The Nickel Plate Railroad, Part 1
The first railroad in the United States was operating in 1828. By 1881 Ohio had 70 rail lines and 5,912 miles of track. It was in February of 1881 that a group of investors met in New York City determined to build a railroad connecting Buffalo with Chicago to compete with William H. Vanderbilt’s Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad. A survey of the route may have begun as early as 1879. The first board of directors included Daniel P. Eels of Cleveland’s famed Euclid Avenue Millionaires' Row.
The railroad was organized under the name New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad. It was unusual to build a 520-mile trunk line all at once but that is exactly what they planned to do. Many small towns between Cleveland and Fort Wayne, Indiana, fought for the privilege of having the new railroad go through their town. Norwalk and Bellevue, Ohio, competed intensely and it was the editor of the Norwalk newspaper who is credited for nicknaming this new railroad the “Nickel Plate.”
The year 1882 was far ahead of any other in respect to railway building in the five states where the Nickel Plate was to operate – New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. The route on the west side of Cleveland was partially determined by the location of the older Rocky River Dummy Railroad which had been constructed earlier to provide access to summer resorts in what is now the Clifton Park area at the west end of Lakewood. The Nickel Plate was to extend this route over the Rocky River and west through Dover Township. The rail line today marks the separation between Bay Village and Westlake.
Shortly after construction began on the Nickel Plate, Mr. Eels purchased a 69-acre tract of land in Rocky River called Tisdale Point. It was bounded by the Rocky River and Lake Erie to the east and north. On the south, the new rail line was run along the Eels property. Entrance to his grounds was gained by a tunnel under the tracks.
The stone wall along his property can still be seen on the north side of today’s Lake Road across from Bearden’s. It is my understanding that the stone wall and pillars west of Kensington School mark the westerly extent of his original property. The summer home he built in 1888 to replace one that had burnt down can still be found on the southwest corner of Frazier Drive and Oak Road. Frazier Drive was once known as Lake (Shore) Road.
The Nickel Plate stations were constructed in three sizes. They were described as neat and tasteful, somewhat resembling Swiss cottages with projecting roofs. The Dover Station was originally where the CVS drive-thru now stands. It was moved to Huntington Park in 1960 and currently houses Vento Restaurant as part of the BAYarts campus. The River Station remains in its original location on Depot Street and is one of the oldest buildings existing in Rocky River. It is still used by Norfolk and Southern for railroad purposes.
The Nickel Plate was purchased by Vanderbilt just three days after it began operation in 1882.
William R. Krause, AICP I am the Assistant Planning Director for the City of Westlake. I have worked for Westlake for 29 years. I served on the Bay Village Planning Commission for 5 years. I was a member of the Reuben Osborn Learning Center Steering Committee. I was a Board Member and Historian for the Westlake Historical Society and am a Trustee of the Western Reserve Architectural Historians. I have been married to Debra for 37 years and am the father of three grown children, grandfather of two and owner of two Shih Tzu's.