Yesterday my hometown of Pleasant Hill, Ohio celebrated its sesquicentennial. (Actually I grew up on a farm five miles from the nearest town, but this is where I went to school, so close enough.) Looking at old pictures on display, some from over a century ago, brought back a lot of memories… and some surprises. One photo was a work crew laying track down Main Street in 1902 for the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad. A railroad through the center of a village of about a thousand people? Not in my lifetime.
According to the Ohio History Central, construction of the “C H & D” started in 1846 and it began operation between Cincinnati and Hamilton, OH in 1851. The line was extended to Dayton and originally ran 59 miles. It was intended as a commuter line, enabling wealthy people to live outside Cincinnati. Construction attracted German and Irish immigrants, who stayed in the region after the railroad was finished and took jobs in factories that sprang up along the line and the Miami and Erie Canal. Eventually the railroad connected to Toledo and Detroit. More line was acquired, and by 1900 the company controlled over 640 miles of track. By 1904, the railroad was not able to handle the business volume and was bought by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1909. (http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Cincinnati,_Hamilton,_and_Dayton_Railroad)
Most of the photos on display were of “traction cars”. “The traction line was installed in 1902. The last car came through Pleasant Hill on November 6, 1926.” (A Pictorial History of Pleasant Hill, Ohio, page 83) These were electric interurban lines that connected towns and were very popular. By World War I, there were 2798 miles of interurban lines in Ohio. http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Interurban_Railroads. It’s unclear to me from the photos if the electric cars and steam locomotives shared the same track.
The message I took away from this exhibit is one of the greatest change agents in modern history was the automobile. With your own vehicle, who needs rail lines? And without a family car, it would’ve been much tougher to live five miles from the nearest town. Such is the path of civilization.