The Coming of the Railroads

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The building of the railroads meant rapid development of the towns and country through which they passed. Previous to the construction of the Canada Southern Railroad through this part of the country, Morpeth had a much larger population than Ridgetown, it being situated near the lake port and on Talbot Street, now No. 3 Highway.

The first survey for the railroad was made a quarter of a mile south of Talbot Street. The farmers of the district, who were not anxious to have their farms cut by a railroad, were greatly relieved when this survey proved too difficult owing to the number of ravines that would have to be bridged.

The second survey was made a little south of concession twelve in Howard Township but this was abandoned for a third survey north of the village of Ridgetown. The road was constructed in 1872, thus Ridgetown, connected with the outside world, began to grow rapidly while Morpeth declined. The Canada Southern Railroad later became the New York Central road, which still serves this southern district.

The Pere Marquette Railroad was named after Father Marquette, a famous missionary explorer of the 17th century. According to tradition when Marquette lay dying alongside a small stream in western Michigan in 1675 he directed his companions as to where they should bury him and to ring a bell and plant a cross over his grave. What more fitting memorial could there be to the memory of this heroic Jesuit then the ringing of many locomotive bells on the railway bearing his name.

In 1903 the Pere Marquette Railroad wished to share in the huge trade which was developing between the Middle West and the Eastern Seaboard. The Lake Erie and Detroit River Railway from Walkerville to St. Thomas was accordingly purchased from its owners, the Walkers of distilling fame, and running rights over the Michigan Central road (now the New York Central) east of St. Thomas to the Niagara frontier. At the same time the Pere Marquette purchased the capital stock of a second Walker-owned railway, the Erie and Huron Connecting Sarnia and Erieau. The agreement also included a previously arranged lease of the London-Port Stanley line expiring in 1914 until which time the Pere Marquette ran trains to and from London. In so doing the Pere Marquette fell heir to a car ferry service and shipment of American coal across Lake Erie to Port Stanley. Subsequently it initiated the present business of importing through Erieau American coal so vital to Southern Ontario consumers.

In the years preceding the advent of the motor car there was heavy passenger traffic on this railroad. The line was very popular for excursions and also special weekend rates brought many shoppers and visitors to Windsor and Detroit. At present not a single passenger train connects St. Thomas and Windsor on this road. The motor age has taken over this service.

In June 1947 the properties and franchises of the Pere Marquette Railway Co. were merged with the properties and franchises of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Co. and the combined properties will be operated as the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Co. For operating purposes the Pere Marquette properties will be know as the Pere Marquette District of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Co. Thus this important railway system connects the Lakes Michigan-Huron-Erie area with the Atlantic coast at Newport News, Virginia.

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Transcribed from the records of Mrs. Geo. S. Brien, Rural Ridgetown Women's Institute.
2004-10-29