The Iron Railroad

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Map on the left from the Museum showing many of the iron furnaces the railroad served. Notice the distance between Center Station (present day intersection of SR 93 and T.R. 41 in Decatur Twp) and Center Furnace, in later Superior (5 mile marker of SR 522). 

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This is the earliest known photo of the Iron Railroad showing the "Essex" a 4-2-0 built in 1837. It was purchased second hand from the Morris & Essex Railroad. This locomotive was sold in 1880 and was rumored to have sunk in Lake Erie the following year when the schooner it was on, The Clarion, went down in a storm. .

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The "Ironton" was built by Baldwin in 1854 as the Iron Railroad's second locomotive. 

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On This Date in History: Iron Railroad Organized

By: Nicole Cox, The Ironton Tribune, March 7, 2020

In February of 1848, a Special Act of the Ohio General Assembly authorized the incorporation of the Iron Railroad Company, and over the next two years, a six-mile, 4'10" narrow gauge line was built from Ironton to the Vesuvius Tunnel Mines. This mine was opened all the way through to a length of 956 feet and was later named the Royersville Tunnel. Cross ties were placed every six feet supporting timber stringers supported by stone abutments. In November 1851, the first locomotive, an iron horse named the Essex, ran on the Iron Railroad. The Essex was built for the Morris and Essex Railroad of Newark, NJ, in 1837. It is currently at the bottom of Lake Erie, as the schooner upon which it was being transported to its new owners sank in a storm.

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It’s possible the Essex was being transported on the steamer Clarion, which was transporting two locomotives when it sank during a storm in 1860 in Lake Erie, although newspaper accounts at the time do not give the names or owners of the lost locomotives.

In 1853 the Iron Railroad was extended to Center Station, which is approximately 14 miles north on State Route 93. Pig iron and other materials were hauled over a tram road from Center Furnace, later the village of Superior, and were loaded onto railroad cars. The field near the intersection of State Route 93 and Township Road 41 used to be a railroad turn around, or wye. The railroad would make two trips daily, and a one-way ticket to Center Station cost twenty cents. A newspaper advertisement listed the stations as Ironton, La Grange, Vesuvius, Pine Grove Crossing, Etna, Lawrence, and Center Station. 

In 1858, pig iron sold for $8 a ton, and the Iron Railroad Company posted a profit of $7,000. Soon after, the 97-foot long, wooden trestle bridge spanning Storms Creek near Ironton was upgraded to a wrought iron bow-string truss bridge and remained in service until 1935. In 1859, a proposed ‘Ironton-Greasy Ridge Free Turnpike’ was approved, and the road, later named Route 75, was built in close proximity to the Iron Railroad.

In 1881 the Iron Railroad was connected to the Toledo, Delphos & Burlington Railroad (TD&B), a predecessor of the Cincinnati, Hamilton and Dayton (CH&D) Railroad. At Bartles Station (now present day intersection State Route 93 and Texas Hollow), a third line of rail was added to allow for differing gauges of the rails. This problem was remedied in 1887, when rails were all adjusted to wider, standard gauge. In 1905, the Iron Railroad was acquired by Detroit Southern, which was later consolidated with other railroads to form the Detroiet, Toledo & Ironton (DT&I) Railroad in 1905.

While this was mostly welcomed news, it meant dismantling the buildings of old Center Furnace, to make room for a new railroad spur to the newly built Superior Cement Company close by.

Henry Ford bought the DT&I in 1920 and spent $15 million to improve the tracks and equipment. After 9 years of burdensome railroad regulations, he sold the line.

The last train came through the Royersville Tunnel in April 1982. Much of the rail bed is still visible along the Iron Railroad route, and a DT&I train car remains on display in Ironton. While these railroads mark a spot in history, the Norfolk Southern Railroad still runs through Ironton as it has for decades, and its whistle can be heard for many miles.

See Also: The DT&I Railroad