Category Archives: Railroads

“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.

History Happening

The newly opened Wellington underpass. Photo by author.

The newly opened Wellington underpass. Photo by author.

There is an oft-repeated story which tells of Britain’s King George III writing in his personal diary on July 4, 1776, “Nothing important happened today.” The story is false; George never kept a personal diary and the anecdote probably has its origins in a similar sort of remark written by France’s King Louis XVI on July 14, 1789, the date of the storming of the Bastille. But still the tale is told, I think because people are drawn to the idea of a hated monarch not yet realizing that his world had changed so profoundly.

History is not the past. It is today. The seemingly inevitable events we read about in textbooks, carefully labeled and separated into neat time periods, were experienced by people as an ongoing series of small and chaotic moments. It was as impossible for them to judge what would be considered “important” in the future as it is for us.

I am reflecting on this because a small but historic event occurred in the village this morning. The Wellington railroad underpass finally opened, after several years of construction. This may seem unimportant, and unrelated to the subject of this blog. But consider that for the first time since 1850, vehicular traffic is tonight flowing through Wellington unobstructed by trains. Something that has been a norm of life for 165 years silently ended.

I find myself thinking about our mid-nineteenth-century counterparts, those who were here the day the first trains ran through. Did they hold some sort of celebration? Were remarks offered by notable townspeople, commenting on how the railroad would undoubtedly spur the town to grow and change? They had no way of envisioning what a Wellington of 2015 would be like, any more than we can foresee Wellington in 2180.

History is today. Remember that while you are living it.

Decorative vignette inset into the wall of the new Wellington underpass. Photo by author.

Decorative vignette inset into the retaining wall of the new Wellington underpass. Photo by author.

Odds and Ends

The Leviathan visits Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

The Leviathan visits Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

It has been a few weeks since my last post so I wanted to touch base with you, dear readers, to assure you that I have neither forgotten nor abandoned this blog. In fact, several rather exciting things have happened of late that directly pertain to my ongoing research project.

Firstly, this is the weekend that the Leviathan is visiting Wellington. You may recall that the Leviathan is a reproduction of the steam engine that pulled President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train across the nation–and right through Wellington–in 1865. My family rode the train yesterday and had a wonderful time. There are four trips scheduled for tomorrow (Easter Sunday) and a limited number of tickets are available for purchase trackside. If you are in the area, I highly recommend making time in your holiday schedule. All proceeds go toward the larger Lincoln Funeral Train replication and cross-country commemorative trip next year.

I have also been privileged recently to join the Wellington Genealogy Group. This is a dedicated, hard-working body of individuals who are committed to preserving the primary documents of Wellington’s past. The project we embarked on just this week is to digitize the Council Journals and Ordinance Records of the village dating back to 1855, the year of incorporation. The very first volume I picked up contained the records of council business in 1872, when the mayor of the town was one Noah Huckins. You can imagine how excited I am to read more.

Endpaper of Council Journal and Ordinance Records of the Incorporated Village of Wellington, No. 1 [1855-1869]. Photo by author.

Endpaper of Council Journal and Ordinance Records of the Incorporated Village of Wellington, No. 1 [1855-1869]. Photo by author.

At the same time, the genealogy group is preparing transcriptions of the records of Wellington’s Congregational Church for publication. (They have already issued a similar volume for First United Methodist Church records dating back to the 1850s.) The documentary history of the Congregational Church is particularly rich, beginning more than three decades before the village was incorporated, in 1824. It provides a unique window into the lives of some of Wellington’s earliest settlers.

The focus of my own research has been slowly shifting further back in time, and I’m currently investigating some families who lived in town as early as the 1820s. One of the people I am interested in is a man named John Reed, a merchant who was very active in the Congregational Church. Reed drowned in the Black River in 1855. While looking at his probate documents, I came across a twenty-page inventory of his belongings, most likely including the contents of his store. (His building stood at what is today the intersection of North Main Street and West Herrick Avenue, occupied since 1873 by Benedict’s Block–named, incidentally, for Ethel Benedict. He was John Reed’s brother-in-law, and took charge of his business affairs and real estate, after Reed’s tragic death.) The inventory has pages of personal and business accounts being settled with Reed’s estate, thousands of dollars in credit presumably extended for the purchase of goods. Teasing apart the networks of connectedness and examining the material culture contained within this single document could fill a doctoral dissertation.

At present, I am pursuing eight different topics that I hope will each result in a post. After that, who knows? I wrote back in October that I thought I was nearing the end of the line (Leviathan pun intended) and seven months later, I am still finding things to be curious about. I will say that now that spring is finally here, I will have less time for weekend library excursions, as grass must be mown and weeds pulled. I hope you all will be enjoying the warm weather so much you won’t even notice my absences. As always, I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions of topics.

Famous Faces

1865 image of President Abraham Lincoln's funeral train. Used with permission of The 2015 Lincoln Funeral Train.

1865 image of President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train. Used with permission of The 2015 Lincoln Funeral Train.

I have been keeping an informal, penciled list on a folder for some months, of all the famous individuals who visited Wellington during the nineteenth century. I thought it might be fun to share as a post. I will add to this compilation if I discover additional names.

The image above shows the funeral train of President Abraham Lincoln, assassinated in 1865. I wrote recently about the replica train now under construction. The original train, carrying the president’s remains, traveled through Wellington on April 29, 1865. Huge crowds turned out at two o’clock in the morning, in a driving rain, to see the slain leader pass.

President Rutherford B.  Hayes (1822-1893). Image from Wikipedia.

President Rutherford B. Hayes (1822-1893). Image from Wikipedia.

Rutherford B. Hayes was close friends with local businessman Sidney Sardus Warner. Hayes gave a speech in Wellington after taking office as Governor of Ohio in 1868. He and wife Lucy Hayes were frequently mentioned in the local newspaper, particularly after they left the White House in 1881, visiting the village by rail. Some of Warner’s personal papers are now housed at the Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont, Ohio. Warner’s daughter, Orrie Louisa, was a guest of Mrs. Hayes in Washington D. C. during the 1881 inauguration of James Garfield.

President James A. Garfield (1831-1881). Image from Wikipedia Commons.

President James A. Garfield (1831-1881). Image from Wikipedia Commons.

I have written about Garfield’s connections to Wellington. He visited the village at least twice prior to his election to the presidency. In November 1860, he dedicated the Disciples Church, still standing at 123 Union Street. Nearly two decades later he returned, in the autumn of 1879, to give a political speech at the (second) Town Hall.

President William McKinley (1843-1901). Image from Wikipedia Commons.

President William McKinley (1843-1901). Image from Wikipedia Commons.

Lincoln and Garfield were the two U. S. presidents murdered in the nineteenth century; William McKinley was the first of two to be assassinated in the twentieth. McKinley had a lengthy political career in Ohio, including serving as governor, prior to being elected to the White House in 1896. He spoke in Wellington while running for Congress in 1884, and made a whistle stop in the village during his successful campaign for a second presidential term in 1900.

Belgian actress Mlle. Rhea, born Hortense-Barbe Loret (1845-1899). From "The Cabinet Card Gallery" Blog.

Belgian actress Mlle. Rhea, born Hortense-Barbe Loret (1845-1899). From The Cabinet Card Gallery.

Mademoiselle Rhea may not be a household name now, but she was quite a famous actress in the late 1800s. I described her performances at the 1886 opening of the Opera House in a previous post.

Horace Greeley (1811-1872). Image from Wikipedia.

Horace Greeley (1811-1872). Image from Wikipedia.

Horace Greeley is the newspaper editor and political activist who famously wrote, “Go West, young man,” in support of America’s territorial expansion, our so-called “Manifest Destiny.” He spoke before the Wellington Lecture Association in February 1861. His topic was “America West of the Mississippi,” and drew a very large audience despite inclement weather.

Frederick Douglass (c. 1818-1895). Image from Wikipedia.

Frederick Douglass (c. 1818-1895). Image from Wikipedia.

Frederick Douglass was one of the most famous authors and public speakers of nineteenth-century America. He gave a lecture in town in the spring of 1868. “The Colored Orator of world wide reputation” was invited by the Wellington Reading Room Association. “Don’t fail to hear Fred Douglass on Friday,” cautioned The Lorain County News, “We do not often have an opportunity of hearing as distinguished a man as Fred” (3-25-1868, pg. 3).

Salmon P. Chase (1808-1873). Image from Wikipedia Commons.

Salmon P. Chase (1808-1873). Image from Wikipedia Commons.

Salmon P. Chase served as a senator and governor of Ohio, U. S. Treasury Secretary, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court during his long career. He passed through Wellington while traveling to Columbus by train in June 1860. Chase had lost the presidential nomination to Abraham Lincoln at the Republican National Convention in Chicago just one month earlier. It was a heavy blow to his pride, particularly since the defection of several Ohio delegates in support of Lincoln began the turn of the overall political tide in his favor. Still, the notice of Chase’s brief visit quotes him as saying that “the administration of Abraham Lincoln would be characterized by its honesty and ability” (The Lorain County News, 6-13-1860, pg. 3). For those interested in a deeper exploration of what Chase privately thought of Lincoln (spoiler alert: not much) I highly recommend Doris Kearns Goodwin’s excellent Team of Rivals.

The Liberty Bell. Image from Wikipedia.

The Liberty Bell. Image from Wikipedia.

Not a person, I realize, but an iconic object nonetheless. The Liberty Bell stopped in Wellington on April 27, 1893, on its way to the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The bell was traveling via train on the Big Four railway line, so Mayor George Couch wrote to the committee organizing the exposition (of which Charles Horr’s brother was conveniently a member) and asked that the train stop here. The village organized a series of celebratory activities, including a parade of student scholars, a welcome address, and a public viewing of the famous visitor. The train depot was decorated patriotically and local photographers H. H. Saunders & Son took an image of the bell that they later offered in print form for $0.25 to $0.50. The visit lasted thirty minutes.

UPDATE: The eagle-eyed among you will note that I have removed the image and text related to Mark Twain. Subsequent research uncovered the fact that the person who arrived in Wellington in June 1868 and introduced himself as the famous author was, in fact, a charlatan. “Twain” agreed to deliver a lecture at the Methodist Church, going so far as to announce it via a letter published in The Wellington Enterprise. But when he was told that a visitor from California was in the village whose husband knew the celebrity, “Twain” caught the next train out of town, leaving behind an unpaid hotel bill “and five cents for a collar at Shrier’s” (The Lorain County News, 6-24-1868, pg. 3). As Mark Twain famously did not observe, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

Lincoln’s Funeral Train

1865 image of President Abraham Lincoln's funeral train. Used with permission of The 2015 Lincoln Funeral Train.

1865 image of President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train. Used by permission of The 2015 Lincoln Funeral Train.

“Quite a large number of our citizens visited Cleveland on Friday last, to look upon the remains of our lamented President, and a still larger number were at the depot in this place, at 2 o’clock, A. M., on Saturday, to catch a glimpse of the flying train which is conveying the remains to its final resting place. The large fires built about the depot grounds afforded sufficient light for all to see the beautiful train as it glided slowly past. We know of nothing else that would have induced so many men, women and children to have left their beds and gone through the drenching rain to the depot. These circumstances will be handed down to our children and children’s children, when the name of Abraham Lincoln, blended with that of George Washington, shall illuminate the bright page of American history, years after those who viewed them are sleeping in the dust” (The Lorain County News, 5-3-1865, pg. 3).

Next year marks the one-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Days after his tragic death, the slain leader was placed on a special train that carried him from Washington, D. C. to Springfield, Illinois for burial. Accompanying him on that final journey were the remains of his son, Willie, who had died in 1862 at the age of eleven, possibly of typhoid fever.

I was absolutely delighted to learn recently that a not-for-profit group is meticulously recreating the funeral train, with the intention of retracing the nearly 1,700 mile route next year. Lincoln’s train came through Wellington in the early morning hours of April 29, 1865 and the current plan calls for the replica train to pass through town around the same date.

To raise awareness of the event, and raise funds to underwrite its costs, the Leviathan 63, a replica of the engine that pulled the funeral train, will be coming to Wellington next month, April 2014. Details will be publicized very soon, but as I understand it, rides and photography opportunities will be offered for a nominal fee. If you are as keen to participate in these events as I am, keep an eye on these sites: the Lake Shore Railway Association; 2015 Lincoln Funeral Train Facebook page; 2015 Lincoln Funeral Train Twitter feed.

Presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln, depicted in "The Lorain County News," 7-25-1860, pg. 2.

Presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln, depicted in “The Lorain County News,” 7-25-1860, pg. 2.

Auld Lang Syne

July 4, 1887 image of Wellington's oldest female residents: Mrs. Ruel Lang, Mrs. Isaac Bennett, Mrs. Edward Tripp and Mrs. Chauncey Warner. Photo 970193 of "Wellington Family Album" Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

July 4, 1887 image of Wellington’s oldest female residents: Mrs. Ruel Lang, Mrs. Isaac Bennett, Mrs. Edward Tripp and Mrs. Chauncey Warner. Photo 970193 of “Wellington Family Album” Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

“They succeeded in securing the location [for the first railroad line] through the center of the township, within twenty rods of the stone that marks the center. The credit of this achievement belongs to Dr. Johns more than to any other. It was the turning point to the fortunes of the place. The road on either side would have blasted all village prospects, and where the village now is would have been four farms and nothing more” (History of Lorain County, Ohio, pg. 352).

In the 1880s, Wellington experienced a wave of nostalgia as one-by-one its remaining pioneers passed away. History of Lorain County, Ohio, published in 1879, sketched in vivid detail the first days of the fledgling settlement, now a thriving commercial center of the county. The Wellington Enterprise began to feature reminiscences written by, or captured through oral histories with, those who experienced the town’s founding firsthand. Though there is no photographic evidence of those early days, nor any drawings or etchings of the town from that period that I have found, I thought it might be fun to excerpt some of the descriptions.

In 1883, on the occasion of his sixtieth wedding anniversary, retired brickmaker Isaac Bennett was interviewed by the Enterprise on memories of his youth. He spoke of his birth in Vermont, his marriage to Esther Childs Bennett (b. 11-3-1801) of Deerfield, Massachusetts in 1823, and their subsequent emigration to Wellington. They arrived on February 10, 1834. Bennett continued:

“At that time, the southeast quarter of the township was an unbroken forest, and in the northeast quarter there were but two small clearings. At the time we came to Wellington, there were but eight frame houses in the whole township. The American House was the first brick building erected in the township. The next was the old M. E. church, the brick for which was made by myself…Of the men and boys living now, when we came, there are now, Dec. 23, 1883, but three remaining, Dr. Johns, F. B. Manly and George Battles” (12-26-1883, pg. 3).

This image is labeled, "Dr. Johns and his family, ca. 1850." However, I am somewhat dubious about that attribution, because the style of clothing suggests a date in the 1890s, while Johns died in 1886. Photo 970485 of "Wellington Family Album" Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

This image is labeled, “Dr. Johns and his family, ca. 1850.” However, I am somewhat dubious about that attribution, because the style of clothing suggests a date in the 1890s, while Johns died in 1886. Photo 970485 of “Wellington Family Album” Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

Dr. Daniel Jay Johns, mentioned in both the opening quotation and Bennett’s oral history, is something of a Wellington celebrity. Ernst Henes devoted an entire page, complete with photograph, to a profile of “Dr. Johns–Wellington’s One-man Chamber of Commerce” in his 1983 book, Historic Wellington Then and Now. Johns was the only doctor in the region for many years after he arrived in Wellington in 1818. He was reportedly the chief advocate for securing a rail line for the town and sold the right-of-way through his own extensive property to the Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati railroad company for a single dollar, an act that sealed the deal for construction in 1849-50. Johns survived until 1886; he was eighty-eight years old when he died, and was mourned as the last of the village’s “founding fathers.”

Undated image of Dr. Daniel J. Johns published in Ernst Henes' "Historic Wellington Then and Now" (1983), pg. 8.

Undated image of Dr. Daniel J. Johns published in Ernst Henes’ “Historic Wellington Then and Now” (1983), pg. 8.

Johns was also mentioned in the writings of J. B. Lang, whom readers of this blog may recall as the uncle of John Watson Wilbur. He was Wilbur’s first partner in the hardware business, but had many other accomplishments, including serving as Wellington’s mayor from 1870 until 1872. In the 1860s, Lang had acted as the Wellington correspondent to the Oberlin-based Lorain County News; he put his writing talents back to work twenty years later to produce a series of recollections for the Enterprise.

In one piece, Lang described in great detail traveling the “Corduroy roads”–made of unplaned logs laid side by side–from Huntington to Wellington in the 1830s. He noted every house he could remember along the way and recorded who lived there “then” in the 1830s and “now” in the 1880s. Here is an excerpt of the Wellington portion:

“We now come to the ‘city.’ The house known as the ‘Cottage Hotel’ was occupied by Judge Hamlin, who had a store where Dr. Houghton’s store now stand [sic], a large barn where B., L., W. & Co.’s store stands. John S. Reed had just built a house on the Benedict corner. M. DeWolf kept a temperance house on the Mallory, Price & Co.’s corner; a school house near where the American House stands; one house near where Tripp’s shop stands; Dr. John’s house near where the depot stands; an ashery near where A. M. Fitch’s store stands, and we have the ‘city'” (3-5-1884, pg. 4).

To translate that for modern-day residents of the town, Lang is guiding us up from the south, in a roughly clockwise direction around the town center. Judge Fredrick Hamlin’s establishment stood where the parking lot of the Farm & Home Hardware Store is today. Henes describes it as “a log building which he called the Cottage Hotel and which served as a store, home, postoffice, and meeting house” (pg. 7). Hamlin’s barn–then later, dry goods store Baldwin, Laundon, Windecker & Co.–was on the SW corner of the center, where coffee shop Bread & Brew conducts business. John S. Reed’s house was across what is now West Herrick Avenue, on the NW corner of the intersection; a Verizon store occupies the ground floor of the still-extant Benedict Building. DeWolf’s Temperance Tavern–a “dry” public house–was across Main Street, on the NE corner; Dimitri’s Corner Restaurant is in the ground floor of the twentieth-century building now standing there. After 1829, the building that served as the first Town Hall, as well as a church and school, stood on the SE corner lot now home to Herrick Memorial Library.

J. B. Lang’s parents were two of Huntington’s earliest settlers, Ruel Lang (1801-1891) and his wife, Amy Hart Lang (b. 1805). Another of their children, daughter Esther, later married cheese magnate Charles Horr. Hardware store owner John Watson Wilbur was therefore related by marriage to Horr, one of the wealthiest and most influential men in the village’s history. That is particularly interesting to me because of Noah Huckins‘ business associations with both men.

Undated image of Ruel Lang (d. 1891). Photo 970016A of "Wellington Family Album" Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

Undated image of Ruel Lang (d. 1891). Photo 970016A of “Wellington Family Album” Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

Undated image of Amy Hart Lang. Photo 970016B of "Wellington Family Album" Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

Undated image of Amy Hart Lang. Photo 970016B of “Wellington Family Album” Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

J. B. Lang also wrote about town life at mid-century. He noted that “a large part of the ground now occupied by Union Block, the Bank, Benedict’s Block, Doland’s Block and Roser’s Block was a low, swampy spot partly covered with alders, brakes and water.” Essentially, he is describing the entire northwestern corner of the downtown. John S. Reed was still the owner of that area and Lang claims that he made “a prophecy” around 1850 as follows: “This is a low, wet, forbidding spot, but some of us will live to see it covered with substantial brick buildings and the centre of a prosperous town” (The Wellington Enterprise, 3-12-1884, pg. 4). Lang notes that Reed did not live to see his own prediction come to pass, as he drowned while bathing in the Black River in 1855.

The last mention I have found of J. B. Lang appeared in a 1917 issue of the Enterprise. “We acknowledge a pleasant call from Mr. J. B. Lang on Friday. He is unable to walk and is wheeled about in a chair. Mr. Lang is in the 90’s and very feeble physically, although his mind is still quite clear and active. Mr. L. was born in Huntington township” (6-27-1917, pg. 3). The man who remembered Corduroy roads lived to see the age of flight and America’s entrance into World War I. Perhaps Dr. Johns should not get all the ancestor worship.

The Day of Two Noons

Ca. 1850 photo of a locomotive and one car on the Big Four Track Bridge southwest of Wellington. Photo 970545 of "Wellington Family Album" Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

Ca. 1850 photo of a locomotive and one car on the Big Four Track Bridge southwest of Wellington. Photo 970545 of “Wellington Family Album” Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

“Until the latter decades of the nineteenth century, communities had the power to establish their own time zones in what was known as ‘local mean time,’ determined by the position of the sun as it passed overhead. The state of Illinois contained twenty-seven different times zones, Wisconsin thirty-eight. In Pittsburgh the train station had six clocks, and each one showed a different time. When a clock struck noon in Washington, D. C., the time was 12:08 in Philadelphia, 12:12 in New York, and 12:24 in Boston” (Eighty Days, pg. 107).

I read the most marvelous book this summer, Matthew Goodman’s Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World. I highly recommend it. Much has been written about the impact that the transcontinental railroad had on American society and culture, perhaps most significantly in the act of standardizing timekeeping across the nation. What I did not know until I read Goodman’s work was that this monumentally important transformation happened in a single historical moment, the so-called “Day of Two Noons,” which occurred on November 18, 1883–exactly one-hundred-and-thirty years ago today.

A “General Time Convention” was held in Chicago by the country’s largest railroad companies on October 11, 1883. They agreed to divide the United States into just four times zones, and announced that all railway timetables would conform to the new standard beginning on Sunday, the 18th of November. Goodman notes, “This action had been taken without the consent of the president, the Congress, or the courts, but almost immediately it became the de facto law of the land” (pg. 107).

The Wellington Enterprise published on November 14, 1883 included a letter to the editor from one A. J. Smith, laying out the specific changes. “The standard adopted for the Railroad lines in the territory traversed by the ‘Bee Line System’ is that of the Ninetieth Meridian and will be called ‘central time,’ which compares with the time now in use as follows: Cleveland (Time is 33 Minutes Faster), Columbus (Time is 28 Minutes Faster), Cincinnati (Time is 22 Minutes Faster), Indianapolis (Time is 16 Minutes Faster), St. Louis (Time is 1 Minute Slower). In other words, from and after the date above given, the trains of these companies which have hitherto run by Columbus (Ohio) time, will be run by a standard which is twenty-eight minutes slower” (pg. 2).

Undated image of railroad engineers posing in front of a locomotive. Photo 970584 of "Wellington Family Album" Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

Undated image of railroad engineers posing in front of a locomotive. Photo 970584 of “Wellington Family Album” Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

It is easy to see how much confusion this difference in time would cause in a community that did not choose to conform. A train running according to the new schedule and due to arrive in Wellington at noon, would pull into the station at 12:28PM local time. John Houghton, always one to embrace change when it would benefit his community, wrote an editorial in the next edition of the Enterprise urging the town to adapt. He argued, “[Changing] would be better than to attempt to carry two kinds of time. We do not know who has authority to act in the matter, but we feel inclined to make a trial, and would be glad to get an expression from as many in the village as possible. If a sufficient number favor it the town clock can be changed, and in a little time we could adjust ourselves to the new arrangement with very little inconvenience” (11-21-1883, pg. 2) Houghton urged his readership to contact him with their opinions, which he promised to publish in the next issue.

He did not get the decisive agreement he hoped for. On November 28th, a second editorial reported that opinion in the town was divided regarding conformity to the new standard. Residents objected to pushing their clocks back and “losing” an extra thirty minutes of daylight in the winter. One individual proposed changing the town’s time to exactly thirty minutes faster than Standard Railway Time–an adjustment of two minutes in the opposite direction–so “we can tell railroad time at a glance, it being at all times at a point on the dial of our clocks and watches directly opposite the position of the minute hand.” Houghton persisted in his belief that “for the sake of simplicity, uniformity, and convenience let us have a change” (pg. 2).

I have not yet located the formal announcement of Wellington conforming to Standard Railway Time, though obviously they eventually did. Goodman quotes from a widely-circulated editorial first published in an Indianapolis newspaper, which speaks to the air of inevitability about the change: “People will have to marry by railroad time, and die by railroad time. Ministers will be required to preach by railroad time, banks will open and close by railroad time; in fact the Railroad Convention has taken charge of the time business, and the people may as well set about adjusting their affairs in accordance with its decree.”

UPDATE: By January 1890, more than six years after the events described in this post, Wellington still had not changed to Standard Railway Time. The village council adopted a resolution asking citizens to make the change “on or after January 20th” (Enterprise, 1-15-1890, pg. 5). But the date came and went, and though the town clock was adjusted to reflect the new time, “shops, factories, and public schools failing to adopt it, [they] decided to use what is known as sun time” (2-19-1890, pg. 5).

The issue flared up again in the summer of 1893. The town council ordered the town clock turned back thirty minutes on April 1st. The post office and many businesses followed suit. But by July the Enterprise opined, “It appeared to work very well for a few weeks, but the people soon became tired of having to stop and explain what time was to be used and a majority of them have returned to sun time” (7-19-1893, pg. 5). The newspaper actually began to argue against implementation, which drew at least one angry letter from a reader firmly against reverting to “barbaric times” (7-26-1893, pg. 5). But the editor stood his ground: “What is known as sun time has been recognized since the beginning of time, therefore it is hard to make the people see the necessity for a change” (8-23-1893, pg. 5).

Then finally: “Standard time has been adopted in all of the churches, at the opera house, council chamber, and on funeral occassions. This comprises about the whole; so when announcement is made, hereafter, it will be understood it is standard time” (10-11-1893, pg. 5). A full decade after national implementation, Wellington finally, as they say, got with the times.