THE CINCINNATI & COLUMBUS TRACTION CO.
By David McNeil
Just as the narrow gauge railroad construction fever of the 1870’s brought two steam railroads to Clermont County(the Cincinnati & Eastern to Batavia and beyond and the Cincinnati, Georgetown & Portsmouth to Bethel and beyond) the electric interurban construction fever brought two more railroads. The electric motor was perfected in the 1880’s and cities rapidly replaced horse cars for transportation with electric street cars, as Cincinnati changed between 1888 to 1892. Then when city councils and county commissioners gave permission to build car lines on or along side the dirt roads, the franchise frenzy took off.
Five companies competed for the use of the bridge at Milford in order to enter Clermont County. William C. Compton, owner of Wooster Pike, wanted a line on his road from Red Bank (Cincinnati) to Milford to Goshen. W.W. Roudebush, the owner of the Cincinnati & Fayetteville RR (which was never built) wanted a line from Milford to Newtonsville to Hillsboro. B. H. Kroger, the grocery magnate, proposed a line from Cincinnati to Milford to Loveland. Judge Peter Swing and his sons Richard and Philip, lawyers, with Henry Burkhold, a bank official, wanted a line from Madisonville to Milford to get into the action.
Burkhold and the Swings organized the Cincinnati & Columbus Traction Company in 1901 and planned to follow the Chillicothe Pike (US 50) to Hillsboro. Since they were the first to pay to use the bridge they got the permission from the County Commissioners but financial problems delayed them. With three Swings as officers or directors, their line was known as the Swing Line. Kroger, Compton, Wilson and Roudebush joined together and after arguments and legal maneuvering they also paid to use the bridge and were first to put tracks across it. Later, with a bank loan, the C&C finally got construction started but had to build its own bridge south of the county one.
In1905 rail was laid in Clermont County and a power plant was built at Perintown. The Traction Line served Boston (now Owensville), Monterey, Hartmans and Marathon. By using open gondola cars with benches a train could carry people to the county fair at Boston. In September 1905 the C&C got eight beautiful cars from the Jewett Car Co. of Newark, OH. Unfortunately, delay in bridge construction cut the line in two: Norwood to Milford and Milford to outside of Hillsboro. Finally, on April 10,1906, the interurban car ran all the way but the line did not enter Hillsboro to the Court House Square until July 27,1907.
Immediately the C&C began plans to build to Columbus either via Washington Court House to connect with a line proposed from there or to Chillicothe to connect with the Scioto Valley traction, but it never could afford to build either one, even though it secured funds to do so there were always other priorities for the money.
The Milford bridge built in 1905-6 was destroyed by a flood in 1907 and a second hand one from the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton RR was moved to Milford to replaced it.
The power plant at Perintown sold electric current to many towns along the route. Next to the power plant was a small park for recreation – Gravel Beach – to which people could go by way of the traction cars.
The C&C gained national fame from a United States Supreme Court decision in 1912. In an attempt to increase its meager freight business (milk to Madisonville, animals to stock yards at Hillsboro, sand and gravel from its pit at Terrace Park, coal, lumber, buggies and merchandise to local merchants), they tried to force interchange with the Baltimore & Ohio and the Norfolk & Western Railroads. The steam railroads claimed the C&C tracks and bridges were too flimsy for their heavy cars, curves on city streets at Madisonville and Hillsboro were too sharp and the Pennsylvania RR underpass at Milford was too low. Further the steam lines were not over the legal limit from customers in Clermont and Brown Counties. The court decided that although steam railroads must interchange with other steam ones, they did not have to do so with electric traction lines unless they were lateral or feeder lines with customers over five miles away and the C&C did not fit this classification. This decision in 1912 doomed more lines than just the C&C.
The flood of 1913 destroyed the bridge at Milford, causing the C&C to go into receivership. A bank loan enabled it to rebuild the bridge by 1914.
If the Rapid Transit loop in Cincinnati had been built it might have helped as its construction ended just at the Norwood terminal and it could have taken passengers to downtown Cincinnati but Cincinnati voters did not approve. The financial situation got worse and when the Chillicothe Pike was paved, autos and trucks took over the business, and with less money, maintenance was not done. Even though alcohol drinkers rode the traction cars from dry Milford and Hillsboro to more liberal places, that was not enough.
There were two serious collisions, one in 1907 just outside of Owensville and one in 1918 with fatalities on the hill south of Madeira. In 1918 coal was impossible to get regularly resulting in no power at times for both the railroad and the towns, and a deep snow in January blocked the line for two days.
In 1919 the Union Savings Bank and Trust Co. foreclosed and though there was hope the portion from Owensville to Norwood could continue to take workers there. Kroger’s Cincinnati, Milford & Blanchester was bankrupt also and talk to combine the two lines had too many problems and uncertainties. The Ohio Public Utilities Commission gave permission to abandon service. The last car ran on December 31, 1919. The power plant had to continue until April 1920, when the contract to supply power to Madeira expired and the Union Gas & Electric Co. took over all power lines and service to six towns.