SALEM, Ohio – Thirty-three miles of hand-laid railroad track and the Stark Electric Railway cars that raced on it between Canton and Salem built the foundation for life as we know it in Stark and Columbiana counties.
Locals can learn more about the history of the railway from a traveling exhibit.
After it leaves the Salem Historical Society in late May, it travels to Sebring, Canton, Louisville, Beloit and Alliance. Additional stops may be added.
The exhibit includes original photos, mementos and memoirs of riding the railway written by local residents.
Interurbans. In the early 1900s, most cities with a population of 10,000 or more had an interurban streetcar service, according to the historical society exhibit. The cars were powered by overhead electric lines.
Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, New York and Wisconsin had half the nation’s electric traction miles. Ohio alone had 3,000 miles of the railways.
History. The Stark interurban railroad linked Canton and Massillon with Louisville, Alliance, Sebring, Damascus, Beloit and Salem from 1902 to 1938.
Construction began on the railway in 1900 between Alliance and Canton.
According to historic documents, service opened May 1, 1903. The trip between Alliance and Canton was scheduled to take about 40 minutes. Fares were 35 cents.
When the Canton-Alliance line opened, passengers had access to Akron, New Philadelphia, Dover, Cleveland, Navarre and northern Ohio, according to historical society documents.
As builders put down track, service expanded eastward from Alliance. The first streetcar came to Beloit Jan. 11, 1904.
The railway ran south of the railroad track between present day Park and Fairview streets.
Going east. In 1904, the railway connected through Damascus, where the village built the biggest depot on the entire rail line. The brick building still stands along U.S. Route 62.
The railway expanded to Salem Aug. 19, 1904.
Exhibit information says the “much-anticipated streetcar line was a great economic benefit to the city of Salem. Property values significantly increased and merchants experienced a period of economic growth.
” . . . Passengers typically used the streetcar because it provided an inexpensive day trip to neighboring attractions” such as Lake Park in Alliance and the country club west of town.
The Stark Electric Railway had its biggest day Sept. 30, 1907, when it transported about half of the population of eastern Stark County into Canton for the dedication of the McKinley Memorial in Monument Park.
The railway’s assets were sold at auction in June 1939 for $70,100.
The Stark Electric Railway made its last trip between Canton and Salem July 16, 1939, and was replaced by motor buses.
Changing lives. The interurban railways affected life in the towns they connected. Locals often looked forward to the coming of the railway because it meant they would have electrical services for their homes and businesses, too.
The railways also expanded mail service and special deliveries.
Several interurbans also led to the creation of amusement parks and country clubs.
Exhibit coordinator Bill Robinson says Canton’s Palace Theater scheduled its shows around the railway’s timetable to draw locals to their shows.
“Today history doesn’t talk about the impact of the streetcar. I don’t think people really understand its impact on communities,” Robinson says.
“Family visits were now weekly instead of once a year. The cars brought fresh produce and milk to towns. And it had to be big deal to finally get electricity,” he said.
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The Stark Electric Railway exhibit highlights the line that connected the cities of Canton, Louisville, Alliance, Salem and Sebring from 1900-1939.
The exhibit features an important time in transportation history, touching on the impact the railway had on communities along the route.
Items and artifacts included in the exhibit include: