AVON LAKE — There was a time when residents could hop on a railway car along the shores of Lake Erie and get to Cleveland in less time than it takes to drive downtown today.
This map, from the book "New Lake Shore Electric" by Harry Christiansen, shows Lake Shore Electric Railway routes from Cleveland to Toledo and Detroit.
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The Lake Shore Electric Railway once carried many people from Lorain to Cleveland in cars that traveled 60 mph. From the early 1900s to the late 1930s, the railway was used by many people because there weren’t many paved roads and it was the quickest form of transportation.
The railway was an extensive system that connected Toledo to Cleveland and had other interconnections carrying people south to Elyria and Wapakoneta.
With the advent of automobiles and more paved roads, business and politics came into play and the railway disbanded.
Today the railway has largely been forgotten, but a couple of local men are taking it upon themselves to make sure it is remembered.
Avon Lake resident Tom Patton owns the Artstown Shopping Center, formerly Beach Park Plaza, which was once the site of a train depot.
Besides the aptly named Electric Boulevard, one would be hard pressed to find any mention of the once vibrant Lakeshore Electric Railway that served the residents of Avon Lake for more than three decades.
That’s about to change.
Businessman and Avon Lake resident Tom Patton stands by a Lakeshore Electric Railway baggage car that is being refurbished. PHOTO PROVIDED
Patton and Wellington resident Dennis Lamont of the Lakeshore Railway Association are building a train museum in the former Avon Lake Bowling Alley dedicated to the Lakeshore Electric Railway, which served its last commuters in 1938.
That was the year all the lines were scrapped with much of the steel being sold to Japan prior to the United States’ entrance into World War II. Rail cars were sold off to a variety of places with many being transformed into diners or outbuildings.
Patton, a businessman in the process of retiring, has an office in the plaza that already resembles a train museum of sorts.
There are historic photographs of the area around the old train depot and small models of some rail cars, sledgehammers used to drive in rail spikes, rail spikes, lanterns and the first steel part U.S. Steel in Lorain manufactured for the railway.
Patton even has a working train whistle from the Lakeshore Electric Railway, but his most precious and recent project is a baggage car that sits in the rear of the plaza being refurbished.
The car had sat on the property of a Vermilion hunting club for years, Patton said, and was in need of repair when he took possession of it.
“I don’t want this stuff to get piecemealed out and lost,” Patton said. “I love history.”
This train depot and car barn served the Lakeshore Electric Railway. It's now incorporated into the Artstown Shopping Plaza in Avon Lake
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Lamont said he’s been involved with preserving history about the railway since 1964 and he met Patton in 2000 when he expressed an interest in learning about the history of the shopping plaza and its former purpose.
“We got together because of a common interest, and now we want to share that interest and make a memorial to the reason Avon Lake is even there,” Lamont said.
Lamont has the Lakeshore Railway’s No. 167 passenger car — the last car to make a run from Cleveland to Avon Lake. It’s in Wellington at the headquarters of the Lakeshore Railway Association, but Lamont said the goal is to refurbish and transport the car back to Avon Lake.
“Seventy years later, the car will come back home,” Lamont said. “We finally found a home where the
No. 167 belongs. Most people around Avon Lake don’t even know this railway was there. You won’t find much about it in history books.”
Patton said the Lakeshore Electric Railway was Rapid Transit before it became popular. He believes having a historical understanding of the railway system highlights the need for greater rail connectivity today between Lorain and Cuyahoga counties.
“We’ve been trying to get commuter rails from Cleveland to Lorain again for years but we just can’t seem to get it done even though it was there for 40 years,” Lamont said.
But Lamont said there’s no reason such a system couldn’t be put into place again, and he said it would be quite simple to do.
Although the Lakeshore Electric Railway tracks are long gone, the Nickel Plate tracks are still used by a few freight trains and run parallel to the old Lakeshore Electric tracks. Commuter train schedules could easily mesh with freight train schedules, Lamont said.
Passenger cars that run on clean diesel could run on the tracks and connect easily to the Cleveland Rapid Transit system, Lamont said.
“This is something that was here and could come back to do the community some good,” Lamont said. “It’s museums like this that will let people know it was done before and it can be done again.”
Although the two share a love for the history of the railway, Patton differs somewhat in this opinion from Lamont because he isn’t sold on the idea that a rail system should be revived in Lorain County.
“Lorain once had the volume and need to take people to and from Cleveland,” Patton said. “I’m certainly no city planner, but I’m not sure there is such a need today.”
Patton and Lamont said they hope to have the Lakeshore Electric Railway museum open in the next year.