The Alphabet Route

Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway



   The earliest W&LE predecessor was the Carroll County Rail Road which was founded on March 9, 1850. This was a 10 mile long horse-car line located just east of Canton, OH. The W&LE was established on April 6, 1871, and was first built as a 3 ft narrow gauge line between Norwalk, OH, and Huron, OH. Service began on the new line on May 31, 1877, but was ended within 2 years for finanacial reasons.

Jay Gould Era

   Railroad Financier Jay Gould invested in the W&LE in 1880 as he saw the need to move coal and ore from the Wheeling, WV, area to the Lake Erie port cities, especially Cleveland, OH. He converted the line to standard gauge, and built north to reach Cleveland by 1881 (the same year that the Nickel Plate was built). Service to Massillon, OH was opened on January 9, 1882. New docks on Lake Erie and Lake Huron opened May 21, 1884 when the first shipment of ore was received. In 1880, another narrow gauge line, the Connotton Valley Railway, was formed, building from Canton to Cleveland. It also built south to reach Coshocton in 1883. On Novemeber 18, 1888, it was converted, in one day, to standard gauge, and renamed the Cleveland, Canton, & Southern Railroad. The W&LE purchased the CC&S on August 5, 1899, at a foreclosure sale and made it the "Cleveland Division". Also in 1899, the W&LE took control of the Cleveland Belt & Terminal Railroad Company and the Zanesville Belt & Terminal Railway Co.

Early 1900's

   In 1901, the Adena Railroad bought the Bellaire & Valley Junction Railway, a proposed 20 mile line extending from Adena, OH, south to Neff, OH. The W&LE, through the Adena Railroad, completed this line and placed it in operation on February 1, 1903. This line was operated by the W&LE using W&LE equipment. In 1907, the Lorain & West Virgina built north from Wellington, OH, to Lorain, OH. The L&WV only owned a single steam locomotive, but operated as part of the W&LE system. The L&WV provided a vital link to Lorain's steel industry. In 1910, the W&LE built a state-of-the-art shop and locomotive facility in Brewster, OH. This extensive facility could repair 50 cars under roof and 50 more outdoors. It had a storage yard for 1000 cars. In later years, the Brewster shop became the main heavy diesel repair shop for the Nickel Plate. In 1913, the W&LE moved its main offices to Brewster, OH. The W&LE entered a contract with the Big Four Railroad in 1913 which gave the W&LE trackage rights from Wellington to Cleveland, shortening the route between these two cities. This contract lasted through the NKP years.


   At its peak, the W&LE never left Ohio's borders, but ran from a connection in the Pittsburgh area with the Pittsburgh & West Virginia Railway to Lake Erie at Huron and Toledo. It also ran from Cleveland to Zanesville, with the lines crossing at Harmon (just east of Brewster). The two busy lines which crossed were the reason behind the W&LE's "The Iron Cross" nickname. The W&LE's other nickname was the "Wailing and Leg Weary" mostly due to early financial troubles. Ironically, the W&LE never reached Wheeling, WV, but did have an indirect connection via a subsidiary, the Wheeling Bridge and Terminal Company. The W&LE had the largest percentage of articulated steam locomotives (2-6-6-2's) east of the Mississippi River, comprising over 20% of the entire steam roster. On December 1, 1949, the Nickel Plate leased the W&LE for 99 years. This gave the NKP direct access to many coal fields, and its first Great Lake port. In 1964, the NKP merged with the Norfolk & Western Railway. In 1982, N&W merged with the Southern Railway to form Norfolk Southern. The W&LE was dissolved as a legal entity in 1989, paving the way for a new W&LE to be formed in 1990 when NS sold portions of their lines in Ohio and Pennsylvania. This became the modern Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway (a regional railroad).