Ohio's Interurbans

Urban and interurban electric railway systems flourished during the 1890s and 1900s. The replacement of the horse car by the electric car in the 1890s spurred the development of urban railway systems. One such system, the Cleveland Electric Railway Company was formed in 1893 by the consolidation of the Broadway and Newburgh Street Railway, the Brooklyn Street Railway, the East Cleveland Railway,and the Southside Street Railway companies. In 1903 the Cleveland City Railway was added to the Cleveland Electric Railway resulting in the unification of all existing lines in the city.

The success of this system and others like it encouraged the development of interurban transportation for a variety of reasons. The population in rural areas was becoming more prosperous due to rising agricultural prices and better educated because of improvements in educational facilities. The start of rural free mail delivery in 1896 contributed to a decline in the traditional isolation of rural areas. In addition, the U.S. Population was increasing at a yearly rate of 1.3 million due to immigration, a high birth rate, and a rising life expectancy. This growing population was moving out from the urban areas. The decreasing isolation and increasing population of rural areas led to a desire for greater mobility and easier access to towns.

More traditional forms of transportation such as the horse and buggy were too slow. Railroads stopped only in towns, often miles away from the farm. The automobile was still a novelty. As a result interurban railways were developed. Interurbans were generally powered by electricity and emphasized passenger service; unlike railroads, they carried little freight.

Ohio had the largest interurban system in the country. No Ohio town of 10,000 was without service and the area along Lake Erie and south from Toledo to Cincinnati had highly developed networks. Almost the entire system was built by 1908 and, like most interurbans in the U.S., vanished by 1939. The chief reason for this rapid decline was the automobile which replaced the interurban as the chief mode of intercity transportation.

Source: George W. Hilton and John F. Due: The Electric Interurban Railways in America as provided by The Ohio Historical Society

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