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.