Akron Railroad History
Founded in 1825 by Gen. Simon Perkins and Paul Williams, Akron, Ohio, was located on the Ohio & Erie and the Pennsylvania & Ohio canals. The name Akron derives from a Greek word meaning high while Summit County reflects the area’s location at the crest of the O&E Canal.
If canals were instrumental in the creation of Akron, then railroads were the key to its development as an industrial center. The self-described rubber capital of the world, Akron hosted numerous rubber factories that made tires for America’s burgeoning auto industry. Raw materials to create rubber arrived by rail, and the finished products moved to market in railroad freight cars.
Even before the completion of the canals, some were arguing that Akron needed a railroad in order to thrive. A committee formed in 1832 sought financing for a survey for the Great Western Railway between the Hudson River and the Portage Summit, but the road never developed. Plans for the Akron & Perrysburg, Akron & Richmond, and the Akron & Canton railroads likewise were stillborn.
Summit County’s first railroad, the Cleveland & Pittsburg, missed Akron by 15 miles. Chartered in 1836, financial problems delayed construction until the early 1850s. The C&P (later acquired by the Pennsylvania Railroad) opened between Cleveland and Wellsville, Ohio, on March 4, 1852. The railroad triggered an economic boom in Hudson, Summit County’s oldest city, and some Akronites feared falling behind.
Akron civic leaders prodded the Ohio legislature into amending the C&P charter on February 19, 1851, to direct the railroad to establish a branch from Hudson via Akron to a connection with the Ohio & Pennsylvania Railroad (later acquired by the Pennsylvania) between Wooster and Massillon. The Akron branch was completed to Cuyahoga Falls on June 1, 1852.
Construction crews worked overtime to reach Akron by Sunday, July 4, 1852. Swarms of volunteers aided the tired workers. Despite laws prohibiting labor on Sunday, the last spike was driven an hour after midnight. City leaders had planned to celebrate completion of the railroad on Monday, but the first locomotive to chug into Akron arrived in the wee hours of Sunday morning with its whistle blowing. A church bell tolled and cannons boomed. Hundreds of people spilled into the streets, the lateness of the hour and laws against such behavior on the Sabbath notwithstanding.
The Akron branch was extended southward to a connection to the Ohio & Pittsburgh at Orrville. The line opened to Columbus on September 1, 1873. After a series of financial troubles and ownership changes, the Akron branch emerged December 31, 1885, as the Cleveland, Akron & Columbus. The Pennsylvania gained control of the CA&C’s capital stock in 1899.
The jubilation of gaining a railroad in 1852 had scarcely diminished before Akron leaders were working to attract a second railroad. Franklin Mills businessmen Marvin Kent and his father Zenas Kent recruited Akron supporters to lobby the Ohio legislature to grant a charter to the Atlantic & Great Western. The brainchild of eastern investors in the Erie Railroad and their British financiers, the A&GW wanted to build between the Erie at Salamanca, New York, and the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton at Dayton, Ohio.
Work began in 1853, but lack of financing, triggered by a national depression, soon halted construction. After European financiers pledged funding, construction resumed in 1862. The A&GW opened to Akron on May 26, 1863. Kent drove the last spike at Dayton on June 21, 1864. Kent donated 13 acres to establish shops in Franklin Mills, which became a division headquarters and was renamed Kent on May 6, 1867.
Financier Jay Gould gained control of the Erie in the late 1860s and after several failed attempts to acquire a railroad serving Chicago, he leased the A&GW on June 24, 1874. The Erie created a subsidiary company, the Chicago & Atlantic, to build between Chicago and a connection with the A&GW at Marion, Ohio.
The earliest Baltimore & Ohio Railroad forerunner in Summit County was the Lake Shore & Tuscarawas Valley Railroad (later the Cleveland, Lorain & Wheeling), which was completed in August 1873 between Cleveland and Uhrichsville, Ohio. The LS&T had a branch to Lorain that diverged at Lester. The line was extended to Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1880. The B&O began operating the CL&W in 1909.
The B&O’s earliest Akron ancestor was The Valley Railroad, organized August 21, 1871, to build between Cleveland and the southeastern Ohio coalfields. Construction began in 1873, was suspended during a financial panic a year later, and resumed in 1878. The Valley opened between Cleveland and Canton on February 1, 1880, and to its southern terminus at Valley Junction on January 1, 1883.
The B&O affiliated with the Valley Railroad in January 1890 in order to gain access to Cleveland industrial traffic. The Valley was reorganized October 3, 1895, as the Cleveland Terminal & Valley Railroad. The B&O began operating the CT&V in June 1909.
Following the Civil War, B&O President John W. Garrett concluded that if his railroad wanted to compete with the Pennsylvania, New York Central, and Erie for western traffic it needed to reach Chicago. A subsidiary company, Baltimore, Pittsburgh & Chicago, began building between Chicago and Chicago Junction, Ohio, (renamed Willard in 1917) in 1873. The route opened November 24, 1874.
B&O desired a connecting link between Chicago Junction and Pittsburgh via Akron and Youngstown. It acquired the Pittsburgh & Western, which reached Akron from Pittsburgh in 1884. The Akron & Chicago Junction was incorporated February 1, 1890, to build between Chicago Junction and Akron. Built eastward, the line reached Clinton on July 1, 1891. The P&W acquired an unused right of way between Akron and Clinton that paralleled the C&AC.
The Pittsburg, Akron & Western began building eastward from Carey, Ohio, in May 1890, reaching Akron on January 24, 1891. Renamed the Northern Ohio Railway on August 14, 1895, the Lake Erie & Western, a New York Central subsidiary, leased the Northern Ohio on October 1, 1895. The Akron, Canton & Youngstown formed June 6, 1907, and opened between Akron and Mogadore on October 1, 1912. The AC&Y leased the Northern Ohio on March 1, 1920.
The narrow-gauge Connotton Valley passed just east of Akron through Mogadore, which it reached in January 1881. The line was completed to Cleveland later that year and extended to Zanesville in 1889. The road was converted to standard gauge on November 18, 1888, and renamed Cleveland, Canton & Southern on May 17, 1890. The CC&S entered receivership September 15, 1893, and the Wheeling & Lake Erie acquired it on August 5, 1899. The Nickel Plate Road leased the W&LE on December 1, 1949. The NKP merged with the Norfolk & Western on October 16, 1964.
Formed by the May 6, 1902, merger of three switching railroads, the Akron & Barberton Belt was a terminal railroad that did not reach beyond Summit County. Its earliest forerunner was the Barberton Belt Line Railroad, which opened July 12, 1892, within Barberton where it connected with the CA&C.
The Cleveland, Barberton & Western Railroad was incorporated October 23, 1899, with the idea of building between Cleveland and Creston via Cuyahoga Falls, Akron, and Barberton. The road built only between Barberton and a connection with the Northern Ohio at Belt Junction in Fairlawn.
The third A&BB component was the Barberton, Akron & Eastern Line Railway, incorporated January 24, 1902, to build between Barberton and Youngstown. The A&BB completed in late 1902 the route that the BA&EL had begun building between Barberton and East Akron.
The A&BB was sold in May 1902 for $1 million to a consortium of the Pennsylvania, B&O, Erie and Northern Ohio railroads. In spring 1905, the A&BB acquired the Barberton & Southern, which had built nearly two miles of track in 1903 within Barberton between connections with the Erie and Pennsylvania lines.
The Baltimore & Ohio was the dominant passenger carrier in Akron with most of the carriers Chicago-Washington/Baltimore trains serving the city. Among the most prominent B&O trains to serve Akron on the Chicago-Pittsburgh line were the Capitol Limited, Shenandoah, Columbian, Ambassador, Washington Express, and Chicago Express. During the 1950s the B&O consolidated some trains in an effort to shave is passenger deficit. By April 1960, the B&O operated four pairs of trains on the Chicago line through Akron. One of these was the Detroit-Washington Ambassador, which was combined with the combined Capitol Limited/Columbian on October 26, 1961.
The November 6, 1967, discontinuance of the westbound Chicago Express and eastbound Diplomat (renamed from the Shenandoah) in fall 1964, left just two pairs of trains on the Chicago line. In January 1970, B&O discontinued the westbound Diplomat and the eastbound Gateway (formerly the Washington Express) between Akron and Chicago. These trains plus the Capitol Limited were the last passenger trains serving Akron when the Amtrak era began May 1, 1971.
Passenger service to Valley Junction on the B&O Valley line ended September 30, 1934, but service continued on the route between Cleveland and Akron. A Cleveland-Wheeling train, which used the Chicago line between Akron and Warwick and the Cleveland, Lorain & West Virginia between Warwick and Wheeling, ended September 29, 1951. That left the Cleveland Night Express as the last Valley line train. The Cleveland-Washington train began its final runs on February 4, 1963.
The Erie typically had three pairs of Chicago-New York trains that served Akron. The flagship train was the Erie Limited, which was renamed Phoebe Snow on October 27, 1963. Phoebe Snow had been the name of the premier train on the Delaware Lackawanna & Western, which had merged with the Erie on October 17, 1960, to form the Erie Lackawanna.
The EL ceased carrying passengers on the Atlantic Express and Pacific Express in July 1965. The Phoebe Snow began its last runs on November 27, 1966. This left only the Lake Cities, which continued between Chicago and New York until beginning its final trips on January 6, 1970.
The Pennsylvania Railroad’s top train to Akron was the Akronite, which in its prime carried coaches, sleepers and a diner-lounge between Akron and New York. Although launched as an independent train, it soon began consolidating with other Pennsy trains and on April 26, 1953, was reduced to an Akron-Hudson train that connected with a Cleveland-New York train, albeit with a through Akron-New York sleeper. The Akronite was discontinued April 26, 1958.
The Pennsylvania ended its last Cleveland-Columbus passenger train on December 14, 1951, and discontinued the Akron-Hudson shuttle trains on July 31, 1951. The shuttles had connected at Hudson with Cleveland-Pittsburgh line trains and for years has used self-propelled cars known as doodlebugs. One of those collided head-on with a freight train in Cuyahoga Falls on July 31, 1940, killing 43.
Neither the AC&Y nor its predecessors were heavy passenger carriers. The AC&Y purchased three motorcars in early 1920 for Akron-Mogadore passenger service, which began on January 4. There were 14 trips a day, but this service ended in 1922. That left a former Northern Ohio mixed train between Akron and Delphos as the last AC&Y passenger operation. The mixed train carried few passengers, but was kept alive by a mail contract that ended in October 1950. The mixed trains made their final runs on July 20, 1951.
The Wheeling and Lake Erie had a small number of passenger trains, including a pair that operated between Cleveland and Wheeling and stopped at Kent and Mogadore. These would be the W&LE’s last intercity passenger trains. They made their final trips on July 17, 1938.
Akron’s railroad infrastructure remained intact through the early 1970s. The decline of the city’s industrial base coupled with railroad mergers and route rationalizing prompted the abandonment of some Summit County trackage. Most tire manufacturing in Akron had ended by the 1990s. The county’s remaining industries made far less use of rail for shipping. Whereas Akron once had six freight railroads, there would soon be two.
The February 1, 1968, merger of the Pennsylvania and New York Central to create Penn Central would lead to the loss of traffic on the former CA&C between Akron and Columbus. Penn Central moved the former Pennsy’s Cleveland-Columbus traffic to a former Big Four route between the two cities. A July 4, 1969, flood severed the former CA&C north of Holmesville and it was never rebuilt.
Railroad rationalization accelerated not long after the April 1, 1976, creation of Conrail, which took in the bankrupt Penn Central and Erie Lackawanna. In the early 1980s, Conrail abandoned the former EL west of Rittman and pulled up the former Erie tracks between Akron and Barberton. Subsequently, Conrail abandoned the former CA&C between Clinton (Warwick) and Orrville.
The N&W had merged with the Southern Railway on June 1, 1982, and began operating under the name Norfolk Southern. The company began a program of selling lightly used lines and in May 1990 sold the former W&LE and AC&Y lines in the Akron area to a start-up company that operated them as the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway.
Conrail continued to operate the former Pennsylvania route between Akron and Hudson and the former Erie east of Akron. Conrail ceased using the Akron branch in 1994 and the track was sold to the Summit County Port Authority, which railbanked it for possible commuter train use. The former Erie between Akron and Kent was also sold and railbanked.
The A&BB was sold in July 1994 to the Wheeling Corporation, owner of the modern Wheeling & Lake Erie. The A&BB was renamed the Akron Barberton Cluster Railway. In the early 1990s, much of the A&BB mainline between Barberton and East Akron was abandoned. ABC trains use trackage rights on CSX to reach what remains of the former A&BB track in Akron and the W&LE. The ABC also owns the former Erie between Barberton and Rittman, and operates on former Erie track between Kent and Ravenna that is owned by the Portage County Port Authority.
The National Railroad Passenger Corporation, as Amtrak is formally known, began operations May 1, 1971, but it it would be 19 years before scheduled Amtrak service reached Akron. That occurred November 11, 1990, when the Broadway Limited was moved from the former Pennsylvania Railroad route between Chicago and Pittsburgh via Canton to the CSX (former B&O) line through Akron.
Facing a $240 million shortfall in 1995, Amtrak imposed a series of service cutbacks that included the discontinuance of the Broadway Limited on September 10. Amtrak expected to save $17.7 million by ending the Broadway, which began its last trips on September 9.
Amtrak service returned to Akron on November 10, 1996, when Amtrak extended the New York-Pittsburgh Three Rivers to Chicago. More accurately, Amtrak service passed through Akron. The city and Amtrak were unable to agree on who would fund a station, the former depot having been removed after the discontinuance of the Broadway Limited. The Three Rivers finally began stopping in Akron on August 10, 1998.
An increase in mail and express traffic that could not longer be adequately handled on other Amtrak trains had been the impetus for extending the Three Rivers to Chicago. The Three Rivers sometimes carried five passenger cars along with more than 20 mail and express cars.
The mail and express traffic was not as profitable as Amtrak had expected and during 2003 much of this business was phased out. Amtrak announced on September 3, 2004, that it would cease hauling mail the next month and discontinue the Three Rivers west of Pittsburgh on March 7, 2005.
The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad provides scheduled and chartered excursion train service between Akron and Canton, and Akron and Independence, a Cleveland suburb. The route north of Akron passes through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
The idea for the service dates to 1967 when Henry Lucas of the Cuyahoga County Fair and Siegfried Buerling of Hale Farm suggested establishing a steam railroad excursion service between Cleveland and Akron over the Baltimore & Ohio’s Valley Line. Although the B&O nixed that, by the early 1970s Cleveland business leaders were supporting the excursion service proposal. In 1975 the Chessie System approved the excursions, which were to be operated by the Cuyahoga Valley Preservation and Scenic Railway Association.
The Midwest Railway Historical Foundation of Cleveland provided passenger cars and steam locomotive No. 4070, an American Locomotive Company 2-8-2 light Mikado built in December 1918 for the Grand Trunk Western. No. 4070 had hauled freight until March 29, 1960. In its early years, the CVSR operated between the Cleveland Zoo and Akron with a stop at Hale Farm and Village. Trains ran on Saturdays between June and October.
Chessie System announced September 5, 1984, that it was seeking Interstate Commerce Commission permission to abandon the Valley Line between Independence and Valley Yard in Akron by the end of the year. CVSR trains continued operating in 1985, but Chessie refused to renew the lease for the 1986 season, citing liability insurance concerns regarding the now abandoned railroad.
Even before Chessie had announced its plans to abandon the Valley Line, it had begun negotiations with the National Park Service to sell the route. Congressman John Seiberling of Akron introduced legislation in April 1986 to authorize the park service to buy the railroad. The bill cleared Congress that fall and wound up being attached to another piece of legislation that was signed by President Ronald Reagan on November 6, 1986.
Sale of the railroad bogged down because Chessie was unable to produce a clear title to the land and the 1987 excursion season was cancelled. With the ownership issue seemingly headed for litigation, Congressman Seiberling held a meeting in his office at which the park service and Chessie worked out a $2.5 million deal that was completed September 29, 1987. This cleared the way for the return of CVSR service in 1988.
The CVSR began acquiring diesel locomotives in 1988 and later purchased four streamlined era passenger cars from Canadian National Railways. No. 4070 pulled CVSR trains for the final time during the 1990 season.
The Akron Regional Transit Authority acquired from CSX the former B&O Valley Line between Akron and Canton in May 2000. Although parts of this route still had freight service, Metro’s purpose was to preserve the track for possible Akron-Canton commuter train use.
Although commuter train service has yet to come about, the CVSR began operating weekend-only seasonal service between Akron and Canton on July 12, 2003. This service expanded to daily except Monday and Tuesday for the 2008 season with trains scheduled to connect in Akron with CVSR trains operating north to Independence.
Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad trains today carry hikers, bicyclists, sightseers and picnickers through and to Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Other destinations include Akron and Canton cultural and educational institutions. Special theme trains operate throughout the year including wine-tasting trains, children’s specials to the “north pole” in December and cabin fever reliever sightseeing trains during the winter. Ohio Central steam locomotive No. 1293 pulled excursion trains over the CVSR in September 2007 and 2008, the first time a steam locomotive had appeared on the Valley Line since 1990.