Train History Program offered at the Allen County Museum
LIMA – To close out their special exhibition of railroad photographs by Richard J. Cook, the Allen County Museum hosted Donna Carver, of Mount Gilead, to give a talk about her research into the history of railroads in the county of Morrow.
The conference was sponsored by a grant from the Humanities Council of Ohio. Carver was introduced by Allen County Museum Director Amy Craft.
Carver established a relationship with the museum based on a picture courtesy note in a railroad history book that cited the Allen County Museum. She contacted Charles Bates, curator of the railway archives, to find out more and to dig up photographs and maps of stations in Morrow County. The museum houses a large number of maps, photographs and documents from the Toledo and Ohio Central Line and many other railroad companies.
“It’s a hobby for me, but my upbringing on the railroad is really centered around Morrow County,” Carver explained.
Carver was a nurse for 35 years and became a reporter for the Morrow County Sentinel. His interest in the subject began by writing a series of historical articles on topics such as the oil boom and railroads. What started as a hobby soon became a personal passion as she invested her time in researching the history of Morrow County Railways. Carver is also a member of the Morrow County Historical Society and is a councilor for Mount Gilead.
Carver’s engaging lecture included many photographs, some from the collection of the Allen County Museum, to show the development of the railroad industry in Morrow County from the 1860s to its end in the 1950s.
Railroad junctions were important parts of communities, not just because of the jobs and industries they supported.
“Railway depots were a local social hub,” Carver said. “People would come down to people watch or get local gossip from passengers and the telegraph operator, or just to see who had bought what.”
A proud resident of Mount Gilead, Carver shared a short-sighted moment in the city’s history. Railway companies often asked communities to raise funds to pay for the lines. Mount Gilead, at the turn of the 19th century, was proud of its status as a county town and felt it did not need to raise funds. This did not impress the railroad company executives. She shared that when the managers returned to Columbus, they stayed in Cardington at Shunk’s Hotel.
“John Shunk was a shrewd businessman,” Carver said. “He convinced them to follow the pre-surveyed route of the Ohio Canal, and that they wouldn’t need all that money.”
The result was that Morrow County’s first train did not pass through the county seat of Mount Gilead but through the small village of Cardington.
Carver shared a number of stories and facts, such as the story of a St. James station agent, Kenneth Grooms, who was hit by a train. Bellboys was a station attendant from around 1924 to the 1940s.
“Back then, they didn’t have ambulances,” Carver explained, “the funeral director picked them up in his hearse.”
She continued that “he didn’t really like the idea, so he convinced them to put him in the baggage car and back the train up to Galion to take him to the hospital”.
Another interesting part of the presentation was Carver’s plotting of the uses of the buildings in the depot. After many years on the railroad, many were moved to farms for a second life as storage for animal feed, grain or corn. In one case, the Peerless station became a home.
Many depots did not build toilets until nearly 20 years after the original station was built. Traveling on the railway could be a difficult ordeal at first, as it was dusty; there were no dining cars or toilets.
After the presentation, Craft shared details of the museum’s next major exhibit. On June 24, an exhibit on the eight presidents of Ohio will be inaugurated. This is one of the largest such exhibits the Allen County Museum has hosted and will feature artifacts from several presidential sites and other institutions. The exhibit is made possible in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Charles Bates, middle, the curator of railroad history at the Allen County Museum, reviews the documents Sunday.
Donna Carver, right, addresses a crowd Sunday at the Allen County Museum of Ohio Railroad History.