1950 showing the road was named Cleveland Avenue (it ran east to west). By this time, the portion of Maple Street had long since been vacated and the map showed it was vacated. Cleveland Avenue is no longer a platted road, it is simply a path meandering off Calhoun Street and leading to what used to be a feed mill. Or it may be platted as a private driveway now. A piece of the puzzle of the history of South Whitley.
Road remnant in South Whitley.
Several years ago there were not only more gas stations in most towns, but also more car dealers too. Obviously that has changed and today we typically find fewer of both. Shown in the photo is a building that once served as a car dealer and garage on West Lincoln Avenue in Goshen, just outside the downtown area. At one time this was known as the Robert Atz Motor Sales Corporation. Cars were sold and serviced in this building. It may have been under different names in other years, but I don’t have that information in my records yet. Next door is Hamilton Iron Works and the building now serves as an office for a CPA. When you study history closely, it’s interesting the trends to be discovered. There are other buildings in Goshen that once served as garages and I’ll get to those in future weeks.
Former car dealer in Goshen.