More than 150 years ago the first railroad was built east and west in Huron County, passing through Bellevue, Monroeville, Norwalk, Collins and Wakeman. The latter two places hardly existed at that time (1853), but having railroad service made them busy places for many years afterward. This line was called the Toledo, Norwalk and Cleveland. It later became the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern and many of us remember it as the New York Central through the near north side of Norwalk. Its freight depot still stands at 50 N. Prospect.
Railroads were a major improvement in transportation when they developed, since the roads had almost no improvement to them at all. The only mass transportation was by stagecoach. Otherwise you could take your chances walking to your destination or trying to drive by horse team, a real risk in muddy weather. As I said, railroads were a great improvement, but there were many risks connected with riding on them, too.
In the past I've written of various railroad wrecks in our area, and not long ago came across the story of one which I'd not found before in my research. This took place at Fremont on the morning of Dec. 12, 1867. The railroad bridge across the Sandusky River was a covered one. A terrible snow storm with high winds was raging, and a portion of the tin roof was blown onto the track. The engineer could not see it due to the snow, hit it and sent the engine and ten freight cars into the river. One car and the caboose remained on the bridge.
The engineer had slowed down considerably or the entire train might have been submerged. Both the engineer and the fireman went down with the engine and were injured, but were lucky enough to escape and swim to shore through the broken ice. The conductor, William Carver of Bellevue, was found drowned on the river bottom near the engine wreckage. Some brakemen were in the caboose and escaped injury.
Rescue and repair could not start until the next day due to the terrible storm. At least three trains, two of them with passengers, were halted at Clyde and Norwalk. The passengers had to be provided with food and lodging until repairs were complete.
One railroad accident in Norwalk caused damage to an innocent "victim" in 1866. The passenger depot in Norwalk was at the northeast corner of Whittlesey and Railroad. A heavy freight train started up to go west toward North Hester. The present Ohio Street is on the old right-of-way. Just before North Hester the engine's boiler exploded, scattering metal "scraps" all around. One piece went completely through the house at 74 N. Hester St., but no one was injured except the engineer and firemen. They were treated for cuts and bruises.
Aside from natural disasters, it also took train passengers many years to understand exactly how trains operated. In 1870 a young lady named Paulina Mitchell of Monroeville boarded a passenger train to visit her sister in Bellevue. The conductor looked at her ticket and told her that that train didn't stop there and she'd have to go to Clyde and wait for a return train back to Bellevue.
Apparently Paulina panicked, ran out of the car to the platform and jumped off. The train was traveling at 40 mph and she hit the ground with great force. A train coming the other way on the second track, saw her lying there and picked her up. She was taken to her sister's home in Bellevue where she remained dazed the rest of the day. In the morning she had recovered sufficiently to walk to the depot for her trip home!
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REMEMBER: My "Just Like Old Times" books are on sale at Colonial Flower and Gift Shoppe at 7 W. Main St. in Uptown Norwalk. These preserve my earlier columns in permanent book form.
Henry Timman, an authority on Firelands history, resides in rural Norwalk.