A History of
Detroit, Toledo & Ironton Railroad

MichiganRailraods.com has reprinted an article from the July 1920 Railway Age magazine by Fred Lisman titled "The Sad Romance of the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton - A Brief History of the Road and an Analysis of the Steps the Fords Will Have to Take to Rehabilitate It".

Frederick J. Lisman was a New York City-based banker and railroad financier who purchased the Detroit and Lima Northern and Ohio Southern Railroads in 1901 to form the Detroit Southern Railroad Company (the Iron Railway was added to the DS in 1902). He lost the DS when it was sold at foreclosure in 1905 and reincorporated as the Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railway Company.

There is another article covering the history of the DT&I on the website reprinted from The Inside Track magazine in 1979. "The Railroad That Went No Place (but eventually made it)" Part I was written by William C. Pletz.

This history of the DT&I is from a 9 page handout that came from the DT&I's Public Relations Dept. in the early 1970s. Thanks go to Barry Delaney for the use of this document and for allowing it to be posted here.



Probably few persons, including perhaps many of its present employees, are acquainted with the interesting history of the Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad, which began with the construction of one of the pioneer railroads in Ohio incorporated by the industrial leaders of Ironton March 7,1849 under the name of Iron Railroad Company. The chief purpose for building that road were to bring in iron ore.fluxing stone, coal, charcoal and timber for use in the iron industry of the city, and to furnish a route for shipping out to the north the products of that industry, and to ship in the manufactures of the north for local use or transfer to boats on the Ohio River.

The Iron Railroad Company in 1849-50 constructed six miles of broadgage (4'-10") railroad from the Ohio River at Ironton to the Vesuvius Tunnel mines to Lawrence County. Timber cross ties and stringers supported iron strap rails bought secondhand from the Little Miami Railroad. The timber bridges were supported by stone abutments most of which are still in use. The only tunnel on the DT&I is located at Vesuvius, being opened for trains in December 1851, with a length of 956 feet. The locomotives were brought to Ironton on Ohio river boats and the first coal cars were mounted on four wheels. The Iron Railroad was extended from time to time, until it reached Center Furnace, 13 miles north of Ironton. Here construction was stopped through lack of funds to construct a long tunnel through a high ridge blocking the path of the railroad, which was to continue about forty miles farther north to a connection with the Belpre and Cincinnati Railroad (now Baltimore and Ohio Railroad). In the meantime the Scioto Valley Railway Company (now part of the Norfolk and Western Railway) was building its railroad southward from Columbus to Portsmouth, thence up the river to Ironton, where its first train arrived in February 1881.


The construction of the Scioto Valley Railway furnished railroad transportation between Ironton and cities in other parts of Ohio where connection with other railroads existed, and delayed further extension of the Iron Railroad until 1903, when an extension was built from Lisman to Bloom Jct., 18.6 miles, to connect with the Portsmouth-Hamden Branch of the Baltimore and Ohio S. W. R. R. This connection and the use of the B&O S. W. track between Bloom Jct. and Jackson, Ohio continue to form part of the DT&I Railroad. Mention should be made of another railroad enterprise which became known as the "Great Narrow-Gage System" and was directly connected with the Iron Railroad.

On July 30,1881, the Iron Railroad Company entered into an agreement with the Toledo, Delphos and Burlington R. R. Co. allowing the latter company to lay the rails of its road (which had a three-foot gage) between the rails of the Iron Railroad from Dean, Lawrence County, Ohio to Ironton, and to run its narrow-gage trains into Ironton over that route. The Toledo, Delphos and Burlington (later on part of the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton R.R.) extended from Toledo, via Delphos, Dayton, Chillicothe and Wellston to Dean, and via the Iron Railroad to Ironton. These two railroad companies were consolidated October 21,1881,retaining the name Toledo, Delphos and Burlington R.R. Co. until Feb 25,1882, when the line was consolidated with the Frankfort, St. Louis and Toledo R.R. Co., which composed the easterly part of the Toledo, St. Louis and Western R.R. (Clover-Leaf Route) now a part of the New York, Chicago and St. Louis R.R. (Nickel Plate Road) and the Toledo, Cincinnati and St. Louis R.R. Co. (First Corporation) composing the westerly portion of the Clover-Leaf Route. The name of the property after consolidation was the Toledo, Cincinnati and St.Louis R.R. Co. (Second Corporation).

On May 5,1883, the Cincinnati Northern Railway Company (later on Cincinnati, Lebanon and Northern Rwy. Co.) was consolidated with the last-named company, the name after such consolidation remaining the Toledo, Cincinnati and St. Louis R.R. Co. which owned and operated 783 miles of narrow-gage (3 feet) railroad extending (a) from Toledo to St. Louis, (b) from Delphos to Ironton, and (c) from Cincinnati to Lebanon Jct., Ohio. Thus the three cities composing the name of this line were actually connected by a narrow-gage railroad.


However, as most railroads existing in the Central States at that time were standard gage (4 feet, 8-1/2 inches), the inconvenience and delay resulting from transferring freight at connections, small capacity of cars, and other causes resulted in a receivership and in 1884 and 1885, the line was sold in various sections and the portion formerly composing the Iron Railroad was deeded July 22,1884 to a purchasing committee, who incorporated the Iron Railway Company July 23 1884 to operate the line which, as mentioned above, was extended to Bloom Jct. in 1903.

One must now go almost to the north end of the D.T.& I. Railroad, via. the portion extending from Chandler's Curve (about one mile south of Trenton) to Durban, Michigan, for the next chapter of this history. This section of railroad was once part of the Chicago and Canada Southern Railway, which, during the years 1871-1873 was constructed from Buffalo to a point in Canada opposite Grosse Isle in the Detroit River, and from Grosse Isle. via Carleton, Dundee and Grosvenor, Michigan, to Fayette, Ohio. The western terminal was to be Chicago. The panic of 1873 and the construction of some branch lines instead of first completing the main line prevented the completion of what might have been one of the shortest and best railroads between Chicago and Buffalo, as may be observed by riding over the Canadian portion of this line which is now the Canada Southern Division of the Michigan Central Railroad.

After passing through the hands of a purchasing committee, the part in the United States was sold to the Detroit and Chicago R.R. Co. on November 23,1888. This property was thereafter operated by the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Rwy. Co. (now New York Central R.R.), but on November 15,1897, the section of the line between Chandler's Curve and Dundee, 27 miles, was sold to the Detroit and Lima Northern Rwy. Co. The affairs of the latter company will be related after we tell about the longest division of the D.T.&I. Railroad built by one corporation, viz. from Springfield, Ohio to Jackson, 109 miles, which was first constructed as a narrow gage line by the Springfield, Jackson and Pomeroy R.R. Co. incorporated in Ohio December 17, 1874.


The first train that was operated from Springfield to Jackson carried an excursion party on August 3, 1878. The portion of the railroad located in the hilly region of Ross and Pike Counties passes through scenery of much beauty, such as is usually only observed in mountainous regions, and the track turns loops, and climbs steep grades until Summit Station is reached in much the same manner as in seen on some of the noted scenic sections of western and southern railroads. The view up and down the valley of the Scioto River from the bridge crossing that stream near Glen Jean are also quite attractive, except when an angry flood of deep waters rushes beneath the bridge, which fortunately was saved (except the trestle approach) during the record flood of 1913.

Several surveys were required before the location of this hilly section of the line was decided on. James Emmitt of Waverly was the first President, and W. C. Agnew was Chief Engineer. It should be stated that citizens of Springfield and Clark County, including Wm. N. Whitely, the reaper king, Oliver S. Kelly, John H. Thomas, George H. Frye, J. Thompson Warden and Asbury P. Gatch were instrumental in securing the construction of this railroad which would furnish an outlet to the south for the products of their factories and bring in coal, iron, timber and other material. In 1879 the gage of the track was changed to standard, and on November 3 of that year the road was purchased by Oliver S. Kelly, who deeded it to a new company, the Springfield Southern R.R. Co. was to extend its line from Jackson to a point on the Ohio River opposite Huntington, West Virginia, at that time the western terminus of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway.

Had this been accomplished and a connection made with that railroad, this story might have read quite differently after this paragraph. The name of the company was changed to the Ohio Southern Railroad Company on May 23,1881. After that change several extensions were constructed, viz. (1) Coalton to Wellston, 4.50 miles in 1881, (The S. J. & P.) had extended the road from Jackson to Coalton, 4.50 miles in 1878; (2) Wellston to Cornelis, 9.50 miles in 1894; (3) Springfield Jct. to Lima, 67.8 miles, completed December 28,1893; (4) Jeffersonville to Sedalis, 7.17 miles in 1895 and (5) Jeffersonville to Kingman, 23.93 miles in 1895.


The last mentioned section was built as a standard-gage railroad on the old roadbed of the Cincinnati, Columbus and Hocking Valley Railroad from Jeffersonville to McKay's Station, from which point to Kingman an entirely new railroad was built, the intention being to continue this branch line to Lebanon to connect with the Cincinnati, Lebanon and Northern R.R. Co. (formerly a part of the Great Narrow Gage System) which had been changed to standard gage. The Cincinnati, Columbus and Hocking Valley R.R. was a narrow-gage line, and successor to various individuals and corporations.

The Ohio Southern R.R. Co. had endeavored to operate this narrow-gage line under contract for its owner from November 26, 1883 until about 1886, but it was a losing venture as have been all attempts to operate a railroad in this location, and the remaining portion of the Kingman Branch west of Jefferson was abandoned November 18, 1932. The track was never completed to Lebanon, grading being stopped on account of the Ohio Southern being placed in receivership May 9,1895. The Wellston Branch was formerly the source of considerable coal traffic and at one time through coal trains were operated from Jackson to Indianapolis via the Ohio Southern and the Indiana, Bloomington and Western Ry. Co. (now the Peoria and Eastern Ry. Co.).

This branch was abandoned December 13,1929. The Lima Northern Railway Company, incorporated March 27, 1895, constructed that portion of the line between Lima and the Ohio-Michigan State Line during the years 1895 and 1896. The section of railroad, 6.35 miles long from the State Line to a connection with the Wabash Railway at Lenawee Jct., Michigan (sometimes called Lima Jct.) was constructed in 1896 by the Detroit and Cincinnati Railway Company (incorporated March 7, 1896 to build a railroad from the State Line to Detroit) which company deeded that 6.35 mile section to the Lima Northern July 16,1896, and the railroad opened to traffic from Lima to Adrian, Michigan, July 2,1896, trackage rights having been secured from the Wabash Ry. from Lenawee Jct. to Adrian..


The Cincinnati and Detroit Ry. Co. changed it's name to the Detroit and Lima Northern Ry. Co. on February 18, 1897 and amended it's articles of incorporation to provide for purchase of the Lima Northern Railway which was done May 10, 1897. We have already stated that on November 15, 1897 The Detroit and Lima Northern Ry. Co. came into possession of that part of The Detroit and Chicago Railroad Company's railroad extending from Chandler's Curve to Dundee. By constructing (a) 11.14 miles of line from South Adrian to Tecumseh, Michigan, (b) 5.05 miles of new line from Durban to Dundee in 1897, (c) 13 miles from Chandler's Curve to West End Avenue, Detroit, in 1898, and (d) by trackage rights from Dundee to Tecumseh over the New York Central Railroad, The Detroit and Lima Northern obtained a continuous railroad from Lima to Detroit, and the first regular train ran into Detroit in May 1898.

On January 8, 1898, The Dayton Northern Railway Company (incorporated December 5, 1896) sold about three-fourths of a mile of railroad extending from the main line of the Detroit and Lima Northern at Lima to the tracks of the Lake Erie and Western R.R. and Cincinnati, Hamilton and Dayton Ry. where passenger and freight stations were built. On February 18, 1901 The Detroit and Lima Northern began operation over its own track (located on Wabash Railway right of way) between Lenawee Jct. and South Adrian.

From September 6, 1898 the Detroit and Lima Northern Railway was in receivership until May 25, 1901, when it was sold to Frederick J. Lisman, a New York Banker, who on that day deeded the property to Detroit Southern Railroad Company (incorporated May 25, 1901), which company purchased the property of The Ohio Southern R.R. Co. by deed dated June 1, 1901. The latter property had passed into receivership May 9, 1895, and had been acquired at foreclosure sale October 15, 1898 by a bondholders' purchasing committee, who employed Benjamin Norton as general manager until it was taken over by the Detroit Southern.

On September 25, 1902 the Detroit Southern R.R. Co. acquired the line of The Iron Railway (mentioned above) and completed the line to Bloom Jct. in June 1903. As a trackage right over the Baltimore and Ohio Southwestern Railroad between Bloom Jct. and Jackson had been obtained on February 4, 1893, a through line from Detroit to Ironton, 378.7 miles in length, was placed in service on June 13,1903, the first passenger train leaving Ironton for Detroit on June 15, 1903.


The Detroit Southern was placed in receivership on July 5, 1904 and was sold under foreclosure on May 1, 1905 to a new company, Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railway Company, incorporated May 2, 1905. From June 1, 1905 to November 25, 1910, Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railway and the Ann Arbor Railroad were operated under one management, but this arrangement was not a financial success and the roads resumed separate operation after a latter date. From February 1, 1908 the D. T. & I. Railway was operated under receivership until sold on March 2, 1914 to Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad Company - the present owner, which was incorporated February 21, 1914. During the period January1, 1918 until March 1, 1920, the property was operated by the United States Railroad Administration.

Through stock ownership the railroad of the Toledo-Detroit Railroad Company between Toledo and Dundee, Michigan the ownership of which had passed through various companies and individuals (part of it having been originally constructed in 1905-1906 as an interurban electric line) was controlled and operated by the D. T. & I. R.R. from May 1, 1916 until December29, 1931, except during the above stated period of Federal Control. On the latter date the property was sold to the Detroit, Toledo and Ironton R. R. Co.

We now come to one of the most important series of events in the life of the D. T. & I. Railroad, namely, the purchase of the securities and control of the property by Henry Ford during the summer of 1920, and it's improvement under the management of officers placed in charge by him. A brief list of improvements includes such items as placing of new ballast, generally stone or slag, new ties, generally creosoted, new rail and other track material of heavier weight than generally existed on the line, ditching, bank widening, bridge and culvert improvements, double-tracking of several miles of line near Detroit, rebuilding of locomotives, cars, machinery and buildings, the removal of obsolete and unsightly buildings, general cleaning up of the right of way, buildings and premises, purchase of new cars, and furnishing a large amount of good revenue traffic and higher wages to employees.


Two new corporations were organized by Mr. Ford to construct additional railroads. One, The Detroit and Ironton Railroad Company, incorporated June 29, 1920, constructed in 1923 a double-track railroad from the Ford Motor Company's plant at Dearborn, Michigan, 13.5 miles south to a connection with the D. T. & I. Railroad three miles north of Flat Rock Station. The D. and I. R. R. Co. also constructed in 1925 to 1929 a cut-off, 55.5 miles long, from Dearborn, Michigan where connection is made with the Toledo Branch (formerly Toledo-Detroit Railroad) is double track. After this cut-off was placed in operation, the old line via Dundee to New York Central R. R. to Tecumseh was abandoned, and the old line from Malinta north to Tecumseh became the Tecumseh Branch. The old line was 76.2 miles long, and had many sharp curves and some heavy grades, whereas the new line has only two easy curves, light grades and crosses most of the important highways by means of grade separations instead of grade crossings as on the old line.

The other new corporation was the Ford Transportation Company, incorporated June 25, 1923, which constructed a large terminal yard near Flat Rock, Michigan, consisting of about 25 miles of tracks, car repair facilities, track scales and water station. The properties of these two new companies were operated by the Detroit, Toledo and Ironton R. R. Co. until December 29, 1931, at which time they were purchased by that company and since which time all the property operated by that company is owned by it, except the tracks of the Baltimore and Ohio R. R. between Jackson and Bloom Jct., Ohio, 23.4 miles.


The D. T. & I. Railroad also purchased the telegraph line along its railroad from the Western Union Telegraph Company on June 15, 1923, after which the line was rebuilt with copper wires, and telephone train dispatching and telephone message communication were placed in service. In June, 1929, the securities of the Detroit, Toledo and Ironton R. R. Co. were purchased from Mr. Ford by the Penroad Corporation, but no change has been made in the corporation owning and operating the railroad, which as related in this history has already had quite a list of owners.