CL&A-Cincinnati, Lawrenceburg & Aurora Electric Street Railroad


Anderson Ferry - Aurora, IN, branch to Harrison


Standard Gauge

Constructed by the Cincinnati Lawrenceburg & Aurora Electric Street Railroad, 1900

Reorganized as the Cincinnati Lawrenceburg & Aurora Electric Railway Company, 1928

Purchased by Cincinnati Street Railway, service cut back to Fernbank, line from Anderson Ferry to Fernbank converted to broad gauge, 1930

Streetcar service suspended, 1941

This interurban was a standard-gauge line along the Ohio River from Anderson's Ferry, at the west end of Cincinnati, to Aurora, Indiana (25 miles), with a branch from Valley Junction to Harrison, Ohio (8 miles). It was completed in 1900. Plans for extension west to Rising Sun, Madison, and Louisville were never implemented. In 1913 flood damage forced the road into receivership, from which it did not emerge for 15 years, one of the longest receivership periods in the industry's history. The line is principally noteworthy for its pioneer purchase of lightweight, one-man equipment in 1918. The company was severely handicapped by its remote terminal, but like the rest of Cincinnati's standard-gauge interurbans, it never achieved entry into the center of the city. After reorganizing as the Cincinnati Lawrenceburg and Aurora Electric Railway Company in 1928, the line survived for only two years, and was abandoned in 1930 after a year of operating losses. Six miles from Anderson's Ferry to Fernbank were converted to 5'-2 1/2" gauge and operated by the Cincinnati Street Railway until 1940 [actually 1941]. The lightweight cars were sold to the Sand Springs Railway at Tulsa, Oklahoma. (From: Hilton, George W. and John F. Due, The Electric Interurban Railways in America. Stanford University Press, 1960)

The life of many interurbans can look relatively straightforward when distilled into a single paragraph.  Some smaller companies, such as the Lebanon & Franklin or the Springfield & Xenia, did have relatively simple and uneventful lives.  Their financing, construction, and operational history may be of little note to anyone besides local historians or electric railway enthusiasts.  These companies operated on the same route from start to finish, made no changes to power facilities, and ran their original equipment to the end. The Cincinnati, Lawrenceburg & Aurora was not that sort of company. It was so fraught with poor planning, operational difficulties, and bad luck over its 30-year life that nearly a third of its track was rerouted at one point or another, and the majority of that happened only within the first three years of operation. They were an innovator in economizing operations when the industry started to falter, and they experimented with novel freight hauling operations. None of these developments could have been foreseen when the CL&A was first incorporated on October 24, 1898 under president John C. Hooven, George H. Helvey, G. A. Rentchler, C. E. Hooven, and Fred D. Shafer.  

In the early planning stages, a prospective interurban company would look for the easiest and least expensive route to serve as many customers as possible.  Unlike steam railroads which need shallow grades, gentle curves, and room to accommodate long trains, interurbans could work with steeper hills, tighter curves, and very short passing sidings.  The local nature of their business meant they could not afford extravagances like tunnels, major hill cuts, long bridges, or extensive fills and trestles.  Operating over public highways and bridges also afforded significant capital savings, despite the operational constraints imposed by such arrangements. 

              Lawrenceburg & Aurora Electric Street Railroad Great
              Miami River Crossing

A CL&A car is crossing the Great Miami River on the ca. 1884 highway bridge. The single-track Big Four Railroad's bridge is visible to the right, which reused the supports from the Cincinnati & Whitewater Canal aqueduct from the late 1830s or early 1840s.  Both of these bridges were destroyed by the flood of 1913, which washed away every bridge over the Great Miami between the Ohio River and Dayton. The horse and wagon are on Valley Junction Road, which sits on a part of the canal the railroad elected not to use.

For the CL&A, the major obstacles between Anderson Ferry and points west were the Great Miami River and its floodplain, as well as the narrow North Bend Hill that separates the Ohio and Great Miami valleys.  Running exclusively along the flat Ohio River valley directly to Lawrenceburg was not ideal since it would bypass populated areas, and it would also require a long bridge and extensive earthworks and trestles to cross the meandering mouth of the Great Miami. Deviating from the Ohio Valley however required crossing the short but steep North Bend Hill to Cleves before striking out to the west.  Company planners determined that North Bend Hill was the lesser of two evils. 

While a continuous route along the Ohio River to Louisville was a laudable goal, it was well beyond the reach of the company.  Rising Sun was the initial planned terminus, however Aurora and the Dearborn County Commissioners refused to grant permission to cross the George Street Bridge over Hogan Creek, declaring the iron bridge unable to handle the additional weight. Materials which had already been ordered for that route, including one block of track already laid on Main Street to 2nd Street, were torn up and redirected to a branch line to Harrison instead.  This branch line required navigating North Bend Hill, crossing the Great Miami, and following the Big Four Railroad and their Whitewater Division and Kilby Road to the north. So what was the best way across the river?

The original highway between Cleves and Hooven on the west bank of the Great Miami River was today's State Road/Henderson Kupfer Drive. An old wooden truss bridge, which may have dated to as early as the 1830s, crossed the river near today's BMX bike track in Gulf Community Park. After that bridge was washed out by the flood of 1883, a new steel truss bridge was built upriver just to the north of the Big Four Railroad bridge. These two bridges were on somewhat higher ground than the old State Road crossing. The CL&A obtained a franchise to cross this highway bridge for their branch line to Harrison.  
So how would the main line get from Cleves and North Bend to Lawrenceburg and Aurora?  There was no direct highway between Cleves and Elizabethtown to the west near the state border, so if they decided to extend their main line past Valley Junction at Kilby Road, the CL&A would need to purchase a right-of-way, cross the Big Four Whitewater Division tracks, build an extensive fill or trestle to stay above the floodplain of the Whitewater River, and build a bridge over the Whitewater itself. Instead, they elected to build a short trestle over the Big Four near the border of Cleves and North Bend, at what was deemed Cleves Junction, then follow what is today Miamiview Road to Lawrenceburg Road and the Lost Bridge to Elizabethtown.  The Lost Bridge was a covered wooden Howe truss on stone piers that was built in 1866.  It got its name because the original construction contract did not include the earthen fill on the Elizabethtown side of the river, so it was rendered useless and thus "lost" until nearby farmers filled the approach themselves.  The name may also stem from its rather isolated location and lack of traffic even today, leading to some stories of wayward surveyors and county assessors unable to locate the bridge to inspect it.  Nonetheless, this bridge allowed the CL&A to cross the Great Miami and also avoid the Whitewater, whose confluence with the Great Miami is about a half mile upstream.  The tracks then followed the old Louisville Pike, now US-50, Oberting Road, and Ridge Avenue to Lawrenceburg.

Arrival in Lawrenceburg was no simple feat either, however.  The route via Ridge Avenue allowed the company to serve the community of Greendale and its distilleries while avoiding the low-lying and sparsely populated floodplain to the east.  It also meant that the route nearly bypassed Lawrenceburg, since Ridge comes in northwest of town and the road to Aurora turns off prior to entering Lawrenceburg.  So a spur track had to be built to Walnut Street in order to reach the center of town, requiring cars to backtrack nearly a mile on the way to or from Aurora.  This is similar to the IR&T Suburban Traction spur track in Mt. Washington, though much longer.  The in-and-out movement took 12 minutes, greatly irritating through passengers. 
Operations began on April 12, 1900 between Anderson Ferry and the carbarn in North Bend. The opening of the CL&A greatly improved access to the city for Cincinnati's most remote neighborhoods. Delhi, Sayler Park (Home City before it was annexed), and Fernbank all grew up as railroad commuter suburbs in the late 19th century in proximity to bustling industry along the Ohio River and both the Big Four and B&O railroads. When the CL&A was built it added yet another set of tracks through this narrow linear corridor hemmed in by the river and steep hillsides.  Towns farther out also benefited from more frequent service and lower fares than were available on the older steam railroads. Two weeks after opening, operations were extended west of the carbarn to Cleves, and the cars reached Lawrenceburg on June 1.  The tracks to Aurora were also complete, except for the bridge over Tanner's Creek on the west side of Lawrenceburg.  A car was shipped across the creek by the B&O Railroad, and it operated as a shuttle from Aurora starting on June 4.  Passengers would have to walk over the old wagon bridge to waiting cars until the CL&A's own bridge was completed. The Harrison branch was opened on July 4, 1900 to much fanfare. 


              Lawrenceburg & Aurora Electric Street Railroad Big
              Four Cut Harrison Avenue Bridge

A CL&A car shares the cut through North Bend Hill with the Big Four Railroad. This cut was originally constructed in 1888 for the Big Four to bypass the old Cincinnati & Whitewater Canal Tunnel to the east. It was widened in 1903 to allow the CL&A to relocate off of Miami Avenue, and again in 1959 to relocate US-50 off of Miami Avenue. The Harrison Avenue bridge that once connected to Cliff Road is overhead. It was demolished as part of the US-50 project in favor of a new overpass at Brower Road to the south.

Construction was typical for the Cincinnati area, with double track from Anderson Ferry west to the edge of Fernbank, where it became single track. Rails were generally to one side of the highway in rural areas, and in the middle of the street in towns. Due to operating mostly on level ground and avoiding rivers as much as possible, there were few major cuts, fills, or trestles. The terminal area at Anderson Ferry is quite far removed from downtown Cincinnati, however, so a long 40 minute streetcar ride was necessary to reach Fountain Square. Since the company elected to use standard gauge cars, they had no way to extend service closer to downtown over the incompatible street railway tracks. This was an interesting choice because for the first 20 years of operations, the CL&A offered no freight service whatsoever, and they didn't interchange cars with steam railroads. Had they used broad gauge tracks, they would at least have had the opportunity to run their passenger cars to downtown over the street railway.  At the time the CL&A was constructed however, the powers that be at the Cincinnati Traction Company did not want interurbans running over their tracks, preferring to set up transfer locations at the end of the streetcar lines.

The power station and carbarns were located on the east side of North Bend on River Road, a little ways east of Ohio Avenue/St. Annes Drive, almost at the exact center of the system and with easy access to various coal depots. Nevertheless, the total length of the system was at the limits of transmission distance for 600 volt DC power, and several additional feeder wires were needed to maintain adequate power at Anderson Ferry, Aurora, and Harrison.  Since the electrical system was barely adequate to begin with, no retail power was sold to customers along the way, unlike some other companies who did so to diversify their revenues. Eight 44-passenger double-ended cars equipped with four motors on 33-inch wheels were the initial equipment roster. These cars weighed 25-26 tons each and were geared for 35 mph free running. A 1907 census report of street and electric railways mentioned 12 passenger cars and one sweeper car on the roster. 

Soon after operations began on the CL&A, some specific operational challenges became apparent.  As early as 1901 it was clear that the Lost Bridge was a liability due to settling of some of the piers and abutments, and cracks developing in structural members due to the weight of heavy interurban cars.  In August, 1901 the CL&A reported that they were going to abandon use of the bridge, though if they planned to simply build their own bridge or relocate the entire Miamiview route is unclear.  For the time being they took no action on this plan. 

A few steep grades were also notable issues. Despite the relatively level river valleys where the CL&A ran, proximity to hillsides and riverbanks still led to a couple of sub-par routings.  The first one was at the north end of the trestle over Muddy Creek, at the border between Fernbank and Addyston.  Almost immediately after turning off of Gracely Drive at Birch Lane and becoming single-track, the tracks then passed over a 900 foot trestle on the way to Main Street in Addyston.  At the end of the trestle there was short but very steep 30 foot climb to the level of Main Street at what is today the Harbor View Apartments.  This grade proved to be a hazard, and President Hooven petitioned Addyston to allow them to relocate their tracks off of Main to a private right-of-way behind the homes on that street at the same elevation as the trestle.  The approval was granted by Village Ordinance 227 on or about October 21, 1902, and the new route was put under construction to West Fork Muddy Creek at 1st Street and Dinning Lane where the CL&A rejoined Main Street.

The Muddy Creek grade paled in comparison to North Bend Hill, which was a significant operational handicap for the company. One of the steepest grades of any streetcar or interurban serving Cincinnati, traversing the 10% slope between Brower Road and Harrison Avenue used a great deal of power, and slipping or runaway cars were serious safety concerns.  Despite the objections of some vocal residents who would lose direct access to the tracks from their homes, the company obtained permission in 1903 to use the Big Four’s cut through North Bend Hill, first constructed in 1888 to bypass the former Cincinnati & Whitewater Canal tunnel which the railroad had repurposed for their own use.  The CL&A tracks diverged from the old River Road at Symmes Avenue, and they rejoined the previous route on Miami Avenue at Mt. Nebo after the cut was widened to accommodate the additional track. 

That same year, the Lost Bridge burned down, cutting the main line in half.  The fire that destroyed the bridge in the early morning of July 28, 1903 accelerated the plans the CL&A had been dragging their feet on over the prior two years. The company was able to strike up another bargain with the adjacent Big Four Railroad, which allowed them to build an extension from Kilby Road at Valley Junction to Elizabethtown on the railroad’s right-of-way, even sharing their bridge over the Whitewater River with the use of a gauntlet track.  The Miamiview route was torn up, and the rails were likely reused to build the new connection. Cleves Junction was then removed, and Valley Junction (sometimes called Harrison Junction to differentiate it from the Big Four's junction of the same name) became the new branching point. Track in the highway between OH-128 and Valley Junction was relocated to a private right-of-way as well.  

              Lawrenceburg & Aurora Electric Street Railroad Power
              House Explosion

Remnants of the CL&A power house after a massive explosion in 1915. Note the car and tracks to the left, and the Ohio River in the background.

After the troubles of 1903, the CL&A settled into a fairly steady operation.  Ridership was average for the Cincinnati area, with 1.5 million passengers in 1912. That said, the C&LE and Cincinnati & Hamilton interurbans were by far the strongest in the Cincinnati Area, serving more than 4.3 million passengers each, so the CL&A actually took third place in ridership out of nine main routes spread among seven companies.  The populated outer neighborhoods, heavy industrial employment, and several towns in relatively close proximity boosted passenger numbers. The branched nature of the system allowed the company to operate cars on a 30 minute schedule between Anderson Ferry and Cleves, with alternating cars providing hourly service to Aurora and Harrison.  Despite the amicable relationship with the Big Four, the CL&A did eventually have to move the Valley Junction - Elizabethtown route onto its own right-of-way and also build their own bridge over the Whitewater River, though when that was done is unclear.

It appears that shortly after CL&A began operations, the adjacent Big Four saw them not as a competitor, but an opportunity to dispose of their own commuter operations. While long-distance passenger service remained profitable for mainline steam railroads for decades, the short-haul, peaky, and uni-directional nature of daily commuter operations were a hassle to serve at best and unprofitable at worst.  They were, however, never able to completely shed this service until after the CL&A was abandoned and Union Terminal opened in 1932.  All passenger trains were required to use the new station, but it was unacceptably far from downtown for commuters, and most if not all railroad commuter operations ceased upon its dedication.  Prior to that time however, the wider station spacing and more convenient terminal location at 3rd Street and Central Avenue made trips to downtown faster on the Big Four, though they had few off-peak trains and higher fares than the traction line.  Nonetheless, they still went out of their way to accommodate the CL&A, defying the usually hostile practices of most mainline steam railroads east of the Mississippi River, perhaps also because the CL&A offered no freight competition. 

A benefit of the company's original route along Miamiview would become sorely apparent after the devastating flood of 1913. Every bridge over the Great Miami River from Dayton south was destroyed, along with the CL&A and Big Four bridges over the Whitewater River. Much of the Harrison branch was inundated or washed out as well since it closely followed the Whitewater River. The CL&A could only operate from Anderson Ferry to Cleves while extensive repair work and new bridges were constructed. Temporary wooden pile structures were built to keep the railroads and highways open while permanent spans were built. The expenses and lack of revenue caused a loss of $100,000 and President Hooven petitioned for receivership under Frank B. Shutts of Miami, Florida. Had the Lost Bridge not burned down in 1903, or the County had been more expedient in replacing it (its successor wasn't opened until 1906, and every time this bridge was destroyed or closed in 1903, 1913, and 1980 there were arguments over whether it would be replaced at all), the CL&A would likely have been able to restore operations to Lawrenceburg and Aurora much sooner. The Miamiview route is above flood level, and only the half mile of road west of the Lost Bridge on the floodplain between there and Elizabethtown would have needed rebuilding. Unfortunately that ship had sailed ten years prior.  After full operations were restored, Shutts resigned as receiver on December 28, 1914, then Edward Stark was appointed and assisted by Hooven, who was appointed January 17, 1918.

Still reeling from the 1913 flood, the company's power station exploded in 1915. The resulting fire leveled nearly the entire building, which also included the carbarn and shops. The structure was rebuilt, and some second-hand cars were purchased from the Chicago & West Towns Railway to replace those lost in the blaze. By 1917 the company was purchasing power from Union Gas & Electric, with 33 kV 3-phase AC power feeding new 200 kW automatic substations with rotary AC to DC converters. One substation was somewhere in Fernbank, and the other was next to US-50 just east of the Ohio/Indiana border, and it is still standing as of August, 2021. How power was supplied in the intervening two years is unclear, but it does seem that they rebuilt the power station even if only used for two years. Either way, the carbarn and shops remained at that location after reconstruction, and it was used until 1937 as a garage by the Ohio Department of Highways after the CL&A closed down. The building sat derelict until 1959 when it was demolished to widen US-50.
The year 1918 comes up regularly throughout reports of the interurban industry as being particularly difficult, where many companies entered receivership or began talks of abandonment. Price and wage inflation, virtually unheard of before WWI, ate into revenues since fares were fixed by franchise agreements that never anticipated an inflationary monetary system or a major world war. Maintenance costs for aging infrastructure and equipment was also rising along with greater competition from automobiles, buses, and trucks. There were really only two choices that traction lines had: abandon or modernize. Still deep in receivership from the 1913 flood and power station explosion, the CL&A chose to modernize in an attempt to restore the company to profitability and pay down their debts. Since the power system had already been upgraded, the next step was purchasing new lightweight one-man cars. These vehicles from the Cincinnati Car Company were half the weight of their old ones, weighing only 12.5 tons and having 24-inch wheels, which were quite small for interurban cars at the time. This allowed for level boarding at platforms and fewer steps up from the street. Since they were half the weight, they also used half as much power, they didn’t beat up the tracks as hard as heavier cars, fewer rail ties were needed, and the cars required less maintenance. They also eliminated the need for a conductor, saving on salaries, although a second crewman was still carried between Lawrenceburg and Aurora to flag at-grade railroad crossings of the B&O in Lawrenceburg at Walnut and Williams Streets, 3rd Street, and at George Street in Aurora. By reducing the number of stops, eliminating some street running, and tightening up layover times at Aurora and Harrison, they were also able to maintain their running schedule with five active cars instead of the original six, with two cars kept in reserve. This move was so successful at reducing operating costs that other roads in Cincinnati and around the country began similar programs to modernize.

              Lawrenceburg & Aurora Electric Street Railroad
              Lightweight Cincinnati Car company Car 1918

The CL&A was a pioneer in purchasing new lightweight one-man cars. This particular one was manufactured by the Cincinnati Car Company, which also incorporated many of the same techniques into more modern streetcars. The color scheme for these appears to have been Pullman green above and below the windows, cream around the windows with maroon window sashes and doors, and a gray roof. 

While the CL&A operated through a highly industrialized corridor, freight business was nonexistent as mentioned previously. Industry reports in the mid 1910s show 100% of company revenue coming from passenger service. Interestingly, a booklet called Along the Line, published shortly after operations began, noted the strong farming community at Elizabethtown and other smaller manufactories along the way that appeared to be good potential freight customers. That said, the B&O, Big Four, and river barges were already serving online customers with their own freight sidings and spur tracks. The milk, fruit, canned goods, and smaller shipments that were a mainstay of the industry were likely also spoken for by the larger railroad companies who could deliver those goods to downtown Cincinnati in one movement. This lack of a connection to the downtown Cincinnati market was also cited in one report as a reason for the CL&A's lack of freight business. Even if broad gauge cars had been used, the company would likely have been limited by the street railway company in the type of freight services they could provide over their tracks, if any. The whole reason the street railway used broad gauge tracks in the first place was to prevent freight trains from running through city streets after all.

Despite all those obstacles, in an effort to diversify their revenues, the CL&A became a pioneer in container shipping by partnering with the Cincinnati Motor Terminals Company. This company was born out of the freight hauling paralysis of WWI when railroads, already operating near their maximum capacity, were strained to the breaking point from the shift to wartime operations. Cincinnati was a notorious bottleneck in the nation's railroad system even before the war, with less-than-carload (LCL) freight taking multiple days to be transferred between railroads or to customers in the city. These sorts of small loads, made up of many different types of freight from different customers all bound for different destinations were a logistics nightmare, and handling them through excessive local rail switching operations or teams of horses pulling trailers made them ridiculously slow and expensive. All this was on top of a massive freight car shortage caused by the war, while many routes were completely shaken up by the change in traffic patterns to delivering war materials to the east coast for ocean shipping to Europe.

The Cincinnati Motor Terminals Company founder, Benjamin Franklin Fitch, designed detachable trailer bodies for trucks which allowed them to be loaded at freight depots as parcels came in, while the driver could be out picking up or delivering other containers that were full. Previous trucks and horse-drawn trailers were all one unit, requiring the driver to wait for it to be fully loaded or unloaded. Initially delivering only between the various steam railroad terminals in downtown Cincinnati, this company was able to move more than ten times the tonnage of the older trap cars (similar to boxcars) used by the Railroads for LCL hauling. In an effort to introduce more intermodal shipping, where the containers could be loaded and moved via not just truck but also train, the CL&A was approached in 1921 to install hoists and loading facilities at Anderson Ferry so full containers could be delivered by truck and then offloaded as necessary along the way to Indiana, or vice versa. One of the old Chicago & West Towns cars was modified to remove the body and create a flat platform for two of the containers, leaving motorman's cabs intact at the front and back. A small single-truck flatcar was also outfitted to carry a single container. A few other local railroads dabbled in this type of operation, such as the C&LE which also built hoists and had some of their own flatcars that could carry two containers. Fitch did not have much luck introducing his trailers to other cities, though he did eventually have success courting both the Pennsylvania Railroad and New York Central Railroad. The Great Depression however would take its toll. Reduced tonnage meant fewer logistics problems, while the PRR and NYC both implemented their own trucking services and canceled their contracts. The C&LE stopped hauling trailers in 1935, and in 1937 the Interstate Commerce Commission determined that rail freight containers for this sort of operation had to be owned by the shipper, not the railroad, which basically killed it as a going concern. Motor trucks in general took over LCL freight hauling all on their own, eliminating the railroads from the picture. Only since the end of the 20th century has intermodal cargo shipping really come back, with today's distinctive metal containers being shipped across the oceans for transloading to railroad or truck.

Another economizing move made by the CL&A and other interurbans was to eliminate redundant trackage and shed street maintenance liabilities. Like the IR&T lines and CM&B coming into the east side of Cincinnati, the CL&A had several miles of double-track within the city limits and on public streets. In the case of the IR&T Rapid Railway line, a few miles were purchased by the street railway company while they were still in operation, but in most other cases the increase in traffic that would warrant double track operation never materialized, nor did the hoped-for buyout by the street railway, which more often only happened at abandonment. The CL&A thus eliminated all of their double track, which was only within the city limits in the first place, and they replaced it with a single track with passing sidings. They also moved the route through Delhi, Sayler Park, and Fernbank off of Gracely Drive (then known as Lower River Road) to a private right-of-way next to the Big Four railroad tracks, much like it was originally constructed east of Delhi. The new tracks had to bend around the small railroad commuter stations in these neighborhoods, and it ultimately swung north and east to meet up with Birch Lane where it rejoined the existing route into Addyston and beyond. This track realignment reduced increasingly frequent altercations with automobiles and motor trucks on Gracely, which was the main road through those neighborhoods prior to the relocation and upgrading of River Road to a highway in the 1950s and 1960s, while also absolving the company of responsibility to maintain the roadway around their tracks.  By the 1920s municipalities were pressuring interurbans to pave the street around their rails, if not from curb to curb, which was well beyond the scope of their original franchises, and it would only benefit competing automobile, truck, and bus traffic, while complicating track maintenance.  A similar move was made in Cleves in 1923, eliminating the remaining street running on Miami and Cooper, and utilizing a right-of-way next to the Big Four to the highway bridge over the Great Miami, thus eliminating the tight turns at Mt. Nebo.  Addyston apparently ordered the company to remove their tracks from Main Street at some point, because of failure to maintain the street to the village's satisfaction or pay franchise fees, but it's unclear if this was ever carried out.

              Lawrenceburg & Aurora Electric Street Railroad 1921
              Station & Freight Car

The CL&A terminal at Anderson Ferry Road in approximately 1921, showing Cincinnati Motor Terminals trailers being hoisted onto a truck, and the modified car which could haul two such trailers. From "On the Right Track: Some Historic Cincinnati Railroads" by John H. White, Jr.

While the economizing moves and introduction of freight handling helped the company's finances immensely, operating across state lines and through several municipalities made raising fares in the face of price and wage inflation more difficult than for other companies.  Extension to downtown to allow either one-seat passenger service to Dixie Terminal, or to connect with the Cincinnati subway that was under construction in the early 1920s was well out of financial reach of the CL&A.  The West End Rapid Transit Company was chartered as early as 1915 to build this connection, including a mile-long viaduct over the Mill Creek Valley to span the tangle of railroads beneath.  Private financing dried up during World War I and in 1920 the Rapid Transit Commission rejected a petition to put a $1 million public bond issue for the project on the ballot, leaving the CL&A stranded at Anderson Ferry for the remainder of its independent life. 

By the late 1920s the benefits of modernization had worn off, and the company's fortunes were looking bleak.  A report was prepared in 1927 for the Cincinnati Street Railway in consideration of purchasing the company.  They recommended the Harrison branch be abandoned immediately for hemorrhaging money, since it was serving barely 100 passengers per day.  Monthly operating expenses of the branch line were $2,152.00, more than five times the revenue of $417.85 from passenger fares.  The CL&A had purchased a bus company that operated between Fountain Square, Anderson Ferry, and Fernbank in an effort to control competition, but operating this bus line was at a loss, and the street railway report suggested only retaining the bus service between Fountain Square and Anderson Ferry.  The street railway company was not interested in buying out the CL&A and in 1928 the company was reorganized as the Cincinnati Lawrenceburg & Aurora Electric Railway Company, closing out their 15 year receivership.  Charles H. Deppe, vice-president of the Fifth-Third Union Trust Company was the receiver, and he was slated to become president of the reorganized company along with Joseph L. Lackner of the law firm Maxwell & Ramsay who would become secretary.  Samuel I. Lipp would continue as vice-president and general counsel having been elected prior to this date.

At some point shortly thereafter the CL&A was
purchased or taken over by Lawrence Van Ness, who was primarily interested in the company's electrical infrastructure, which could be sold off to growing power companies.  He was on the board of directors according to a 1921 financial report, but his involvement before the 1928 reorganization is unclear.  Regardless, the eventual closing of the road and takeover by the Cincinnati Street Railway after final abandonment on November 30, 1930 is similar to what happened with the CM&B on the east side of town, which was also purchased by Van Ness. The street railway company originally planned to substitute the service with buses, but residents along the line wanted to retain rail service. So the infrastructure was purchased at scrap value for streetcar use. The track gauge had to be converted from standard to broad, which was done by leaving one rail and moving the other one out six inches to the new spacing. Since nearly the entire route was on private right-of-way since 1918 they didn't have to tear up streets to modify the tracks. The line was cut back to Birch Lane, just off of Gracely Drive where it originally went to single track, and a loop and small electrical substation were installed. The new route 30 Fernbank opened on January 1, 1931. Since the standard gauge cars were of no use, but were still in good shape, they were sold in 1932 to the Sand Springs Railway in Oklahoma, which was a latecomer to the interurban scene, opening in 1911 between Tulsa and Sand Springs. Streetcar service on route 30 was replaced with buses on June 1, 1941 and the tracks were pulled up for wartime scrap. CL&A car 918, renumbered 68 by its new owner, survived until 1955 when Sand Springs converted to diesel freight operations. That car was obtained by the Illinois Railway Museum in 1967 and has been restored to its state in the 1950s under Sand Springs, with a bright yellow body, cream windows, and maroon on the roof and doors. The rest of the cars purchased by Sand Springs from the CL&A were apparently scrapped in 1955 or before.

The CL&A terminal at Anderson Ferry originally met a large streetcar loop with an extra layover track next to the traction line's depot. The odd frontage street to the north is where the original River Road and streetcar line ran before bending slightly south. The CL&A terminal was actually east of Anderson Ferry Road, but straightening out the road's alignment paved over the station location in 1948.  This sort of connection was the preference of the Cincinnati Traction Company, which did not want interurbans running over their tracks until political pressure or a change in management a bit later into the first decade of the 1900s. Pretty much all traces of the CL&A's route within the city were obliterated by the widening and realignment of River Road in the 1950s. The original double track route within the city limits basically followed the south side of the old narrow River Road west from here to Delhi, with the outbound track on the street and the inbound track off to the side near the railroad tracks. The rail in the street was removed when the line was single-tracked in 1918. Upon reaching Delhi, the line originally merged with Gracely Drive to pass through the neighborhoods of Sayler Park and Fernbank. After 1918, the tracks in the street were removed and the whole line paralleled the Big Four railroad and the now-gone Nokomis Avenue until about 500 feet past Thornton Avenue where it turned to meet up with the original route at Birch and Gracely. Birch Lane is mostly unimproved gravel, but the curbs on Gracely form corners to what was apparently intended to be a decent sized street.

              Lawrenceburg & Aurora Electric Street Railroad Cleves
              Junction Station

The CL&A Cleves Junction station was only used for three years before the tracks were rerouted.  Miami Avenue is to the left, and to the right the ground drops off precipitously to the Big Four railroad cut.  The plank sidewalk at the bottom right is the start of a trestle that crossed the cut.  The building was completely dilapidated by the 1990s and it was subsequently demolished.

The interurban line then ran on its own right-of-way for a short distance, crossing Muddy Creek on its own trestle.  Originally it took a short but steep uphill to Main Street from the trestle at what is today the Harbor View Apartments, but after 1902 it turned to the west at the end of the trestle and ran behind the houses on Main Street.  Graded right-of-way remains behind those houses before coming onto Main Street in Addyston at Dining Lane where bridge piers and abutments remain over the small west fork of Muddy Creek. The CL&A continued on Main Street through Addyston, then US-50 west of Bowman Lane. The site of the power house and carbarn was mostly obliterated by widening of US-50 but it was located in a grove of trees east of Ohio Avenue/St. Annes Drive, below Sunset Avenue. Before US-50 was widened and bypassed North Bend to the west, the highway turned directly onto Miami Avenue, as did the CL&A from 1900-1903. Cleves Junction was located at 325 Miami Avenue near Wamsley Avenue, with a small station building and the tracks to Aurora turning off Miami on the north side of the station. Tracing the short-lived Miamiview route between Cleves, the Lost Bridge, and Elizabethtown has proven enormously difficult due to its short lifetime. Since parts of the CL&A that ran for its full 30 years are still difficult to spot, trying to find roadbed that was only used for three years is a significant challenge.  There are no maps and no property records that indicate the location of this route save for a few descriptions and poorly captioned photos from the company's Along the Line booklet. This booklet shows the underpass at Elizabethtown, and also a photo of private right-of-way just east of “Harold Switch” which was a passing siding a little ways east of the confluence of the Great Miami and Whitewater River.  A newspaper clipping from November 1900 notes a head-on collision between two CL&A cars when one motorman mistakenly went through Harold Switch without meeting the approaching car due to a misunderstanding of a schedule change.  The collision was apparently in front of the home of one Dr. Smedley, but that location is also a mystery.  Either way, that was definitely on a private right-of-way, and the photo looks to be a bit up the hill too.  Regardless, there doesn't seem to be any evidence in topographic maps, but wooded hillsides tend not to be well documented in that respect. Earl Clark Jr's research on the route also suggests a private right-of-way to the south of Miamiview near the toe of the hill.  In the meantime, that's how the route is mapped, though with many question marks as to its true disposition.

Back at North Bend, after 1903 the CL&A diverged from the highway at Symmes Avenue and shared the newly widened cut through the hillside with the Big Four Railroad past Harrison's Tomb. The eastbound/southbound lanes of today's US-50 are on the old roadbed after significant widening of the cut was done to accommodate the highway. The CL&A after 1903 turned back to Miami via Mt. Nebo and proceeded north through Cleves to Cooper. It then came back onto US-50 and crossed the Great Miami River, sharing the old highway bridges. After the 1923 Cleves bypass was built, the tracks simply continued north past Mt. Nebo where US-50 runs today. The route to Aurora followed US-50 into Indiana and Lawrenceburg. Detailed USGS maps of southeast Indiana from the CL&A operating period have been nearly impossible to locate, so the routing from the state line through Greendale should be taken with a grain of salt.  Proximity to the Big Four Railroad and the old Whitewater Canal next to Oberting Road makes figuring out what was what rather difficult. The CL&A crossed the Big Four's Greendale cutoff on a short bridge roughly 100 feet east of the current Ridge Avenue overpass in what was originally a small village called Homestead that was later annexed to Greendale.  The CL&A then ran slightly to the east of Ridge and came onto the road somewhere around Probasco Street. As mentioned earlier, the street running in Lawrenceburg was somewhat bizarre due to the layout of the roads coming into town. There was a T-intersection at 3rd and Main with a spur into town from 3rd to Walnut to High Street that required the motorman to change car ends for the return trip. After crossing Tanner's Creek, Doughty Lane behind the Family Dollar is the old route. The remainder of the line to Aurora was on a private right-of-way next to the highway.  It turned onto George Street and ended just short of the bridge over Hogan Creek in Aurora.

The branch line to Harrison basically paralleled the Big Four's Whitewater Division, now I&O, along Kilby Road. North of the I-275 exit Kilby Road jogs from the west side of the Big Four to the east side, and immediately thereafter it crosses Dry Fork Creek directly on the CL&A's old alignment. North of that point there's a bit more space between today's road and the I&O where the CL&A ran, though it's just overgrown trees now. There appears to be some extant right-of-way next to the I&O after Kilby diverges on a due north tangent away from the railroad, but it's all on private property with no cross streets.  At Campbell Road west of Kilby was the old Simonson station.  After abandonment, Clarence Roudebush, nephew of Benjamin J. Simonson, a local farmer for whom the station was named, moved the small wooden station building to use for storage on his own farm. Around 1980, his Grandson, Frank A. Roudebush, decided it should be saved and he moved the Simonson Station to Ann and Gene Woelfels yard at 6590 Kilby Road.  It was restored in 2014-2015 by the Harrison Rotary Club by request of the Harrison Village Historical Society.  West of Simonson the traction line followed the south side of Campbell until reaching State Road, running up the east side of the road until reaching town, then moving to the middle of the street at the heart of Harrison, where passengers could disembark to either Ohio or Indiana depending on which side of the car they exited. 


Main Line Photographs from Anderson Ferry to Aurora


Harrison Branch Photographs from Valley Junction to Harrison


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