Vermilion River

From Vermilion Road the interurban tracks made a dramatic descent into a low marshy river bottom. Historian Dennis Lamont explains, "westbound the Vermilion Road drop-off (if you didn't have to stop for a passenger) was breath-taking, and never failed to surprise an unwary rider." Romp's Waterport marina, built in the 1950's, occupies the area today, but a line of electrical poles still marks the path of the railway.

Like many river crossings on the LSE, the Vermilion River crossing has a history all its own. Operations began as workers hurried to finish construction. Much of the line from the west side of Lorain to Ceylon Junction was built very quickly and somewhat poorly. Reports tell of workers who labored incredibly long hours without rest in poor weather to complete the line which was weeks beyond its deadline.

The first inspection run of December 23, 1901 supposedly made use of a temporary track laid on the narrow wagon bridge just before the car arrived and pulled up after it passed. Whether or not this story is true the Vermilion News reported that the first LSE bridge over the Vermilion River was officially completed and opened for service on December 26, 1901. Service was halted on January 23, 1902, however, when the bridge was damaged by a small steam locomotive the LSE had been using to pull its construction train. Either the locomotive, despite its small size, was too heavy for the new bridge or its large wheel flanges caused a derailment. In either case two large iron girders were damaged to the point of requiring replacement. A bridge crew made temporary repairs on February 8 so service could resume and permanent repairs were finally made on May 3, 1903.

Over the next decade the weaknesses of the rushed construction began to show. The first Vermilion River bridge proved insufficient for the increases in traffic and the size and weight of newer interurbans. In 1913 it was replaced with a stronger bridge, built double wide in anticipation of double-tracking the entire Lorain to Norwalk section. The expansion never occurred and only one set of tracks was ever laid across the bridge which was used without further incident until the end of operations.

The end did hold one more surprise, however. As the final pieces of the LSE were being dismantled in 1939, the crew removing the bridge accidentally dropped it into the river, blocking boat traffic and causing considerable irritation for city officials. The entire west bridge abutment can still be seen today on the bank of the river just below Rotary Park, where a historical marker recognizes the Lake Shore Electric. The abutment for the original road bridge, which was replaced by the present road bridge in 1929, can also be seen. On the east side of the River all but the base of the LSE abutment has been removed.

Vermilion was widely known for its commercial fishing industry, and during its heydey from 1890-1945 was considered the most important fishing port on Lake Erie. The river banks and the east end of downtown was the heart of this industry. Boats from fisheries such as Driscoll's, Southwest, Parson's, and the large Kishman Fish Co. left the river early each morning to net pike, perch, whitefish and white bass from the lake. The catch was then cleaned and processed at the riverside plants. Some was sold directly for local consumption or to the tourists passing through town en route to their vacationland destinations. The rest was packed in barrels of crushed ice and carried by interurbans to Cleveland or steam railroads to points across Ohio and beyond.

Vermilion Station

Baumhart's drug store on Division Street (present day Main Street) served as Vermilion's first ticket and package agent until 1903, when the railway built their own station at the corner of Liberty Ave. and Exchange Street. Like other locations this was an electrical substation which included a small ticket office/waiting room for passengers and handled package freight. A wye track along the east side of the station allowing cars to be turned. In 1923 a small freight house was also built next to this siding. The "freight house" was in fact only a wooden shed about 12' x 20' where freight could be stored until picked up or shipped out, but was necessary as the railway's freight business expanded and became a larger source of revenue.

The substation provided another important service beyond transportation and shipping. Vermilion had no commercial electricity service early in the century. Since at least 1902 city council had debated the merits of operating their own electrical service or granting a franchise to a private company. In November 1908 a franchise was finally granted to the LSE through the efforts of former Vermilionite and LSE manager Fred Coen, and the first lights were installed in January 1909. The introduction of electric streetlights and residential electricity was a major civic improvement, although the system had its quicks compared to modern standards. It is said that as interurban cars started up the hill on Liberty Ave., especially two and three car trains, they drew so much current from the system that all the lights in town would dim.

After 1938 the transformers behind the building remained and were used for commercial electricity for many years, while the building itself was used by various businesses. In 1977 Ted Wakefield, owner of the Firelands Community Bank and an avid historian, bought and renovated the building for use as a bank branch. The interior was decorated with LSE photos and free brochures about the railway's history were offered. Today the station is no longer a bank but continues to house other businesses.

Across Exchange Street from the LSE station stands the former Maudelton Hotel. Built in 1876, it was originally known as the Lake House and stood at the corner of Liberty Ave. and Division Street. In 1903 it was purchased by local lumber entrepreneur George Fischer who moved it to Exchange Street and renamed it for his children Maude and Elton. The hotel was frequented by summer tourists and businessmen, many of whom no doubt traveled on the LSE. The upper floors of the once grand hotel have since been removed and its future is uncertain.

The LSE's tracks continued west through town on Liberty Ave. to Decatur Street. Prior to construction of the present four lane highway in the 1950's, Liberty Ave. ended here. Auto traffic turned south on Decatur then west on what is now Old Cleveland Road. The Lake Shore tracks continued beyond the end of the road onto private right-of-way.

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Toledo express has just crossed Vermilion
Road and descends toward the river.
(Paul Eckler photo)

Eastbound interurban crossing the empty bottomland coming
toward Vermilion Road. (Dennis Lamont)

The first steel wagon bridge and first LSE bridge over the
Vermilion River in early 1900's. (Dennis Lamont)

Rare shot of second LSE bridge under construction in 1913.
(Dennis Lamont)

View from southeast corner of second LSE bridge in 1930's.
Second road bridge in background. (Ralph Sayles photo)

The second bridge was built in anticipation of double-tracking,
which never happened. (Harry Christiansen)

Only the lower portion of east bridge pier
remains. Electrical poles mark right-of-way.
(Dennis Lamont photo)

The entire west abutment still exists, seen here in 2011.
Abutment from old road bridge at right. (Drew Penfield photo)

Rotary Centennial Park and historical marker just above west
abutment of LSE bridge. (Rich Tarrant photo)

Close-up of the historical marker at the bridge site.
(Drew Penfield photo)

The new Liberty Ave. road bridge was built in 1929 and is still
in use today. (Pearl Roscoe photo)

Southwest Fish Co. was located on the east bank between
the road and LSE bridges. (Pearl Roscoe photo)

After crossing the river interurbans turned north on Water
Street (West River Rd.) to Liberty Ave. (Dennis Lamont)

The path of the rails can still be seen in the
original brick just off Water Street.
(Todd Stoffer photo)

The Vermilion station in the early 1930's. Note the crates on
the wagon, probably full of iced fish. (Ralph Sayles photo)

The Maudelton Hotel in its prime, circa 1915. LSE station
visible at left. (Rich Tarrant)

The former LSE station and former Maudelton Hotel both still
standing in 2011. (Drew Penfield photo)

178 as the Toledo limited stops at the Vermilion station in 1927.
(Hayes Presidential Center)

A large group at the station boarding westbound Detroit United
Railway 7088 and an LSE Niles. (Pearl Roscoe photo)

A troop of boy scouts boards a Niles car at the station.
(Dennis Lamont)

Cleveland bound #166 stopped on the station wye around 1937.
(Dennis Lamont)

The transformer yard behind the station is visible in this view
from the 1930's. (Vermilion Ohio News)

LSE tracks ran on dirt roads early in the century. View is west
at Liberty and Division, now Main Street. (Dennis Lamont)

Looking west down the LSE tracks on Liberty Ave. in the 1930's.
(Vermilion Views)

The Erie County Banking Co., co-founded by the Coen brothers,
built this office in 1922. (Rich Tarrant)

Same view as photo at left. Building now houses city offices.
(Drew Penfield photo)

Toledo express moves onto private right-of-way at the old end
of Liberty Ave., just west of Decatur Street. (Dennis Lamont)

Former right-of-way beyond Decatur Street. Present highway
was built here in the mid 1950's. (Dave Vormelker photo)

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