Wakeman is a town with just north of 1,000 souls that I’ve passed through numerous times during trips to railfan in Bellevue.
Whenever I’m going through this sleepy little Huron County burg I think of Marty Surdyk because he claims the town is a speed trap run by a cop named Roscoe.
Marty tells anyone who will listen – and a few who won’t – that you better be doing the speed limit when you cross the town line because Roscoe will be watching you.
I don’t know if Marty made that story up or if Wakeman is any more of a speed trap than any other podunk town in America with a police department seeking to raise revenue for the city.
Still, I keep one eye on the speedometer and the other out for Roscoe although I’ve yet to observe him running radar.
Wakeman has caught my eye for another reason. If you are traveling west on U.S. 20 you’ve probably noticed the massive sandstone double-arch bridge over the Vermilion River on the east side of town. It used to carry a railroad.
Near downtown Wakeman sits a railroad freight station and a pair of old-style grain elevators. The linear empty area next to these structures suggests “railroad space.”
Wakeman used to be a railroad town. The Lake Shore & Michigan Southern mainline between Cleveland and Toledo was built through here in 1852-53.
Construction of a more direct route via Sandusky relegated the original LS&MS to branch line status during its New York Central years and on through the end of Penn Central in 1976.
With the formation of Conrail that year, the branch that came off the mainline at Elyria and ran via Oberlin, Wakeman, Norwalk, Bellevue and Fremont before meeting up again with the mainline at Millbury was abandoned and the tracks removed.
Today, parts of that railroad right of way are a hiking and biking trail, although not in Wakeman.
On a recent trip to Bellevue I stopped in Wakeman to document what is left of the town’s railroad infrastructure.
I began with that sandstone arch bridge over the Vermilion River. Winter is a good time to see the bridge because of the lack of foliage.
From outward appearances, the bridge still appears sturdy enough to support contemporary railroad operations.
I’ve seen conflicting reports on when this bridge was built. A website devoted to old bridges says 1853 but a site devoted to abandoned railroads says 1872. Whenever it was built, it is more than a century old and looks good.
There are fences and no trespassing signs at each end of the bridge, but the fences are not that high and would not deter someone determined to walk across the bridge.
I then made my way down Railroad Street, which runs north of the former railroad ROW.
Much of the former ROW remains open and is covered with grass. Whoever pulled up the tracks more than 30 years ago probably scooped up the ballast along with the ties and rails. Whatever was left has sunk into the earth or been covered.
As typically happens over time, nature and man have obliterated the physical appearance of a railroad ROW by moving earth and erecting structures where tracks had been.
In Wakeman, a small park and a building now occupy part of the ROW. But the ROW near the former freight station and the grain elevators remains an open area with the appearance that says “railroad space.”
Nonetheless, it was difficult to determine how many tracks used to be here. There was probably a mainline and one or two sidings to serve the freight station and grain elevators.
Online sources say the passenger station, which resembled the existing depot in Olmsted Falls, was razed in the early 1950s not long after passenger service ended in late 1949.
The sources also say the freight station was built in 1873. It appears to be in decent condition considering its age but doesn’t shown signs of having an apparent use these days. Perhaps it was used for something in the past and was well maintained then.
One of the grain elevators has been repurposed into some sort of meeting center with a grain elevator motif. The other grain facility is still used although I didn’t observe it all that closely to determine for what purpose.
Information that I found online said that in its final years Penn Central had a daily local that passed through Wakeman westbound in early morning and eastbound in late afternoon or early evening.
That train had a lone geep, a transfer caboose and a small number of cars.
Whatever business Penn Central had in Wakeman probably was related to agriculture. The freight house had probably stopped receiving less-than-carload shipments by the early 1960s if not earlier.
I didn’t spend much time in Wakeman. It was already midday and I had business to take care of in Bellevue. Perhaps I’ll make it a point to stop in Wakeman again and study the remaining infrastructure a bit more closely.
Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders