“A New and Most Commodious Route of Travel”

"The Oberlin Evangelist," July 17, 1850, pg. 7.

“The Oberlin Evangelist,” July 17, 1850, pg. 7.

I must apologize to regular readers of this blog for my recent lack of posts. Workaday life has kept me rather busy since the holidays. But I ran across something while researching another topic that I thought was too good not to share. I learned that the complete run of a periodical called The Oberlin Evangelist–more than six-hundred issues dating from 1838 to 1862–has been digitized by Oberlin College and is available, free of charge, online. While digging through search results related to Wellington, I found the above notice, which announced in July 1850 that the new railroad line through the village was finally operational.

For a fare of $1.12 1/2, travelers could make their way from Cleveland to Oberlin, via Wellington, in just three-and-a-half hours. That journey included both a thirty-five-mile train trip southwest and a subsequent leg of nine miles north via carriage. (Today, travel from downtown Cleveland to Oberlin via motor vehicle takes approximately forty minutes. The highway, unlike the railroad, takes one to Oberlin before Wellington.) William H. Plumb was initially designated by the railroad company as the purveyor of carriage rides at no additional charge between Oberlin and Wellington, for both the arriving and departing schedules (Plain Dealer, 7-1-1850, pg. 2). By the end of the century, several companies based out of Wellington were providing transportation and parcel delivery, including Smith’s Omnibus and Transfer Line, which in 1890 reported carrying nearly 5,000 passengers over the course of the preceding year.

GoogleMap image showing the geographic relationships between 1) Cleveland; 2) Wellington; and 3) Oberlin, Ohio. Distance from downtown Cleveland to Wellington is thirty-five miles; the centers of Oberlin and Wellington are nine miles apart.

GoogleMap image showing the geographic relationships between 1) Cleveland; 2) Wellington; and 3) Oberlin, Ohio. Distance from downtown Cleveland to Wellington is thirty-five miles; the centers of Oberlin and Wellington are slightly less than nine miles apart.

In trying to pin down the precise date of the first train through Wellington, I subsequently looked at some mid-century Cleveland newspapers. Though regular daily service between the two locations officially commenced on Monday, July 1, 1850, I found a notice from The Cleveland Herald–reprinted in the June 21 edition of The Lancaster Gazette–which noted that two powerful locomotives from the Cuyahoga Works “run daily to Wellington; and already quite a business in passengers and freight has been turned to the rapid iron way” (pg. 2). That suggests that trains were routinely running through the village by at least mid-June.

The Plain Dealer noted with some amusement on July 4, 1850 that “a new feature presented itself in our Cleveland celebrations. The morning train of cars from Wellington brought in from a thousand to fifteen hundred people, strangers, who mingled with our citizens in the festivities of the day; and the 2 o’clock train brought nearly as many more.– It was a novel sight to see a train of thirteen cars, (eleven of them platform cars arranged with benches, to accommodate passengers, ‘Thick as leaves in Valambrosia,’) all entering our city, filled to their utmost capacity with the belles and beaux of the country” (pg. 3). If, as the paper facetiously suggested, Wellington and its environs sent upwards of three thousand people north that Independence Day, it was an impressive feat indeed. According to the 1850 federal census, there were only about 1,500 residents of the township, including a lingering community of young, male laborers characterized as “Rail Road Contractors” and “Irish Shanty” dwellers.

Detail from article printed in "The Plain Dealer," 7-1-1850, pg. 2.

Header illustration from article printed in “The Plain Dealer,” 7-1-1850, pg. 2.

In the August 14 edition of The Oberlin Evangelist, a report on the college’s upcoming commencement celebrations concluded, “We are requested to state in this connection for the encouragement and benefit of those friends of ours who come from the East, that the Rail Road fare from Cleveland to this place, (via Wellington) is only one dollar, it having been reduced since our former notice” (pg. 7). The piece did not explain why rates were reduced after only one month in operation. The same paper pronounced the CC&C line finished in February 1851, with trains speeding “from Lake to River daily, Sundays excepted.” In fact, only the Cleveland to Columbus run was open at that time; the full connection to Cincinnati was ultimately accomplished by a series of corporate mergers and acquisitions that culminated in 1872.

When The History of Lorain County, Ohio was published in 1879, trains had been passing through the village for thirty years. That publication referred to the railroad’s construction as “the turning point to the fortunes of the place” (pg. 352). And so it must have seemed: nearly eight million pounds of cheese and more than one million pounds of butter were shipped through Wellington that year, the high-water mark of export. But thirty years more saw cheese production dry up and a new mode of transport poised to dramatically transform the country. In 1910 there were already 468,500 registered vehicles in the United States; by the time we entered World War I in 1917, that figure had skyrocketed to more than five million. In the span of a human lifetime, Wellington both gained and lost its chief industry, as well as the cachet of serving as a regional economic and transportation hub; one could argue that it is still dealing with the consequences of that seismic shift to this day.

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