Snippets of Bay Village History: How the Lake Shore Electric right-of-way became a garden
“Garden-giddy Bay Villagers are working on the railroad these days – to beautify it,” said Randall Brown in a Cleveland News article in 1940. The abandoned old Lake Shore Electric Interurban Railway right-of-way was sprouting shrubbery, bird baths, outdoor fireplaces, vegetable gardens and recreation areas. “The suburban gardeners are planting on land they don’t own and they know it,” said the article.
The expansion started in 1938, after the railway pulled its rails. Many railway ties were torn out and used for firewood in the fireplaces in the houses along the way. Residents helped themselves to the cinders for grading their lots and building driveways.
“That made things look pretty out back,” said Mrs. John Fleeman of 26758 Russell Road. “So we just thought we’d put a little more beauty in our back yard. We decided to do a little landscaping.” The result was that the Fleeman backyard became about 20 feet deeper, surrounded with shrubs, planted with flowers, and embellished with a bird bath, a bird house and stone steak grill, all on the right-of-way.
“We felt that if we never owned our new garden, it would still be nice to spruce it up a bit,” Mrs. Fleeman added. She guessed they had spent $50 for top soil and shrubs on "another’s" property. Neighbors joined in, the Hrubys on the west and the Ranneys on the east, and started extending their backyards too. Ranney installed an outdoor fireplace.
A two-mile walk along the right-of-way between Humiston Drive on the east end of Bay and Cahoon Road on the west revealed numbers of other garden plots, filled-in ditches, fences, and charcoal stoves all put in place by Bay Villagers. At some points the right-of-way is scraped bare of cinders for grassy backyards.
Ben Doer, who was Bay Village solicitor at that time, said in the Cleveland News article, “Title to the right-of-way depends on the particular plot. Some plots which the old railway originally bought outright are now the property of the Toledo Edison Co. which bought the road at auction. Others acquired with reversionary clauses have reverted to the original grantors or their heirs. However, to obtain full title to these latter plots, heirs must file actions to recover them."
Many residents did purchase the lots when the Lake Shore Interurban stopped running in May 1938. My dad purchased 500 feet of right-of-way behind our house at 31011 Lake Road and the neighbors' on each side. The Foote family would have been the heirs. They must not have filed actions to recover their plots. I know my Dad paid the unpaid taxes on the plots.
We never had a garden on our track but the ditch was still there and it was fun to hunt for frogs in the murky waters and listen to the bullfrogs at night. I remember that the ties left behind weighed a ton and you couldn’t lift them without help.
At 26758 Russell Road, where I live today, the Fleeman family purchased their right-of-way. Our backyard is the deepest lot on the north side of Russell Road in the horseshoe. The rest of the right-of-way is part of the backyards of the residents on the south side of Bruce Road. I might add they are still beautiful with gardens today.
I am the Historian for the Bay Village Historical Society. Member and Past President of the society. Lived in the village since 1936.