Myron T. Herrick

Cleveland's Forgotten Railroad Baron

Myron Timothy Herrick (1854-1929) is most often remembered as being raised as a farmer's son in Wellington, Ohio, a lawyer who became president of the Society for Savings bank in Cleveland, a Republican who was elected the 42nd Governor of the State of Ohio (1903-1905), and two-time appointee as ambassador to France (1912-1914, 1920-1929). What is not commonly known is how he used his legal and financial influence, along with other investors, to control and expand various railroads of Ohio and the nation.

Herrick was associated with several American financiers that invested in railroads and as a group were called the "Fuller Syndicate," organized by investor Edward Layton Fuller, president of the International Salt Company. Such syndicates were numerous in the United States and were composed of wealthy and influential individuals who combined financial resources for a common purpose during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Railroad land acquisition, construction, and operation was usually very expensive and many railroad companies had losses that exceeded income for a variety of reasons and eventually fell into receivership. One such railroad was the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad (W&LE), of which Herrick was appointed receiver in January 1897.  With a route of 278 miles extending between Toledo and Martins Ferry, Ohio, it was the first railroad that Herrick acquired for the group.

At that time Herrick knew almost nothing about the operation of a railroad. He found the W&LE property in extremely bad shape. It was encumbered with debt and had little or no financial standing. Herrick decided that it would require at least $1.5 million to put the road in even a fair condition. He applied to eastern financiers to obtain the funds required for the project, but such a high interest rate was demanded that Herrick decided to go elsewhere for the loan. Eventually the bonds were practically all placed in the west, and the improvements to the W&LE were soon under way. In eighteen months, Herrick credited himself with doubling the earnings of the railroad and reducing expenses by fifty percent even while initiating much-needed improvements totaling one million dollars,  which consisted of building new bridges, reducing grades, and improving the roadbed.

As a result of the W&LE reorganization, Herrick was also able to control and consolidate the assets of the Cleveland, Canton & Southern Railroad. From its downtown passenger depot in Cleveland, which was  located at the corner of Huron Road and Ontario Street, this acquisition added another 209.59 miles of track extending south to Zanesville, Ohio, with an eastern branch to Chagrin Falls. Once  again improvements were required and were soon underway, and as a result the combined properties achieved physical and financial stability. Myron Herrick's actions did not go unnoticed and soon other robber barons hoped to add the W&LE to their empires. The Vanderbilts, the Pennsylvania Railroad, and the Gould interests were all anxious to secure control. The Goulds finally won out, and the W&LE was destined to fulfill a dream as being part of the first coast to coast transcontinental system.

George Jay Gould, son of ruthless rail baron Jay Gould, controlled the Western Pacific, Denver & Rio Grande Western, and the Wabash Railroad. Herrick's Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad served Gould's desire to reach ever closer to the east coast, and also served steel magnate Andrew Carnegie's desire for another route to ship his steel west. Herrick acquired several smaller rail lines which linked the W&LE to Pittsburgh and created the Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway. In 1902, Herrick was instrumental in obtaining the Western Maryland Railroad, whose assets were controlled by the City of Baltimore, giving Gould his east coast terminal. The Western Maryland needed to be extended from Hagerstown through rugged country to Connellsville, Pennsylvania, to link the western lines to the east coast. In retaliation for Herrick's acquisition for Gould, the rival Pennsylvania Railroad demanded that Western Union Telegraph, in which Gould owned substantial stock, remove all of its telegraph lines and poles from the Pennsylvania Railroad rights of way, and also remove all telegraph operators and stations along the system.

In 1906, Herrick proposed construction of a new union station in Cleveland.  The station was to be located on land adjacent to Public Square and served by the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and the Erie Railroad. During that same year, the Western Maryland Railroad connection to Connellsville had only reached as far as Cumberland, Maryland, and the remaining line was postponed due to insufficient funds.  Unfortunately, these projects never materialized because of the financial uncertainties following the Panic of 1907. Visions of a coast-to-coast railroad were dashed when both the Western Maryland and Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal railroads fell into receivership in 1907, followed by the Wheeling & Lake Erie in 1908. Herrick returned as president of Society for Savings on May 1, 1908, and at the same time severed most of his connections with the railroad business. His last service to Cleveland railroads occurred in 1911, when on behalf of his son, Herrick went to New York to negotiate financing for the new Cleveland Union Terminal project envisioned by the Van Sweringen brothers. With its completion in 1930, the Cleveland Union Terminal finally gave the city its new train station that Myron T. Herrick had proposed 24 years earlier.

Images

Myron T. Herrick

Myron T. Herrick

Myron T. Herrick is well known for having served as U.S. Ambassador to France in 1912-1914 and again in 1920-1929. However, his important role in railroad development receives little notice. | Source: U.S. Department of State View File Details Page

Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad, 1901

Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad, 1901

This 1901 map showing the main line of the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad from Toledo to Martins Ferry, Ohio, and what was formerly the Cleveland, Canton and Southern Railroad from Cleveland to Zanesville, Ohio. The two lines crossed at Harmon, Ohio, and formed what came to be known as Ohio's "Iron Cross." The W&LE never actually reached Wheeling, West Virginia, on its own rails, as the main line ended at Martins Ferry, but it did reach Wheeling via the Wheeling Bridge & Terminal Company. | Source: Poor's Manual of Railroads, 1901 View File Details Page

Wabash Railroad, 1903

Wabash Railroad, 1903

This Wabash Railroad map shows the central region of the Gould empire in 1903 with the addition of Herrick's Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad. Also shown is the Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway under construction between Jewett, Ohio, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which was envisioned to provide Gould with a continuous link to the east coast and tidewater. | Source: Elgin Historical Society, Canada View File Details Page

W. & L. E. Locomotive No. 5112, 1905

W. & L. E. Locomotive No. 5112, 1905

The Wheeling & Lake Erie steam locomotive #5112, shown here in Massillon, Ohio, in 1905, was of a type that had a wheel configuration of 0-8-0, which was typical of locomotives available in the early 1900s. | Source: Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad Collection, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections View File Details Page

W. & L. E. Map, 1910

W. & L. E. Map, 1910

Revised 1910 map showing the Wheeling and Lake Erie mainlines in Ohio and the completed Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway extension. By 1908, the lines had fallen into receivership and eventually brought about the collapse of the Gould empire. Myron T. Herrick resumed his banking duties at Society for Savings and severed most of his ties with the railroads. | Source: W. & L. E. Employee Timetable #14, www.railsandtrails.com View File Details Page

W. & L. E. Depot, Ontario Street, 1923

W. & L. E. Depot, Ontario Street, 1923

The Wheeling and Lake Erie depot was located at 2260 Ontario Street in downtown Cleveland. This Tudor-style building was constructed as a "temporary" structure to replace the previous depot, which had been deemed unsafe. The depot was used from April 1, 1909, to January 25, 1929. | Source: Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad Collection, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections View File Details Page

W. & L. E. Depot, Lower Level, 1923

W. & L. E. Depot, Lower Level, 1923

This 1923 image shows the trackside view of the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad depot at the intersection of Ontario Street and Huron Road in downtown Cleveland. This depot would serve the city until 1929 when the property was required to be vacated for construction of the new Cleveland Union Terminal, which opened in 1930. | Source: Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad Collection, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections View File Details Page

Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway Bond

Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway Bond

Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway gold bond certificate issued to cover expenses of the construction of the extension between Jewett, Ohio and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania enabling Herrick and others of the Fuller-Gould syndicate to tap into the financial rewards promised by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

David Kachinko, “Myron T. Herrick,” Cleveland Historical, accessed May 29, 2017, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/679.
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