Hillsdale County Railroads - Abridged
At age 18 Henry Waldron worked as a civil engineer, doing preliminary surveys for the Michigan Southern Railroad as it explored routes from Adrian to Marshall. When the route chosen ended at Hillsdale he settled in the area, determined to carve out a place for himself ... and to make his fortune. Hillsdale remained the terminus of the line from 1843 until 1849 and, along with Henry Waldon, experienced great prosperity.
At that time the railroad was the transportation of choice for both people and goods going long distances. It was dirty and uncomfortable for the human passengers in the early days, but far faster and more reliable than traveling by stagecoach, horse, or wagon. The problem, of course, was that it didn’t go everywhere. Other transport was required to get to Hillsdale or to reach the final destination from Hillsdale, and people needed a place to stay until a stage coach came through. Thus, the forwarding business was established.
Waldron and Charles T. Mitchell, who also settled in Hillsdale because of the great potential of the railroad, each erected one of the first warehouses where goods could be stored until wagons were available to move them to villages not on the rail line. Frank Gridley was also a forwarder. Waldon and Mitchell became respected and wealthy men, while Gridley ended up in the Kalamazoo Insane Asylum. Soon the railroad track was lined with warehouses and at least one tavern, complete with “ladies of the evening.” Grain headed for Toledo was brought by wagon from White Pigeon, LaGrange, Angola, Bryan, and Homer to Hillsdale. Often farmers in a double line stretching south up Howell Street waited to unload their wagons at the depot. The number of people needing a place to stay led to the Smith Hotel being built in 1874, at the corner of Howell and Bacon where the Western Hotel and stage coach stop originally stood. The Keefer House Hotel was built in 1885. They joined The Mosher House Hotel, which was conveniently located close to the depot. (It stood where we now have a city parking lot on the corner of Carleton and Howell, next to The Great Wall restaurant.)
In 1846-47 the Michigan Southern was sold by the state. The buyers got a superb deal because of the state’s indebtedness, paying only $.42 on the dollar! Elisha C. Litchfield bought 1000 shares, Chauncey W. Ferris and Charles T. Mitchell bought 200 apiece and Henry Waldron bought 120 shares. John P. Cook and Ferris had come to Jonesville in 1834 at age 22 and quickly established themselves as merchants and landowners - ambitious men headed for leadership in the community. These four men, in their early to mid-30’s at the time, had the foresight (and “chutzpah”) to gamble on the direction of the future. Because of the willingness of Waldron, Mitchell, Litchfield, and Ferris to take a chance on many ventures, they prospered in their new communities.
Another railroad, the Detroit, Hillsdale, and Indiana (whose president was Henry Waldron) approached Hillsdale from east of Wolcott Street. Today, visitors to Lewis Emery Park on State Street can see the high ridge at the back of the park where the railroad bed originally stood. When Detroit, Hillsdale, and Indiana trains reached the Southern Michigan track (which followed the current Baw Beese Trail on St. Joe Street) they mounted a trestle to pass over the Southern Michigan track. The trestle ran along the north end of the Fairgrounds and over Broad Street, reaching ground level again at the corner of Sharp and Budlong Streets, where the depot was located. The trestle almost proved fatal for an employee of the Forepaugh Circus who was riding on top of a circus wagon on a Saturday night as it passed under the trestle on Broad Street. He narrowly escaped decapitation and was seriously injured. The rails continued west - safely on the ground - through the area where the Hillsdale County Health Center now stands, then finally reached Bankers, where a turntable, depot and freight house stood.
The establishment of a railway company seemed to be the mid-1800‘s equivalent of the 1990‘s “dot-com” rush. Some of the entrepreneurs grew wealthy and others were bankrupted. But the public benefited. Three railroads passing through Hillsdale consolidated with the new name of The Lake Shore and Michigan Southern, and the people in Hillsdale County enjoyed the luxury of traveling to Baw Beese Lake for the day.
It’s pretty hard to imagine, in our hectic, multitasking lives, that the railroad once represented the ultimate in speed and convenience. However, the importance of the railway coming through the county lies in what it meant to population growth and prosperity. We exist in large part because in 1843 a fateful choice of routes surveyed by Henry Waldron brought the railroad our way.
JoAnne P. Miller
Along the Railroad
The Hillsdale Roundhouse was located on Railroad Street (now Carleton Road). Behind the building, to the left, one can see the Freed Brothers Flour Mill.
Ordinances were passed to discourage "minors and idle persons" from playing or being on the railroad grounds, but did not eliminate accidents from happening. In 1919 eight-year-old Archie Globensky was found drowned in a cinder pit next to the roundhouse.
Hillsdale Fruit and Produce (plus beer and wine distributorship), owned and operated by the Cascarelli family, occupied the east end of the Street Department building on Railroad Street (now Carleton Street). The Hillsdale Grocery Co., which fronted Hillsdale Street, can be seen in the background.
The Corlett Lumber Yard fire, which also destroyed the Globensky Cooperage, the Ellis & Chapple Coal Yard and Aldrich & Co. caught the attention of many on a hot Sunday afternoon in June of 1913. The fire burned so hot it warped the railroad tracks.
The 1924 New York Central train derailment on the tracks next to Baw Beese Lake resulted in the death of the fireman, L.W. Dietsche.
Carol A. Lackey