When Greene County was new, the modes of transportation were very limited. Many folks rode horses, some rode in wagons and of course, there was the stagecoach as well.
The roads – such as they were – unpaved and often had been previously laid out by the Indians who traveled from one village to another.
Corduroy roads were a welcome addition to those traveling by wagon. It was a bumpy ride, but at least not muddy. This type of road was made by splitting a log lengthwise in two parts and laying them side by side to form a more stable road.
Transportation by personal buggy or wagon was possible, but the majority of travelers who traversed from Cincinnati to Springfield traveled by stage coach. It was not unusual for as many as 40 to 60 passengers to travel daily in coaches. There was an obvious need for additional means of travel along the route and so, the idea of having a railroad seemed appropriate.
The first rail line to come into the county was the Little Miami Railroad Company, chartered March 11, 1836. Shares in the endeavor were sold for $50 each with a cash payment of $5 being required with each purchase. Twenty –two individuals from Warren, Greene and Clark Counties became the first subscribers with former Governor Morrow becoming the first President of the company.
Since the canal was a part of the Great Miami, it was decided that the railroad should follow the Little Miami River. In order to decide the best route, Ormsby M. Mitchell, a professor at the Cincinnati College and a graduate of West Point was hired to do the survey. He began his work on horseback on June 12, 1837 and filed his report with the company on August 24. He estimated that the 88 miles of the road could be completed and ready for the locomotive for $596,000.
The company expected that the several mills along the route would be most interested in investing in the project. There were fifty flour mills manufacturing about 100,000 barrel of flour annually for market along with twenty saw mills, six distilleries, three paper mills and a cotton factory. It was anticipated that this would be a viable means of transporting goods to the National Road in Springfield and from there across the country.
The city of Cincinnati subscribed $200,000 toward the project and Greene County $50,000. Eventually, the State of Ohio authorized a loan which further helped the project. Finally a total of $525,950 was raised and the railroad would become reality.
The gage was made four feet ten inches to comply with the gage used in the northern part of the state. This became known as the Ohio gage or the narrow gage. Other parts of the country were using a different measurement which eventually became standard throughout the country.
Sometimes the best-laid plans go awry and such was the case with the Little Miami RR. The contracts had been signed and the work had begun in the Cincinnati area but a financial panic hit the country and some of the stockholders were unable to meet their promised funding. Contractors who
had finished the work were not paid and workers appeared at the home of the treasurer asking for their wages. Notes bearing six percent interest were given in some cases and in a few instances even the machinery which had been used to build the railroad was sold.
Governor Morrow was determined, however to see this through. The company sold the property which had been purchased for a depot which granted some extra funding, Then on July 1, 1843, the property was placed in the hands of a trustee and the company’s credit was restored.
Construction on the rail line had begun in 1837, but by December 1841, the track extended only from Fulton to Milford, a distance of fifteen miles.
The next year the road reached Fosters and by July 1844 the first cars arrived at South Lebanon. Work continued to progress and so in August 1845 the road was completed as far as Xenia. Ten years of planning and working brought the tracks to Springfield. The village of Morrow was named in honor of the former Governor who had held the dream of railroad service.
The engine of Little Miami Railroad was fondly called “The Grasshopper”. There are several theories as to the nickname given the little engine. One is that the front wheels were very small and the back very large, giving the impression of a grasshopper. Another legend says that the rails often were covered with grass and so the little train “hopped” over the grass.
In any event, it finally came. People and goods could more easily be transported across the state and the country,
There was great excitement afoot in Xenia then the train was to arrive on the maiden run. Many folks were excited about seeing a train for the first time.
The Mayor and City Council, along with the other dignitaries, were on hand to greet the engineer when he pulled the train into the city. The band was there to provide appropriate entertainment.
Mrs. Wright’s School for girls was located next door to the depot and the little girls were very excited to be a part of the celebration. They had rehearsed the song that they would sing when the train arrived. Anticipation was high with the little girls wore their best dresses with ribbons tied in their hair. They waited eagerly with the rest of the crowd, ready to sing their song when the train pulled into the station. Since few had ever seen a train, they had no idea that it would be so big and so noisy and blow out so much smoke.
The little girls were very frightened and scampered up the hill to the Wright house as quickly as they could, tearing their dresses as they went with ribbons falling out of their hair! Their debut was over! Later that day, when everything had calmed down, she did sing their song, but not to an audience as expected.
Joan Baxter is a Greene County historian and guest columnist.