MOUNT GILEAD — Donna Carver admits she loves local history. A significant part of Morrow County’s history revolves around railroads.
“It started when I did an historical article when I worked for The (Morrow County) Sentinel. I got bit by the bug and I don’t think I’ll ever lose it,” Carver said.
The former newspaper reporter and current village council member presented a program recently at Seniors on Center titled “Morrow County Railroad History.”
Carver has done extensive research and uses photographs from private collections and newspaper articles as part of her 70-minute presentation.
Among the most interesting of the many rail lines that ran through Morrow County is the Mount Gilead Short Line or “Shorty.”
“It was the shortest railroad line in the world. It went from Mount Gilead to Gilead Station (now Edison). It was a two-and-a half mile track,” Carver said.
It made 16 trips daily, going no more than 15 miles per hour, beginning with the inaugural trip on May 11, 1880. A year later it carried 21,181 passengers, and in 1905 transported 1,800 passengers during the Morrow County Fair.
The rail industry was good for the county.
“Men had jobs for 50 or more years. Engineers earned $75 a month and depot agents $50 a month; that was good money back then,” she said.
As an example, Luther D. Mozer was the station agent at the Edison Depot. Mozer or a member of his family held that position for 75 years.
The American House Hotel, The Globe Hotel, Edison House, Hotel Fulton and Marengo Hotel were byproducts of the glory years of the railroad.
Railroads meant farmers had a convenient — if not always cheap — way to send their product to market.
The rivalry between Mount Gilead and Cardington can be traced to the railroad, according to Carver. History says that railroad officials weren’t able to strike the deal with Mount Gilead over the $50,000 worth of stock that was required.
A bit disgruntled, the men went to Cardington and stayed at the Shunk Hotel, owned by John Shunk.
“Mr. Shunk was very smart to secure the railroad in Cardington before Mount Gilead. The rivalry started there,” Carver said.
Shunk’s selling point was that the railroad could follow the line surveyed in 1830 for the Ohio Canal, thus saving them money. Soon after, the deal was struck. What followed was a boon to Cardington, with freight and passengers traveling on the trains.
The village planted 250 maple trees on the depot grounds to make a beautiful park.
Other communities benefited as well. Saint James, Bennington, Marengo and Fulton Station all boasted train depots at various times.
Bennington was little more than a block telegraph office and a water closet. At Fulton Station, R. Emerson Gardener held the job of station master from 1913-1947. It closed around 1948.
There were no shortage of accidents on the rail tracks, the worst being in March 1947 when six members of a Michigan family died at Cardington. The car they were in drove onto the tracks and was struck by a northbound New York Central passenger train.
Ralph Hawk remembers the trains in Climax.
“I love the old railroad stories. My father-in-law worked for the C&O Railroad in Prospect as a signal maintainer,” he said.
Prior to the program, Hawk and others looked at the track lines and maps Carver brought.
“There are so many that aren’t there anymore,” Hawk said.
The railroad era ended in Mount Gilead in 1972.
Reach Conchel at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 419-946-3010, extension 1806.