COLUMNS

Aurora's historic train station district

JOHN KUDLEY JR. Aurora Historical Society
The depot can be seen on the right edge of this photo of the Aurora Station District. Treat's store and lumber and coal yards can be seen across the tracks from the depot. Hurd's store is across the winding East Garfield Rd.

The roar of steam engines, the sound of clanking farm wagons and the chatter of villagers filled the air daily. Aurora Station Depot was the industrial and commercial area of Aurora from the 1850s through the first two decades of the 1900s. The impetus to the early industrial and commercial success of the Station District was the construction of the Cleveland and Mahoning Railroad.

Chartered in 1848, the first tracks were laid through Aurora beginning in 1850 with the completion of the line in 1856. It was during this period of time that the town saw a temporary boom in its population of Irish, German, and Italian railroad workers.

Their greatest construction project was that of the wooden trestle that crossed the Aurora branch of the Chagrin River. To maintain the flow of the river a large culvert was built under the trestle which was then filled to the track level with earth and stone. The original trestle and culvert were washed away in the 1913 flood and replaced with the current culvert which lies at the bottom of what was the first fairway of the Aurora Country Club.

Some of the immigrant workers established residence in Aurora after the completion of the railroad line.

This industrial area was initially named “Howardville” prior to becoming known as Aurora Station. Local residents also referred to the area as “Slab City” because of the waste slabs of lumber stacked in the valley by the nearby mill operated by Eliskim Baldwin.

The commercial focal points of the district were Frank Treat’s and A.B. Hurd’s stores.

Treat’s store was located across the tracks from the station which over the years has been known as the Bowen Bloc and later the site of Brownie’s store and Ric’s Pharmacy. The store was originally the site of a frame house built by George Crooks. When the Erie Railroad tracks were laid his lot was split diagonally across placing the house too close to the tracks making dangerous to occupy.

The house was purchased by Ebenezer Sheldon, Jr. and Henry Searles who converted it into a store. In 1861 the store was sold to William Russell and Frank Treat. They enlarged the store and expanded their business by adding a dry goods department. They sold everything from “pins to a mowing machine.”

In 1898 after a fire destroyed the store, Treat bought out Russell and erected a “beautiful large brick store.” Next to his store Treat operated a lumber and coal yard on the lot where Aurora Automotive is now located. Treat also operated a feed elevator adjacent to the railroad tracks.

Across the street was the A.B. Hurd’s store, later the home of Bradley’s Furniture, then Suburban Window, and now occupied by the Mason Jar restaurant.

The station depot (third of three stations on the site), now the site of Demming Financial Services, was the life line to markets across the nation and worldwide. The station was built in 1904 replacing the1870 station which was destroyed by fire caused by a lightning strike. The original 1850’s station was also destroyed by a fire.

In 1884, 7,695 gallons of milk, 3,550 pounds of homemade butter, 86,900 pounds of factory and creamery butter, and 533,300 pounds of cheese was shipped from Aurora.

The station continued to serve commuters to and from Cleveland up to the 1960’s when Conrail acquired the line and building. After the elimination of the commuter service, the station fell into disrepair. Conrail tried to demolish the building in 1982, but Aurora was able to halt the destruction. Through public and private pressures the structure and site were split from the railroad’s right-of-way and turned over to private ownership.

The Station District was also the site of Isaac Lacey’s wood shop that crafted bedsteads, bureaus, cribs and cradles. He also had a shop where he made and repaired shoes and boots.

Near factory bridge a carding and cloth mill was operated by Solon and Samuel Elder. Violins were made by Joseph Skinner. The district was also the site of the short lived Aurora Iron Co. Si Simpkins made wagons and carriages. The Preston brothers, John, James and George handcrafted cabinets and chairs. An ashery built by Ezra Gilbert made potash using the burned ashes from the excess lumber of the nearby mills.

Cheese factories and curing houses were scattered up and down the river valley. Seth Plum operated his blacksmith shop. Aurora’s first telephone exchange was operated by Bessie Hickox in her house adjacent to Hurd’s store.

During its existence the Train Station District has been the site of several tragic events.

Thirty valuable Holstein cows belonging to Amos Spencer of Mantua were being driven from Mantua to Aurora the morning of July 15, 1915, when they were struck by the “10 o’clock flyer.

While the train managed to stay on the tracks, seven of Spencer’s Holsteins were killed.

In the early 1900s tragically, an unidentified man, who was described as an individual of “foreign descent” wearing work clothes, and being “down and out, unable to find work,” committed suicide by throwing himself in front of an Erie passenger train.

Aurora Station was also the site of an amusing incident which the community called “horse sense.”

A local farmer had driven his team of horses to the station to pick up a load of merchandise. Apparently the man was attending to business inside Treat’s store longer than what the horses wanted. Growing impatient and tired of waiting, the team started for home.

Travelling up Gould’s Hill and getting as far as George Eggleston’s farm the horses may have had feelings of guilt. The team turned around and headed back to the station where they met their owner who had set off to retrieve them.

Unfortunately the demise of the Aurora Station area as the center of Aurora’s industrial and commercial activity was hasten by the 1913 Flood which washed away most of the businesses that operated along the Aurora branch of the Chagrin River. The trains carrying milk, cheese and passengers no longer stop at the depot.

East Garfield is no longer a dirt road that twists and turns. New businesses now operate in the historic shadows of Aurora’s early merchants and craftsman.

Kudley is president of the Aurora Historical Society.

The Aurora Station Depot circa 1920. The existing station is the third, as the two previous depots were destroyed by fire.