By Elizabeth Goussetis
A photo of a steam locomotive chugging down the middle of Main Street in the early 20th century had members of the Reynoldsburg-Truro Historical Society stumped because no steam engine route had ever passed through downtown Reynoldsburg.
When Richard Barrett first joined the Reynoldsburg-Truro Historical Society, he was presented with the mystery photo. Barrett looked at the picture and knew what it meant.
“That’s when they were building the interurban,” Barrett said.
The interurban was an electric railway that operated in Central Ohio in the early 20th century. Reynoldsburg was connected to downtown Columbus by a rail network that carried passengers to places such as Zanesville, Newark, Marion, Dublin, and Lancaster. The interurban’s history was the subject of a special exhibit at the historical society’s monthly open house on Feb. 20.
Interurbans were electric, so they did not have a steam locomotive. The locomotive in the photo was used to haul the materials needed to build the tracks and infrastructure of the new interurban, long before heavy trucks hauled materials.
Faster and with fewer stops than the trolleys used in Columbus, but slower than the trains that traveled directly between big cities, interurbans helped people get from town to town.
The Reynoldsburg line ran down Main Street and stopped at a hotel that was located on Main Street near Lancaster and Jackson streets. The hotel was the only stop in what was considered Reynoldsburg at the time. The company was known as Columbus, Buckeye Lake and Newark in 1902 when it was built, and became Columbus, Newark and Zanesville later when the route was expanded to Zanesville.
The cars carried passengers and even some freight: ice cream, kegs of beer, groceries, hardware, fertilizer, cream, and mail. A round trip fare from Columbus was 35 cents. If you had too much to drink, they let you off at your house, according to the exhibit.
The interurban folded in 1929 due to too much competition from buses, trucks and cars, Barrett said. None of the interurbans made money over a long period of time, he said.
“Everyone who invested in it ended up losing money,” he said.
Most of the interurbans folded in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
The exhibit attracted several train enthusiasts, including David Petry, who has been photographing trains as a hobby since he was 6 years old. Growing up in Portsmouth, he said his grandparents lived across the street from the train tracks in town-close enough that the house shook when the cars went by.
“The ladies knew when not to hang the laundry, because it would be covered in soot,” Petry said of the steam engines.
Petry remembers riding in the cab of the trains with the engineers and became fascinated with trains for life. Petry said he’d never seen an interurban display in Central Ohio.
Reynoldsburg resident Dave Gruber was too young to remember the interurban, but he does remember the days of passenger trains in Columbus. He worked for more than 30 years on the railroads, including in the late 1960s when he worked at Union Station downtown Columbus.
The interurban exhibit is the first in a series of exhibits Barrett said the Reynoldsburg-Truro Historical Society museum is planning, to give people something new to visit at the society’s monthly open house. Next month’s exhibit is about wrestling and its connection to Reynoldsburg.
Barrett said mysteries persist about the interurban. One is about the name of one of the stops, Crumms. The name appears on interurban schedules, but Barrett said he hasn’t seen it anywhere else. In later schedules, the same stop is listed as Doney’s.
“It’s pretty obvious that the name was changed,” Barrett said.
Anyone who knows about Crumms can contact the historical society.
The Reynoldsburg-Truro Historical Society museum is located at 1485 Jackson St., in Reynoldsburg, across from Hannah Ashton Middle School, one block south of traffic light #8. The society holds its monthly open house the third Saturday of the month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The museum features free admission, tours, gift shop, Kids Discovery Room, and refreshments. Visit www.rths.info for information.