The Palmyra and Jacksonburgh—Tecumseh’s First Railroad
By Edward D. Hodges
The Palmyra and Jacksonburgh*1, Tecumseh’s first railroad
The origin of railroads in Lenawee County goes back to April 22, 1833, when the Michigan territorial legislature granted a charter to the Erie and Kalamazoo Railroad to construct a line from Port Lawrence (now Toledo) to the infant city of Adrian. Eventually the line was to connect Lake Erie with the navigable portion of the Kalamazoo River and form a route across Michigan. This line would also be used to ship out the agricultural products of Lenawee County.
The claim has been often made that the Erie and Kalamazoo was the first railroad constructed west of the Allegheny Mountains but both the Pontchartrain Railroad in Louisiana (opened in 1831) and the Lexington & Ohio in Kentucky (opened in 1832) were built before the Erie and Kalamazoo.2 However the Erie and Kalamazoo was the first railroad built in the former Northwest Territory and also the first to be built in the states of Michigan and Ohio.
The Erie and Kalamazoo Railroad was completed on October 1, 1836, and the first train arrived in Adrian on October 3, 1836. That first train was a primitive affair, consisting of a single passenger carriage pulled by several horses.
The track was constructed almost entirely of wood since there was no iron-manufacturing industry in the United States at that time; all iron had to be imported from England and was very expensive. The first step in the construction of the track was the placing of two longitudinal strips about twelve inches square on the roadbed. Crossties, which were usually just logs split into quarters, were fastened to these strips which were called mud sills. Wooden rails were then fastened to these ties. Strips of iron, 5/8″ by 21/2″, were fastened to the top of the wooden rails to provide for smoother riding. Although the ride was made more comfortable with these strips, they sometimes proved dangerous. The strips could work loose when a train passed over them and they would spring upward, penetrating the floor of the coaches, endangering the lives of the passengers.
Horses provided the power for the railroad for a time and then, in 1837, an order was placed with the Baldwin Locomotive Works for a steam locomotive. When it was delivered it was named “Adrian No. 1”. This locomotive allowed the trains to travel at the then dizzying speed of 15 miles per hour. The trip from Adrian to Toledo took about three hours. An additional order was soon placed for another locomotive, four passenger wagons and twenty freight wagons.
A description of travel over the Erie and Kalamazoo was provided by a Mr. Brigham who rode the train in December of 1841:
“I was then at Palmyra, intending to take the train for Adrian and return to Toledo that evening. Owing to a severe storm of rain, freezing as it fell, the track became covered with ice. The train reached Palmyra about 4 P.M. I entered the middle compartment of the car and met in the car J. Baron Davis and wife, of Toledo, sitting in the forward seat. Being acquainted with them I thought I would take the seat with them, but seeing the cushion on the seat out of place, I took the rear seat, facing the one I rejected.’
“We had not gone more than half a mile from Palmyra when a ‘snake-head,’ as they were called—that is, the end of an iron bar that had worked loose from the wooden rail—came crashing through the floor of the car, passing diagonally through the seat I had left vacant, the end of the bar striking me in my neck under the chin and pushing me backward with such force as to break the panel work partition which divides the compartments of the car. Just at this moment the other end of the bar was torn loose from the track and carried along with the car. Recovering my consciousness a little, I found myself with head and shoulders protruding through the broken partition, while I held the assaulting “snake-head” firmly grasped in both my hands. Being a stormy day I had an extra amount of clothing around my neck which the bar did not penetrate, so my injuries were not serious. The train was stopped and Frederick Bissell, the conductor was much frightened. Before leaving the spot the guilty ‘snakehead’ was once more spiked down and we moved on, reaching Adrian at 6 P.M., having made the run of thirty-three miles in ten hours.”
“The train left Adrian for Toledo at 7 P.M. and worked its way along the ice-covered track until we got out of wood and water, when we picked up sticks in the woods and replenished the fire, and with pails dipped up water from the ditches and fed the boiler, and made another run towards Toledo. Passing Sylvania, we got the train to a point about four miles from Toledo, when being again out of steam, wood and water, we came to the conclusion that it would be easier to foot it the rest of the way, than to try to get the train along any farther. So we left the locomotive and cars standing upon the track and walked into the city, reaching there about 2:30 A.M. I was rather lame and sore from contact with the ‘snakehead,’ but gratified that we were enjoying the ‘modern improvement.”3
Despite the trials encountered by Mr. Brigham and other passengers on the Erie and Kalamazoo, the railroad really was an improvement in travel at that time. The Cottonwood Swamp, which lay between Blissfield and Sylvania, Ohio, was a serious hindrance to transportation, and the roads in the area were impassable for much of the year.
The Cottonwood Swamp was only a part of the terrain which was delaying the development of Michigan. Robert J. Parker, in his book “Democracy’s Railroads” describes the situation:
“The heart of Michigan’s transportation problem lay in a belt of land varying from twenty to forty miles in width, that cut the eastern coast line of the state off from the interior–a belt of clay soil from Ohio to Saginaw Bay that was wet, wooded, and practically impassable. As one early resident later described it: ‘For forty miles in every direction around Detroit lies one heavy timbered, level, muddy plain where the soil is alluvial on the surface and a cold, squeasy, heavy clay beneath, through and over which, even now, transit is almost impossible.’ Penetration of this barrier, and maintaining facilities in a condition to transport goods from the interior, remained major problems throughout the nineteenth century.”4
From 1824 to 1835, two types of roads were built in the Michigan Territory.
The first group, intended for use by wagons and stagecoaches, were built by the Federal government and became known as “Territorial Roads.” One example of the first group was the Chicago Road which followed the Sauk Trail from Chicago to Detroit. This road, after leaving Detroit, passed through Ypsilanti, Tecumseh and Coldwater before reaching the Indiana line at Berrien County. This road was completed in December of 1835 at a cost of $87,000. A connector road from Monroe, known as the La Plaisance Bay Road, was built to Tecumseh between 1833 and 1837 and Tecumseh became a major stagecoach terminal where stages from Detroit, Chicago and Toledo met and exchanged passengers.
The second group of roads, which were little more than trails, were built under the authority of the Michigan Territorial government.
Thomas Cather, an Englishman who traveled the Chicago Road in 1836, described his trip:
“This has been a very tedious and toilsome journey. Where there were roads, they were execrable, such as a European could have no conception of. If a man were to set about describing bad roads and were to draw on the powers of the liveliest imagination, he would fall far short of the realities which I have experienced. Sometimes the horses were swimming in the water, sometimes floundering through quagmires. At times the wagon was all but upset over the stumps of trees. At some places where an attempt had been made to form corduroy roads, it went bumping and crashing along in such an awful manner that I did not know whether to wonder more at its timbers not being shaken to pieces, or at our bones escaping dislocation.”5
Meanwhile it appeared that Tecumseh would also get a railroad. On August 22, 1835, the Territorial Legislature of Michigan issued a charter for the River Raisin and Grand River Railroad. The charter provided that $1,500,000 of capital stock could be issued. The railroad was to be built from the head of navigation on the River Raisin at Monroe through Tecumseh, Clinton and Marshall to the rapids of the Grand River. Its right-of-way through Tecumseh was to be along Logan Street. The railroad was never built. Of more concern to the backers of the Erie and Kalamazoo, however, was the fact that the River Raisin and Grand River was also authorized to open a bank in Tecumseh which would issue the stock as bank notes to finance the railroad’s construction. This bank would be in competition with the bank opened by the Erie and Kalamazoo–an unwelcome prospect for the E. and K.
Consequently the directors of the Erie and Kalamazoo formed the Palmyra and Jacksonburgh Railroad Company with a charter granted by the Territorial Legislature on March 28, 1836, with an initial capital of $300,000. It was one of seven railroads chartered by the Legislature in the same day. The railroad was to be built from Palmyra on the E. and K. through Tecumseh and Clinton to Jacksonburgh (which would later become Jackson). Encountering difficulties, the railroad appealed to the Legislature for additional funds. During the June, 1837, session of the Legislature, the House Committee on Internal Improvements recommended a bill which had originated in the Senate which would grant a loan of $20,000 at seven percent interest, to be covered by double security. The bill was passed and in October of that year the company accepted the provisions of the loan and gave the state the desired security in tracts of land held by local residents.
The construction of the railroad was described by John Uckley in an article titled “From Horseflesh to Horsepower” in the January 1978 issue of Rail Classics magazine:
“This first right-of-way was a most interesting affair. The superstructure of the railroad was built in two ways. For approximately seven miles cross-timbers 8 feet long, 10 inches broad and 8 inches thick were put down first; into these timbers, square trimmed logs 10 inches square were fastened by means of wedges, and down the middle of the lengthwise timber they nailed laths 4 inches broad and 3 inches thick. The latter would have to serve for some time as a flimsy substitute for the straps of iron that were usually placed over wooden rails of the period. The Palmyra and Jacksonburgh Railroad did not have the financial means to secure such luxuries for their new line.’
“The remaining four miles of the railroad were constructed in a somewhat different manner; on foundation timbers trimmed on two sides only, 12 inches broad and 8 inches high, they put cross pieces split from round logs, spacing them 3 feet apart, and into the latter, carrying timbers that were 5 inches wide and 7 1/2 inches high, fastened by means of wedges. The wheels of the various freight and passenger wagons would have to run on the bare timbers.”6
Construction reached Tecumseh in August of 1838, and the route was fairly close to the right-of-way used by the Southern Michigan Railroad today. On August 9, 1838, the first train, consisting of a passenger wagon pulled by three horses, arrived in Tecumseh to be greeted by a cheering crowd. The track ended somewhere in the vicinity of St. Pater’s Episcopal Church and from there the crowd went to the Peninsular House for a lavish dinner hosted by General Joseph Brown followed by a lengthy round of speeches. The program was concluded with a mock wedding ceremony between Tecumseh and Adrian symbolizing the linking of the two towns by rail. (The Peninsular House was located about where the Herrick Park Branch of the United Savings Bank stands today.)
There was no station in Tecumseh, nor would there be for another sixteen years, but a small station was erected near Palmyra along Driggs Road for passengers to transfer from the Erie and Kalamazoo to the Palmyra and Jacksonburgh. A turntable was built in Tecumseh to turn the rolling stock around for the return trip to Palmyra.7
The rolling stock for the railroad consisted of two passenger wagons, eight freight wagons and a dozen horses to pull the cars.8
One consequence of the railroad’s arrival was the shifting of the town’s businesses from the corner of Chicago and Maumee Streets to the railroad crossing on Chicago Street. In his plat of Tecumseh, Musgrove Evans had planned Maurnee Street as the towns principal north-south street and had made this street wider than the other streets, but had not been able to foresee the arrival of a railroad and its impact on the town. In addition the main road south out of town was shifted from its original route along the bank of the Raisin River to follow the railroad track instead.9
The railroad began regular operations on August 12, 1838. Between August 1838 and November 1839, the company reported a net income of $7,485. However the original capital had been exhausted and there was no further construction.
After two years of operation, the road ran into difficulties because of increasing business. The road bed was solid, but the weight of freight cars transporting flour from the Tecumseh mills was crushing its wooden rails beyond repair. By the end of 1840, new rails were required for the entire distance between Palmyra and Tecumseh. Reporting a need for iron and locomotives, the railroad’s engineer stated that horse locomotion was the road’s greatest handicap. Without iron on the rails, it took four horses to do the work of one on an ironed road; horse power was reported twice as expensive as steam.
Although the road transported twenty thousand barrels of flour in 1840, more than half of that carried by either the Central Michigan or the Erie and Kalamazoo, profits fell to about two thousand dollars. In 1840, the Legislature authorized the Board of Internal Improvements to lend iron to the road, provided it was not currently needed elsewhere and the track was widened to standard gauge (4 foot 8 1/2 inches between rails).
The following year, the House Committee on Internal Improvements reported that the railroad could be purchased for $24,000 by deducting sums due on loans, depreciation, iron, and two miles which would be worthless to the state, from the original cost of the railroad. Even when the cost of placing iron on the road was included, it would be the least expensive route under state control, and would divert important traffic to the Southern Michigan which ran from Monroe to Adrian and away from the Erie and Kalamazoo which had lost popularity in Michigan when the U.S. Congress awarded the so-called “Toledo Strip” to Ohio. The Legislature responded by repealing the iron loan, and offering to return the securities posted by the company if it would place iron on the railroad between the Southern Michigan Railroad (the point where Lenawee Junction is located today) and the road’s terminal at Palmyra. The offer expired in September of 1842.
The wooden rails continued to deteriorate. One of the bridges over the Raisin River fell into such disrepair that trains stopped running entirely in 1844.
Since the railroad had not been able to repay the $20,000 loan to the state of Michigan, the state took control of the line in late 1844. Under state ownership strap iron was fastened to the wooden rails and heavier steam engines could then use the track.
By this time, however, the state of Michigan was involved in a number of projects building roads, canals and railroads. When a business recession caused a severe shortage of funds, the state decided to unload some of the projects. Accordingly, on December 28, 1846, the state sold the Palmyra and Jacksonburgh along with the rest of the Southern Michigan Railroad to the privately-owned Michigan Southern Railroad which had been chartered on May 9 of the same year. The state included the provision that the Michigan Southern had to complete building the line to Jackson.
Construction resumed, this time with more durable iron T-rails, (whose cross-section looked like the letter “T’). The line was completed to Clinton on December 31, 1853, and the arrival of the first train there on New Year’s Eve was a much-welcomed Christmas present for that town. Construction continued with the line reaching Jackson in 1856.
In 1854 the Michigan Southern built the first railroad depot in Tecumseh in back of St. Peter’s Church. Several other depots of the same style were built in Clinton, Monroe, Jonesville and Quincy. The Jonesville depot still stands today and it can be seen on the north side of U.S. 12 just west of the business district.
Business on the railroad increased quickly as can be seen in this item in the the Tecumseh Herald in April, 1856:
“The Michigan Southern Railroad is increasing business rapidly and carries 15 to 17 passenger cars on each train.”
The town began to take more interest and pride in its railroad as can be seen by this item in the Herald in May of 1866:
‘The Michigan Southern R.R. has lately put a new and beautiful locomotive engine on the road, which is named ‘Tecumseh’. A tip-top name, at all events.”
By the early 1880’s both railroad traffic and horse and wagon traffic on Chicago Street had increased to the point where there were several gory accidents at the Chicago Street railroad crossing. In 1881 the village council requested the railroad to place a flagman at the crossing. Instead the railroad decided to establish a station stop there in addition to its depot. Tickets could be purchased at Gaston’s Jewelry Store (where Hacker’s Jewelry is located today). This stop was discontinued in 1918. After that trains were required to obey the highway traffic signals at the intersection of Chicago and Evans, the only place in North America where such a requirement exists.
In the meantime, on May 18, 1855, the Michigan Southern Railroad was merged with the Northern Indiana Railroad to form the Michigan Southern and Northern Indiana. On June 2, 1869, the Michigan Southern and Northern Indiana became part of the vast Lake Shore and Michigan Southern system.
The L.S. & M.S. undertook a series of improvements of the railroad. The roadbed was elevated and stone ballast was added to improve drainage. The earlier ties were replaced with ties of oak and cedar which were treated with creosote as a preservative. These ties weighed about 250 pounds each and usually required four people to carry them—two people on each end with a set of tie tongs. The rails, which were being made of steel by this time, came in 39-foot lengths because the railroad flat cars which carried them were 40 feet long. The rails were bolted together and spiked to the ties with four spikes per tie. Each tie had two tie plates which the rail rested on. These tie plates weighed about 13-25 pounds each. As of 1900, there were 2,816 ties for each mile of track. This would mean a minimum of 5,632 tie plates per mile and 11,264 railroad spikes on each mile of track. Laying railroad track was very labor intensive and the railroad provided jobs for many area residents.
As trains became heavier and faster, heavier rails were also required. The rail on the line today was laid in the 1920’s and is 105-pound rail. This means that a three-foot long complete section of rail would weigh 105 pounds. In 1900 the rail in use was 60- to 65-pound rail.
The L.S. & M.S. also added whistle posts and mile posts to the railroad. Most railroads used wooden posts but the L.S. & M.S. did things in style. Their posts were cement and weighed about 500 pounds each. The whistle posts had a large “W” indicating to the engineer that the train was approaching a road crossing and that he should blow the whistle as a warning. The mile posts, as the name would suggest, were spaced one mile apart and gave the distances to Jackson and Lenawee Junction, the two end points of the line. For instance, the milepost near the Tecumseh depot reads “J 33′ on one side meaning that the distance to Jackson is 33 miles. The other side has the distance from Lenawee Junction and reads “L 9”.
Yard Limit signs were installed and they indicated the point beyond which an engine switching cars in the yard could not proceed. One of these signs is placed just north of Brown Street while the other is south of Comfort Road.
Telegraph poles and lines were installed and station agents were required to know Morse Code. Orders regarding the movement of trains on the line could be sent by telegraph from station to station reducing the chance of collisions.
Several bridges on the railroad were rebuilt. A deck plate girder bridge over Evans Creek was built in 1908 by the King Bridge Co. of Cleveland and is 34 feet long with cut sandstone abutments.
A more impressive bridge is the high bridge over the Raisin River south of Sutton Road. This is a pin-connected inverted Howe Truss bridge with deck-plate girder approach spans. The Howe Truss center span was built in 1890 by the Union Bridge Co. of Athens, Pennsylvania. The north girder span was built in 1890 by the Toledo Bridge Co. while the south girder span was built in 1896 by the Detroit Bridge Co. The total span is 258 feet long and the track is 40 feet above the Raisin River.
To handle runoff in low areas after heavy rains several stone box culverts were built.10
A siding was built in front of the depot so that trains could pass each other. Another siding was located alongside the freight house which was built at about the same time as the depot. Stock pens were located south of the freight house and received outbound shipments of cattle and hogs as well as inbound shipments of sheep. Many farmers in Lenawee and Washtenaw Counties raised sheep since the Clinton Woolen Mill provided a market for wool. A water tank was located just north of the depot and a large windmill pumped water from Evans Creek to the tank to provide water for steam locomotives.
Two section crews were based in Tecumseh and they were responsible for maintaining the track. Two sheds north of Bidwell Street housed the hand cars (later motor cars) along with spikes, tie plates and tools. Shawnee Street was the dividing point with one crew maintaining the track north of that street while the other crew maintained the track south of it.
Additional sidings were built in the vicinity of the depot serving the Temple Lumber Company, the Slayton Lumber Company and, later on, the Lenawee Lumber Company, the R.S. Moore lumber and coal yard and the Tecumseh Co-op. On the south side of town there were sidings for the Uncle Sam Macaroni Company (later the Quaker Oats Company) and the Anthony Fence factory and Brewer’s Foundry. These latter two buildings formed the core of the Tecumseh Products in the 1930’s.
In 1890 the L.S. & M.S. freight house in Tecumseh was destroyed by fire and another one was built on the same site in 1891. This new building also contained a grain elevator, a common practice in those days for towns that did not have a privately-owned elevator. In 1898 C.A. Slayton, who owned a lumber and woodworking business nearby, built an addition to the grain elevator which housed a grain dryer run by an eight-horsepower gasoline engine. This combination freight house and grain elevator, a large wooden structure, stood on the west side of the tracks a short distance south of Bidwell Street. It was demolished in the mid 1960’s.
More bad luck struck the L.S. & M.S. in 1893 when their depot was also destroyed by fire. There was some discussion about building a new depot closer to the business district just south of the fire station but, eventually, a new depot was built at the same location as the original one, in back of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.
This new depot was described in the Tecumseh Herald on November 22, 1895:
“The new Lake Shore depot is now completed and agent Satterthwaite (Newberry S. Satterthwaite, who was the agent at Tecumseh for 35 years before retiring in 1903) took possession Monday (November 18). The depot is a very creditable and serviceable structure consisting of two waiting rooms, ticket office, and baggage room. It is of the regulation style, neat and attractive in appearance, finished inside with varnished white pine brimmed with red oak. Just two months were taken to build and finish the building during most of which time work was given by the company to five carpenters and two laborers living here.’
On June 12, 1896, The Tecumseh Herald reported the following:
“A special L.S. & M.S. train arrived at Tecumseh Monday, a score of workmen disembarked and planted in the vicinity of the station two beautiful beds of flowers. Chas. Orr, the baggage man, has signed a contract to keep the posies in growing condition, and the only objection Mr. Satterthwaite seems to have to the arrangement is that the flowers might have a tendency to attract the young ladies in that direction.”
This depot was torn down about 1962 at the same time the original St. Peter’s Episcopal Church was replaced by the present church.
By the late nineteenth century both freight and passenger traffic on the line was booming. Station records for the year 1882, for example, show that 21,262 tickets were sold at the Lake Shore depot. A railroad shipping report for the year 1893, as another example, shows the quantities of freight shipped out of Tecumseh: 4,000,000 pounds of flour, 2,500,000 pounds of paper, 480,000 pounds of celery, 8,600 buggies, over 60,000 pounds of wool, 60,000 tables made of local wood, 2,000,000 board feet of lumber, 44,000 barrel staves, and smaller amounts of poultry, apples, eggs, and assorted merchandise, such as hayracks and farm tools, along with large numbers of livestock.11
In 1902 the L.S. & M.S. leased the former Detroit, Toledo and Milwaukee Railroad between Dundee and Moscow through Tecumseh. The L.S. & M.S. continued to rent trackage rights to the Detroit and Lima Northern Railroad between Tecumseh and Dundee over the former D.T. & M. Railroad.
Tragedy struck the Lake Shore on September 10, 1908, when a work train crashed into the rear of a combination passenger and freight train at Chase’s crossing about five miles south of Tecumseh. Two crewmen on the combination train were killed: John Hudder, 55, of Toledo, the conductor of the train, and Cortland Prince, 20, of Jackson, a brakeman.
A misunderstanding of orders was the cause of the crash which occurred on a curve where the combination train could not be seen in time.
At times, traffic on the railroad became very heavy, as can be seen from this item in the November 26, 1912, issue of The Tecumseh Semi-Weekly News:
“Heavy freight trains, averaging 200 cars in a train, have been passing through Tecumseh on the Jackson branch of the Lake Shore daily of late. The freight traffic on the Michigan Central railroad has so congested the yards in Detroit that the Central is shipping freight by the way of Jackson to Toledo over the Grand Rapids & Toledo division of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern, as it did last winter when a coal famine threatened northern portions of the state.”
On January 1, 1915, the New York Central System (NYC) was formed from several railroads, including the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern.
In 1918 the Chicago Street crossing was eliminated as a station stop ending what had been free trolley service for residents of Tecumseh since the conductor did not have time to collect fares between the three station stops in Tecumseh. (Lake Shore and New York Central trains also stopped at the depot at Tecumseh Junction on South Evans Street where the Lake Shore track crossed the east-west track used by the Detroit, Toledo and Milwaukee and the Detroit and Lima Northern Railroads causing Tecumseh to be known as “the little town where the train stops three times”.)
The stock pens south of the freight house were an important source of traffic and, on May 1, 1920, ten carloads of livestock were shipped from those pens by the Tecumseh Co-operative Company and livestock dealers, Schwab and Sherman. It was the largest one-day shipment in the history of Tecumseh. The livestock consisted largely of cattle and hogs with some sheep and calves. They were purchased from area farmers and shipped to markets in Detroit and Buffalo. At one time forty wagon and truck loads were in line waiting to be unloaded at the stock pens.
In March of 1938 the New York Central built a new stock yard after demolishing the original pens. The new stock yard measured forty feet by thirty feet and was covered. It could house two car loads of livestock along with additional space in three other open pens. This new stock yard allowed the NYC to handle ten to twelve carloads of livestock in a single day.
By the late 1940’s the livestock business began to decline on railroads nationwide as well as at Tecumseh. By the early 1950’s the stock pens in Tecumseh were removed.
After World War I autos and trucks began to make some serious inroads on rail traffic and the New York Central was noticing the effects as well. On November 1, 1924, the NYC closed the north depot in Tecumseh as an economy measure. The railroad announced that all tickets and baggage would be handled only at the Tecumseh Junction depot but the waiting room at the north depot would be kept open and heated and the train would stop there for passengers who had purchased their tickets ahead of time.
As passenger traffic on all railroads continued to decline, the Detroit, Toledo and Ironton (a successor to the Detroit and Lima Northern) ended its passenger service between Tecumseh and Dundee on January 4, 1930. This left the New York Central as the sole occupant of the depot at Tecumseh Junction. Wishing to be in a more convenient location for business, the NYC decided to move its ticket and freight facilities back to the north depot. The NYC also announced that it would not operate passenger trains over the Tecumseh-Dundee branch in the future, but announced that a freight train would be operated daily between the two towns. West of Tecumseh the NYC continued to operate a daily train between Tecumseh and Marshall.
The end of Prohibition in 1933 caused an upsurge in business on the NYC. Lenawee County remained “dry” while Washtenaw County to the north became “wet”. A brewery was opened in Manchester in Washtenaw County and thirsty Tecumsehites would take the train to Manchester to replenish their beer supply. Since it was illegal to bring beer into Lenawee County the usual method of transport of the beer was in suitcases. People would claim they were taking empty suitcases to Manchester to buy books. Once in a while, there would be some mishap and someone’s “books’ would leak onto the floor of the railroad coach.
Business declined steadily on the Marshall-Dundee line through Tecumseh and, on February 17, 1932, the Interstate Commerce Commission granted permission to the New York Central to abandon the line. In 1936 this track was removed except for a section along Cummins Street in Tecumseh.
Since traffic on the Toledo-Jackson branch through Tecumseh no longer justified a steam-powered passenger train, the New York Central placed a gas-electric motor car and a passenger trailer on the line. This train, known as a “doodlebug’ provided daily passenger service to Tecumseh until September 24, 1938, when passenger service on the line ended. The Tecumseh Herald offered the reasons for the cancellation in its issue of September 29, 1938:
“The reason for the discontinuance, railroad men said, was the fact that the train no longer is of service to anyone, and failed to take in enough revenue to pay the conductor’s salary, to say nothing of other members of the crew, maintenance, overhead, etc. Branch line passenger trains the nation over are rapidly passing, the automobile and the bus taking their place.”
Railroad officials, at the same time, assured shippers that there was no thought of discontinuing freight service on the line, and declared that the Tecumseh line was one of the best-paying branches in this part of the country.
The last passenger train stopped in Tecumseh at 4:04 pm on September 24, 1938. It was running late because of local residents who boarded for a sentimental ‘last ride” over the branch line. The irony in this was that at each station stop, citizens who had ridden from the last village left the train and were met by friends who had driven to the depot in their automobiles. Everybody could then whisk back to their homes in speed and comfort after indulging in a quaint experience.12
The mail and express business vacated by the New York Central was picked up by trucks and buses.
Although freight service on the line still provided small to moderate levels of income for the railroad a change was made in the service. On May 10, 1939, the Adrian Daily Telegram announced that the daily freight train on the Jackson branch through Tecumseh had been discontinued as a regularly scheduled train and the traffic on the line would be handled by an extra train which would have no scheduled running time. The extra train would operate on the Monroe to Adrian branch on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and on the Fayette, Ohio, branch through Jasper, Weston and Morenci on opposite days. After returning from those runs the train would go as far as Clinton on the Jackson branch.
The Daily Telegram continued: “Tecumseh and Clinton will receive the same freight service as formerly. A merchandise car will be made up every day (from the freight houses in those two towns) in Adrian and sent to Detroit where the freight will be routed to other points in the state. This service formerly was performed in Jackson. Manchester freight will be handled through Hillsdale. The change lays off one crew of five men.”
World War II provided extra business for the declining branch line. Troop trains ran frequently over the branch carrying soldiers from Fort Custer, near Battle Creek, to Toledo and points east. Also the Jackson-Toledo line provided an overflow valve for the war-traffic clogged Chicago-Detroit and Detroit-Toledo main lines of the New York Central. Freight traffic could be rerouted over the old Lake Shore and Michigan Southern line through Tecumseh when the main lines were full.
World War II also provided a great boost to local traffic on the line as farm produce from this area was shipped out to feed the vast armies in Europe and the Pacific.
A second fatal collision on the line occurred on August, 17, 1942, when a westbound Wabash passenger train struck a northbound New York Central freight train where the two lines crossed at Raisin Centre, about eight miles south of Tecumseh. The engineer of the Wabash train, J.A. Henrick of Peru, Indiana, was killed instantly. The Wabash fireman, Herbert Altman of Peru, Indiana, died about three hours later in Bixby Hospital in Adrian from steam burns when the locomotive turned over on its side.
Passenger trains made brief appearances on the line on October 3, 1948, and again on October 2, 1949, when excursion trains sponsored by the Toledo Railfans Association, the Michigan Railroad Club and the National Railroad Association toured the New York Central from Adrian to Jackson. Pulled by Pacific-type locomotives, the trains, consisting of a baggage car and three coaches, made several stops for photographs including Lenawee Junction and downtown Tecumseh where the sight of a train obeying a highway traffic signal proved to be quite a novelty.
The decline in traffic on the line following World War II was halted temporarily in the mid-1960’s when several new industries located along the track.
The Anderson Fertilizer Company on Staib Road north of Tecumseh opened in 1965 and received car loads of potash and anhydrous ammonia used as fertilizer.
In 1964 the Stauffer Chemical Company began constructing a chemical plant on Sutton Road just west of the track. It began producing silicones and silicon products and recieved tank car loads of chemicals. A brick farm house on the property which had been built in 1853 and whose owners at one time had allowed hoboes to take shelter in the attic was saved from demolition when Miss Edith Haviland, a retired Adrian grade school teacher, wrote a letter to Amos Anderson, the president of the Anderson Division of Stauffer, asking that the house be saved. Mr. Anderson agreed and the house was renovated and used as the company’s office.
The Pallox Company, which made wooden pallets, and Tri-County Logging, a sawmill operation, both located in Clinton; provided additional carloadings, but the industry which had the greatest impact on the line was the Clinton Plant of the Budd Company’s Wheel and Brake Division, a final assembly plant for disc brake units that were cast at a Budd-owned foundry in Wisconsin. In the 1970’s and early 1980’s this plant was the largest shipper on the line. The locomotive, a GP-7 or GP-8, was kept at the plant on the south of Clinton along with a caboose. The crew reported for work at the factory and had a small office inside the plant.
The line between Clinton and Jackson saw its traffic continue to decline and this section of track was removed in stages. Track between Jackson and Manchester was removed in 1963 while the track between Manchester and Clinton was taken up in 1965. This part of the line had deteriorated to such a state that major repairs would have been required to bring up standards for efficient rail service.
After this cutback to Clinton, there were no more physical changes to the line. There were, however, some corporate changes. In 1968 the New York Central Railroad, the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New Haven Railroad were merged to form Penn Central Transportation Company.
The Penn Central served trackside customers adequately enough even though, by 1970, it was in bankruptcy. Penn Central service continued until 1976 when it and five other major bankrupt eastern railroads were merged to form the federally-owned Consolidated Rail Corporation–Conrail. Conrail made an attempt to upgrade the line by installing some new ties and adding some new ballast to the track but business continued to decline.
Perhaps the last major event to occur on the railroad was the arrival in Tecumseh of the Michigan Artrain for a stay from April 16-21, 1980. The Artrain was displayed behind St. Peter’s Episcopal Church where the north depot had stood. A juried art show was sponsored by the Tecumseh Area Arts Exhibition and crafts, paintings, drawings, potography, watercolors and weavings by ninety county residents were displayed in the parish hall of St. Peter’s Church. The funds for the Artrain’s visit and the community arts festival were provided by the Tecumseh Kiwanis, Tecumseh Rotary, Tecumseh Area Chamber of Commerce, Tecumseh Area Historical Society and the Tecumseh Community Fund Foundation. The community arts festival began with a Pre-Artrain Film Festival March 29 and ended on April 12 with a showing of “Zorba the Greek” at St. Peter’s Church. The films were co-sponsored by the Tecumseh Players and Tecumseh Public Library.
The increasingly poor condition of the track resulted in the lowering of speed limits for trains with the eventual result that it became impossible for a single crew to take the train from Clinton to its terminal at Stanley Yard east of Toledo in one working shift. Instead, the crew from Clinton would take the train to Airline Junction near the University of Toledo campus on the city’s west side and a second crew would take the train across Toledo to Stanley Yard. The first crew would be taken by taxicabs to a motel for the night and then returned to Airline Junction the next day to take the train back to Clinton. The cost of the cabrides and motel were paid by Conrail. These expenses and the cost of having to use two complete crews for a single trip of not much more than forty miles one way doomed the line.
On March 18, 1981, daily freight service to Tecumseh and Clinton was ended. Trains continued to run on a sporadic basis after that primarily bringing carloads of lumber to the Pallox Company and logs to the sawmill at Tri-County Logging in Clinton in the following months. With daily freight service no longer available, the Budd Company plant in Clinton began using trucks.
Conrail filed for abandonment of the track from Sylvania, Ohio, to Clinton on November 13, 1981. Meetings were held with shippers on the line to discuss the possibility of continuing to provide train service. The Lenawee County Railroad Company, which leased track from Adrian through Lenawee Junction and Blissfield to Riga from the state of Michigan, expressed interest in purchasing the line but wanted a guarantee that shippers would use the line. Shippers were reluctant to commit themselves without knowing the cost of using the railroad. The fact that the track needed extensive rehabilitation was another concern. Larry Britton, a member of the railroad planning section with the Michigan Department of Transportation, summed up the situation by saying: “If local shippers in the community wanted to put up the money to buy the track, we would be more than happy. But we don’t have the money to keep what we have going, let alone take on more.”13
Since the cost of purchasing the 27 miles of track from Sylvania to Clinton was $1.2 million, there was little enthusiasm for that option.
The winter of 1981-82 was one of heavy snow with the total snowfall almost twice the normal amount. There was no attempt made by Conrail to keep the track clear of snow even though a few trains were still attempting to operate over it. The result was several derailments in Tecumseh and vicinity due to the snow-clogged tracks.
The result was the following terse notice from Conrail:
“Effective March 9,1982 Clinton Secondary Track between Lenawee Junction (MP 0.25) and Clinton, MI (MP 13.7) is embargoed.”14
That is, no more freight would be accepted for delivery to points on the line nor would the railroad pick up shipments from the line. The line, in effect, had been abandoned.
On March 11, 1982, the last train ran from Clinton to Toledo picking up any freight cars still on the line.
One hundred forty-four years of railroad service to Tecumseh had ended.
Although the line had been abandoned, the track remained in place. Three high school students, Jeff Dobek and Dale Pape from Tecumseh High School and John Shaw from Clinton High School, incorporated the Southern Michigan Railroad Society on August 10, 1982, in an attempt to save the line. They began negotiations with Conrail to purchase it although Conrail was not aware at first that they were negotiating with teenagers. On November 17, 1984, a contract of sale was signed by Conrail and the Southern Michigan Railroad Society. Since then the Southern Michigan Railroad has been operating the line as a combined railroad museum and tourist railroad.
This monograph was completed on May 14, 2002.
Edward Hodges has written histories of Tecumseh’s two other railroads. These will be presented in future installments.
- Both “Jacksonburg” and “Jacksonburgh” were common spellings. The latter spelling will be used.
- Railroad Magazine, June, 1961, Page 34.
- John M. Killits, Toledo and Lucas County, 1623–1923, Page 542
- Robert J. Parker, Democracy’s Railroads, Page 33.
- Thomas Cather, Voyage to America: The Journals of Thomas Cather, Pages 128–129.
- John Uckley, “From Horseflesh to Horsepower”, Rail Classics, January 1978, Volume 7, Number 1, Pages 60–61.
- Clarence Frost, “The Early Railroads of Michigan”, Michigan Pioneer Collection, Volume 38, 1912, Pages 498–501.
- Uckley, op. cit., Page 61.
- Clara Waldron, One Hundred Years a Country Town, Page 80
- I am indebted to Thomas F. Beauvais for the information regarding the construction of track, whistle posts, mileposts, signs and bridges.
- Uckley, op. cit., Pages 62 and 64.
- Uckley, op. cit., Page 66.
- The Adrian Daily Telegram, February 12, 1982.
- Interstate Commerce Commission Docket AB-167, Sub. 154N.