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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

NICKEL PLATE ROAD - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

The NICKEL PLATE ROAD (more formally known as the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad) was organized on 3 Feb. 1881 by Geo. I. Seney, Columbus R. Cummings, Alexander M. White, John T. Martin, Edward Lyman, and Walston Brown. Originally the plan called for the construction of a main line from Cleveland to Chicago, with a branch from Fort Wayne, IN, to St. Louis, MO. By the time construction began in Apr. 1881, it had been decided to extend the eastern terminus from Cleveland to Buffalo. An article in the Norwalk (OH) Chronicle described the new road as a "double track, nickel-plated railroad" giving the new road the nickname by which it became known.

Nickel Plate routing through Cleveland was made easier by the purchase of 2 small suburban railroads. One was the Rocky River Railroad, whose tracks give it a right-of-way through the city's west side. Chartered on 20 Feb. 1867, the Rocky River road ran from Bridge St. and Waverly Ave. (W. 58th St.) westward to the east bank of the Rocky River, a distance of 5.53 mi. Among its promoters were DANIEL P. RHODES†, Ezra Nicholson, Elias Simms, and John H. Sargent. The Nickel Plate acquired control of the Rocky River Railroad on 9 Sept. 1881. The right-of-way through the city's east side came through the acquisition of the Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula Railroad. This road began operation on 1 May 1875 as the Lakeview & Collamer Railroad with tracks running from Becker Ave. in Cleveland to Euclid Village.

On 1 Sept. 1882 construction was finished on Nickel Plate's main line, which ran from Buffalo via Ft. Wayne to Chicago--521.89 miles. In Cleveland the Nickel Plate tracks ran from west to east, entering the city limits in the vicinity of Detroit Ave. and crossing Franklin, Lorain, Walworth, and Scranton avenues before coming to the CUYAHOGA RIVER. Once over the river, the tracks ran through KINGSBURY RUN and crossed Willson (E. 55th St.), Kinsman, Adelbert, Mayfield, and Euclid avenues before leaving the city. Depots at EUCLID AVE.. and Pearl (W. 25th) St. served Nickel Plate passengers until the depot at Broadway and Cross Ave. was opened on 1 Oct. 1883.

Nickel Plate ownership changed hands when Judge STEVENSON BURKE† and JOHN DEVEREUX† of Cleveland purchased a controlling interest in the road on 26 Oct. 1881. They were, however, the agents for William K. Vanderbilt who wished to eliminate a strong competitor to his own Lake Shore & Michigan Southern road (consolidated with the New York Central in 1869) whose tracks paralleled those of the Nickel Plate. Vanderbilt became president of the Nickel Plate and rewarded Burke and Devereux with seats on the Board of Directors. The Nickel Plate's chief offices, in the Hoyt Block at Bank (W. 6th) St. and St. Clair Ave., remained in Cleveland. The Nickel Plate fell into receivership in 1885 and was reorganized as the New, York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad Co. in 1887 but was still popularly known as the Nickel Plate.

The New York Central's ownership of the Nickel Plate gave it a monopoly on the east-west rail traffic between Buffalo and Chicago. After the Clayton Anti-Trust Act was passed in 1914, the Interstate Commerce Commission pressured the NYC to divest itself of the road. The NYC sold the Nickel Plate for $8.5 million in 1916 to ORIS P. AND MANTIS J. VAN SWERINGEN† who needed a portion of its downtown right-of-way to complete their SHAKER HEIGHTS RAPID TRANSIT line. In 1922 the Van Sweringens acquired control of the Lake Erie & Western and the Toledo, St. Louis & Western, uniting them with the Nickel Plate. Unified operations began on 1 July 1923. The center of the Van Sweringens' railroad empire
was CLEVELAND UNION TERMINAL, and the Nickel Plate's executive and general offices moved into the Tower on 1 Jan. 1928. After the dedication on 28 June 1930, the Nickel Plate began operating passenger trains from the Terminal and closed its other stations. Nearly bankrupted during the Depression, the Nickel Plate was saved by stringent economic measures and an $18 million loan from the Reconstruction Finance Corp. In 1935 George Ball purchased Nickel Plate securities from the Van Sweringens. Later they were sold to Robert Young, owner of the Chesapeake and Ohio (see also the ALLEGHANY CORP.). Young, unsuccessful in his attempt to merge the Nickel Plate with his road, relinquished control of it in 1947. After the Nickel Plate achieved independence, it leased the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad on 1 Dec. 1949. In 1950 it operated 2,266 mi. of track. The road's prosperity was based primarily on the rapid movement of freight as it gradually phased out passenger service. The last passenger trains, the "City of Chicago" and the "City of Cleveland," made their last runs on 9 Sept. 1965. In 1964 the Nickel Plate road merged with the Norfolk & Western Railroad (see NORFOLK SOUTHERN CORP..

Rehor, John A. The Nickel Plate Story (1965).

Last Modified: 21 Jul 1997 11:03:51 AM

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