–by Gayleen Gindy
This article is about a structure in Sylvania that is 152 years old, but nobody has ever lived in it. It’s a bridge! This bridge has been carrying trains over the Ten Mile Creek in Sylvania since 1869. In the winter, when all the leaves are off the trees, the bridge can be seen from South Main Street, just south of Sautter’s Market. However, once spring sets in it is totally hidden.
This bridge is located on what started out as a 33-mile stretch of track that ran between Toledo and Adrian, Mich. It was built by the Erie & Kalamazoo Railroad Company and finished during Sylvania’s infancy in 1837. Sylvania was able to boast at that time that it had the first railroad operating west of the Allegheny Mountains. A very early “well-known” Sylvanian named Clarissa (Dodge) Harroun rode on the first train that traveled this route in 1837. Her family’s property on Harroun Road is where Flower Hospital sits today.
History tells us that originally the Erie & Kalamazoo Railroad Company built a wood trestle bridge to carry their trains over this section of the Ten Mile Creek. Then in 1869, after several ownership transfers and mergers, the Lake Shore & Southern Michigan Railroad Company took ownership of this railroad route. That same year they removed the original wooden bridge and replaced it with this massive cut limestone arch bridge.
The owners of this bridge are recorded as follows since it was constructed:
- 1869 to 1914 – Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad
- 1914 to 1968 – New York Central Railroad
- 1968 to 1976 – Penn-Central Railroad
- 1976 to 2000 – Consolidated Rail (Conrail)
- 2000 to 2021 – Pennsylvania Lines LLC
In 1899, when John Sampsey started publishing The Sylvania Sun newspaper in Sylvania, he used a drawing of this bridge with the sun shining from the west through the arch of the bridge as the masthead for his weekly newspaper.
As seen in the earlier photos, there was plenty of open space on either side of the creek, and the creek water spanned a much larger area. That was because there was a dam built just west of South Main Street, as seen in the 1920 photo. After the dam was removed the creek narrowed over the years. Now trees, growth and buildings have creeped in so that this bridge can no longer be seen, and most new residents don’t even know it is there.
An Ohio Historic Inventory sheet completed in 1986 by P. Croninger for the University of Toledo recorded the overall length of the bridge to be 50 feet long, the width was recorded as 25 feet wide, and the height as 27 feet. It then documented that the bridge lies approximately 250 feet upstream from the South Main Street bridge. At that time the condition of the bridge was listed as “good.” It was noted that, “The bridge significantly ties in with Ohio’s earliest railroad history and facilitated the settling of the west.”
The trains don’t travel through Sylvania as much as they did in the earlier years when it was used for freight and passenger train service, but they still rely on the strength of this bridge to help get them through Sylvania. It was in 1956 that the New York Central Railroad Company announced they would no longer provide passenger service on this train route and transferred to freight service only.