Railroad History Story:  The Railroad That Went No Place

Michigan's Internet Railroad History Museum


The History of the

Detroit, Toledo & Ironton Railroad


Reprinted from


Go To Part II






Part I

by William C. Pletz, Ann Arbor Train and Trolley Watchers (written in 1979)


COMMENCING life as a local coal- and iron-hauling railroad whose promoters envisioned a lengthy narrow gauge line from southeastern Ohio's rich Jackson County mineral lands to Springfield, Ohio, Fort Wayne, Indiana and even on to Chicago, the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton's principal reason for existence today is traffic originating at the northern end of the route from the automobile factories in the Detroit area. The oldest portion of the present DT&I, however, is the southeastern most dozen or so miles north from Ironton, Ohio, on the Ohio River. But for all practical purposes, the DT&I dates back to the Springfield, Jackson & Pomeroy Railroad organized on December 17, 1874 in Ohio to link the three Ohio towns of its corporate name.

The Springfield, Jackson & Pomeroy was the offshoot of an earlier project, the Dayton & South Eastern, a narrow gauge railroad planned to run from Dayton to Jackson by a circuitous route that avoided some of the larger hills on a direct alignment. Refusing to accept a secondary role of having a branch line built to serve Springfield, the SJ&P was born when Springfield interests teamed up with disgruntled townspeople missed by the Dayton & South Eastern's route.

Both the SJ&P and the D&SE were constructed to provide an outlet for vast coal deposits and the iron furnaces of the Jackson and Wellston area in an era when the narrow gauge fever had struck with a vengeance. Construction of the SJ&P began in a northerly direction from Jackson on December 7, 1876, raising of the $800,000 in capital to start the line having taken two years. On March 26, 1877 work started at Springfield and for a brief time the SJ&P was operated in two unconnected segments. The last spike was driven July 18, 18/8 at Dills, 4/10-mile east of Bainbridge, and a 4-1/2-mile branch to Eureka, south of Jackson, was completed the following June. The SJ&P also built several coal mine spurs in the same area.

Hard times, however, soon hit the Springfield, Jackson & Pomeroy and on the 11th of October in 1879 the line was sold at a sheriff's sale in Springfield. The buyer was Oliver S. Kelly, who headed a group of ten, and on November 3 anew railroad company, the Springfield Southern Railroad Co., emerged. Kelly proposed, but never built, an extension from Jackson to the town of Rockwood in Lawrence County. He did, however, convert the line to standard gauge, utilizing most of the narrow gauge bridges and much of its 35-lb. rail, as well as most of the narrow gauge ties; every original eighth tie was replaced with a tie of conventional standard gauge until finances permitted total replacement. On May 23, 1881, the short-lived Spring Southern became the Ohio Southern Railroad Company and a period of relative prosperity set in. The Ohio Southern was leased by the Indiana, Bloomington & Western Railroad to be a connecting link between that company, then building east from Indianapolis to Springfield, and the Chesapeake & Ohio building westward. Although the IB&W (later to become the Peoria & Eastern) reached Springfield, the proposed connection with the C&O at Huntington, West Virginia, never materialized, and IB&W control of the Ohio Southern ceased in April of 1892.

From November 28, 1883, until May 31, 1884, the Ohio Southern operated a small railroad, the Cincinnati, Columbus & Hocking Valley -a line whose name was nearly as long as its trackage. The CC&HV extended from a connection at Jeffersonville with the Ohio Southern west to Claysville Junction on the Little Miami Railroad's Cincinnati-Xenia main line. Organized on December 9, 1875 as the Waynesville, Port William & Jeffersonville Railroad Co., also a narrow gauge line, its organizers were among those involved with the Springfield, Jackson & Pomoroy. The CC&HV completed 15 miles from Jeffersonville to Port William by October of 1877, and the following month was reorganized as the Columbus, Washington & Cincinnati Railroad Co. It is obvious from its name that the proposed termini were to be Columbus and Cincinnati and, with these cities in mind, the company built to the Little Miami connection at Claysville Junction, now named Roxanna. But profitability eluded the ~W&C and the line was abandoned and removed in 1887, although a portion of the roadbed was purchased by the Ohio Southern in March of 1884 as part of its scheme to construct a Cincinnati-Columbus line at right angles to its own road. Built from Sedalia through Jeffersonville and on to Kingman, funds were exhausted before either end of the line was finished, and the entire railroad was abandoned later in several stages between 1931 and 1941.

But this is getting ahead of the story...

In order to obtain new connections and a longer road haul on freight originating on -- its line, the Ohio Southern in December 1892 commenced building an extension in a northerly direction from Springfield to Lima. Completed on December 28, 1893, this was followed in the spring of 1894 by the extension of a spur line to Wellston. Later that year, three coal mine spurs were authorized, including one to Cornelia. But financial resources were too strained by the Lima extension project and the Ohio Southern was forced into receivership on May 9, 1895 at a time when construction of the Cincinnati-Columbus line ground to a halt short of the Pennsylvania connection at Waynesville or a connection at Columbus with the Cleveland, Akron & Columbus. A group of bondholders purchased the property on October 15, 1898 at a foreclosure sales, and the Ohio Southern was history.


DEPOT and freight house of the DT&I at Napoleon, Ohio are typical D&LN design from the late 1800's.  This photo was made in July, 1927.  Detroit was 103.6 miles away, Ironton 275.1.  Buildings are still used by the railroad today (1979).

JUST PRIOR to the receivership of the Ohio Southern, anew company -the Lima Northern Railway Company -was organized in Ohio on March 27, 1895. The Lima Northern, as its name implies, built north from Lima to reach a Wabash connection at Lima Junction, a point near Seneca, Michigan, and from there reached Adrian over the Wabash, an arrangement that lasted until fairly recent time when the present DT&I abandoned the line south from Adrian into Ohio. On March 27, 1896, the Detroit & Cincinnati Railway Co. was incorporated in Michigan to build between the state line in Lenawee County, Michigan, and the city of Detroit. However, the only trackage laid down, in 1895 and the following year, was from the Ohio-Michigan line north to the Wabash connection near Seneca by the Lima Northern; the Detroit & Cincinnati is not known to have constructed any trackage. On February. 20, 1897, the D&C was reincorporated in Michigan as the Detro1t & Lima Northern Railway Company. The following April 10th an amendment increasing the capital stock and changing the D&LN's termini to Detroit and a point three miles east of Morenci, Michigan, was filed in Michigan. A further amendment authorized extension of the D&LN to Lima so as to include the line of the Lima Northern Railway acquired on May 10, 1897.

THE HISTORY of the railroads of southeastern Michigan is, to say the least, involved and very difficult to unravel. To continue, then, with this history we have to backtrack a number of years to the early 1870's when the Chicago & Canada Southern Railroad was attempting construction of a direct line from Buffalo through southern Ontario, across the lower part of the Detroit River via car ferry and bridges to a point near Trenton, Michigan, and thence westward to Chicago. In late October of 1870 organizational papers were filed in the province and states through which the line was to pass. Building west from Trenton, working capital was gone when the rails reached the small northern Ohio community of Fayette, just over the Ohio-Michigan state line southwest of Morenci, and the C&CS became another victim of the Panic of 1873. The C&CS was sold on November 23, 1888 to the Detroit & Chicago Railroad.

The Detroit & Lima Northern pushed construction from Adrian into Tecumseh and the first train ran over this 14-mile extension on May 27, 1897, using the depot of the Cincinnati, Jackson & Mackinaw railroad at Tecumseh. Three months later the D&LN acquired the Michigan Division of the CJ&M which had meanwhile been reorganized as the Detroit, Toledo & Milwaukee Railroad. This route extended from Toledo by means of trackage rights over The Detroit, Toledo & Ironton in 1906. The Ann Arbor Railroad, then over lots own rails to Tecumseh, Jackson, and Allegan, continuing by trackage rights to Holland and Grand Haven on the Lake Michigan shore.

On August 21, 1897, the Furguson Construction Company started work on an extension of the D&LN from near Dundee to Detroit. By running over the recently-acquired Detroit, Toledo & Milwaukee between Tecumseh and Dundee, the Detroit & Lima Northern now would be able to enter Detroit. A portion of the former Chicago & Canada Southern from Chandler's Curve (also called, simply, Chandler's) , located one mile south of Trenton, to Dundee was purchased from the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern by the D&LN in March of 1898. On April 15 of that year the D&LN suspended operations and on June 1 the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern acquired the Detroit, Toledo & Milwaukee. The D&LN line to Detroit was completed in May, and trackage rights were obtained to run D&LN trains over the Dundee-Tecumseh segment on the LS&MS. About the same time, 4.75 miles between Dundee and a place called Durban were abandoned, this actually being a portion of a predecessor company, the South Eastern Michigan Railway Co. that had been merged with the Chicago & Canada Southern on July II, 1871. Most, if not all, of the remaining Detroit & Chicago trackage was acquired by the LS&MS. On July 15, 1898, the general offices of the Detroit & Lima Northern were established in its northern terminal in Detroit.

WE NOW HAVE TO REFOCUS our attention back to Ohio where the Detroit & Lima Northern had become involved in planning a line from Columbus to Fort Wayne, Indiana, the Columbus Northwestern Railway, incorporated on August g, 1897. The CNW constructed a small portion of its line in Ohio from Columbus Junction (later named Salter's) to Peoria, a distance of 40.7 miles, completed in August 1898 by the Detroit & Lima Northern, and finishing an additional 17 miles from Columbus Junction to St. Mary's by November 1st. Then, 14.6 miles were leased from the Ohio Southern from Lima to Columbus Junction to provide a physical link with the D&LN. However, the buyers of the Ohio Southern refused to renew this lease and on December I, 1900 the D&LN divested itself of any further financial affiliation with the Columbus Northwestern and ended DL&N service into Columbus over the Toledo & Ohio Central. The Columbus Northwestern later was to become a portion of the TOC system. Most of the St. Mary's branch, as it came to be called, has been abandoned.

Detroit & Lima Northern No. 7 was used chiefly for passenger service.

On September 6, 1898, a receiver was appointed for the Detroit & Lima Northern, followed six days later by a second receiver who operated the company until May 23, 1901, when New York banker Frederick J. Lisman purchased the line and changed its name to the Detroit Southern Railroad Company. Lisman was an authority on railroad finances and was prominent in that field for many years, with railway and financial publications publishing his articles during his years of prominence. Lisman bought trackage from Delray, Michigan {then a separate municipality, later absorbed into the city of Detroit) south and west to Dundee, 39.4 miles, and from Tecumseh to Lima, and a short branch at Lima, a total of 138 miles of railroad.

FROM JUNE I, 1901, THE OHIO SOUTHERN RAILROAD COMPANY ceased to exist, having been taken over by the Detroit Southern which at the same time acquired the Detroit & Lima Northern. The two companies, the OS and the D&LN, operated separately from May 25, 1901 until merged on June 30, 1901 under a single management headed by Lisman's Detroit Southern Railroad.

It was the Ohio Southern that opened the line through to the Ohio River. In the opening part of this account mention was made of the extreme southern end of the line at Ironton, Ohio, and now it's time to examine this segment of the railroad. On February II, 1848, a Special Act of the Ohio General Assembly authorized the incorporation of the Iron Railroad Company, and during 1849-50 a six-mile line was built from Ironton to the Vesuvius Tunnel Mines, extended in 1853 to Center Station. Typical of the era's primitive construction methods, cross ties were placed every six feet supporting timber stringers to which were spiked strap rails said to be obtained from the Little Miami Railroad. Timber bridges were supported by stone abutments. By 1858, though, the structure spanning Sterrns Creek north of Ironton was considered too weak to carry increased loads and a wrought iron bow-string truss, patented by W. H. Moseley and fabricated in Cincinnati, was erected over the stream. This wrought-iron bridge remained in service until 1924, when it was removed and placed on exhibition in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, some years later.

Detroit Southern No. 78

That far-flung midwestern narrow-gauge system, the Toledo, Delphos & Burlington Railroad Company, having already acquired the Dayton & South Eastern, added the Iron Railroad on October 25, 1881. A set of narrow gauge rails was laid from Bartles to Ironton between the 4-ft., 10-in. gauge of the Iron RR. The Toledo, Cincinnati & St. Louis, successor to the Toledo, Delphos & Burlington, went bankrupt and was sold on June 28, 1884. From this brief encounter emerged the Iron Rail Company, organized on July 23, 1884. As noted, the Iron Railroad has been built to a gauge slightly wider than the standard 4-ft., 8-1/2-in. gauge, so in a single day, April 6, 1887, the Iron Railway was converted to standard gauge. Interestingly enough, the only tunnel on the present Detroit, Toledo & Ironton, is located near the north end of this original segment of the Iron Railroad.

Detroit & Lima Northern No. 67

Various spurs to serve quarries, coal mines and iron furnaces were built during the 1870s and 1880s to give the Iron a total length of 18.35 miles. For another 18 years, until September 25, 1902 when it was acquired by the Detroit Southern, the Iron Railroad continued its independent existence. Construction of an 18.6 mile extension north from Lisman to a connection with the Baltimore & Ohio Southwestern's Portsmouth to Hamden branch at Bloom Junction has started the previous May by the Detroit Southern. Trackage rights over the B&OSW into Jackson were gained and are in effect today. Service into Ironton began June 13, 1903.


Ohio Southern 32

Meanwhile, back to the Detroit Southern. Several lesser companies operating minor segments of track were either acquired or organized, and have not be included in this account in the interest of brevity. Suffice to say that during the brief tenure of the Detroit Southern a general upgrading of the property was undertaken, including a number of new facilities as well as purchases of motive power and rolling stock. But bad time stuck once again, and on July 16, 1904, the Detroit Southern was forced into receivership. Following a sale the following May, there emerged the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton Railway Company, a name that has survived in one for or another for nearly three-quarters of a century.


Go to Part II


All photos on this page are from the author's collection.


RRHX Editor's Note:  The Detroit, Toledo and Ironton became a part of the Grand Trunk Western, and later the CN and Indiana & Ohio in the 1980's/1990's.