Finnish Heritage Museum 301 High Street
Fairport Harbor, Oh, 44077
Map Here
Museum Hours:
Saturday 10am-3pm
"Is it a Trolley, a Railroad Car, a Stagecoach, or What?"
by Jovette Hiltunen
Photo by Heather Korb

ALL ABOARD! Those two words probably evoke a lot of images, most of them with bustling train stations, steam or smoke coming from an engine, and a conductor walking along the boarding area. But that isn’t the all aboard image Lee Silvi, local historian and retired firefighter presented the Finnish Heritage Museum’s March program on Fairport Transportation History. The audience of 40 listened and watched as Lee introduced the Interurban Railway.

To put this all in perspective, Lee spoke about the lack of bridges from Painesville to Fairport. The first bridge was not constructed until the late 1800’s. So, as you can see, getting to and from Fairport was quite difficult. Since Fairport is a peninsula surrounded by Lake Erie and the Grand River, one would have to hike through the forest or take a ferry. So, the area was serviced by two ferries, The Hinevs Landing Ferry and the Grand River Ferry, but pictures and stories of these ferries are few and far between.

But you and I might not understand that bygone era which began in the early 1800’s. Those railways didn’t really look like today’s railroads but rather trolley lines. And the first ones here on the Painesville and Fairport Railroad were pulled by two horses. An oak wooden track was laid and upon it long thin metal strips to minimize wear. Usually, two horses pulled this somewhat crudely made freight car, but there is evidence that some were pulled by just one horse. It is thought that the Painesville and Fairport Railroad was either the first or second in Ohio history. In Fairport, the route followed the Old State Road from the Painesville side of Skinners’ Landing, over a bridge, and ended at the dock area near and west of what is now known as Burton Street. CP&E, Cleveland, Painesville, and Eastern Interurban Railway connected the "Fairport Division," a branch that connected Painesville with Fairport.

In 1835, led by Mayor Ralph Granger (first mayor of Fairport), a state charter for the railroad was obtained. With a little more than a $6,000.00 loan from the state and money raised through selling subscriptions, (another $19,775), the Painesville and Fairport Railroad began construction. Unfortunately, just 18 months into the construction, the timing was just poor. The country was plunged into a terrible depression and the economic woes caused people not to have money to ride and the freight needs dried up. In 1841 a high-water level swept the Skinner’s Landing bridge away and with it all hopes to extend the line to Wellsville, Ohio. Interestingly, a Pioneer Stage Co.’s stagecoach route existed as early as 1809 from Cleveland to Painesville. By 1826, this service had been extended to Erie, PA.

In 1880, Edward Moore arrived in Cleveland but did not have much of an education. However, by 1901, he was a transportation magnate. Indeed, he had built a mansion called Mooreland, now part of Lakeland Community College, as his summer country home in 1898. Since he owned the first home in Lake County to have electricity, he ran an electric rail line to his house from his railroad’s Mooreland rail stop, presently the site of the Great Lakes Mall.

Bus transportation began in 1918 and Lee spent some time discussing the bus accident of March 3, 1922, when the bus was hit by non-stop, full speed express train. Fourteen residents of Fairport-Painesville area were killed in the accident. Among the known who died that evening are George E. McGhee (Medina), John and Max Sturms (Fairport), Lillian Kelto (Fairport), Hilda Praski (Fairport), Mrs. Oscar Cooper (Fairport), Mrs. John Bartish (Fairport), Mrs. Frank Fridebaugh (Fairport), Stanley Radick (Fairport), Richard Strand, (Chardon), Kathryn Horvath (present Grand River), William J. Sutter, Jr. (Chardon), and Raymond O’Leary (Painesville). The driver of the bus, Andrew Adams of Fairport and Nick Nenno also of Fairport were last reported most likely to die from their injuries. An explosion of the gasoline tank of the machine set fire and several of the bodies were badly burned. At the time of the article (only one in existence and this one no longer obtainable) stated that there was not a clear cause of the accident. It was most likely a mechanical, albeit human, error by the crossing watchman.

The last train ran on the full Lake Branch in 1982.