Railroad & Industry:
The summer of 1837 forever changed Logan County, especially Bellefontaine. In July of that year the Mad River & Lake Erie Railroad Company completed the first railroad in Bellefontaine. This marked the beginning of a long and prosperous relationship between the railroad and Logan County. Over the next hundred plus years Bellefontaine and several other county villages became more and more dependent on the railroad, while the railroad companies increasingly used Bellefontaine and these villages as integral points on their lines.
Bellefontaine benefited from the rapid growth of railroads in the United States after the Civil War. Several companies built or used the growing number of tracks in the area. Trains from the West carried raw materials and food products to the East, while trains from the East transported finished goods westward. The South and North shared a similar relationship. From all directions freight trains stopped in Logan County to load up its contributions to the American economy and food supply.
Bellefontaine truly became a major railroad town in the 1890s when the Big Four Railroad Company (Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, & St. Louis) made it one of their main terminals. Bellefontaine served many important functions as a terminal. The Big Four changed both crews and engines in Bellefontaine. Consequently, many railroad workers lived in Bellefontaine or stayed in the boarding houses and hotels that specifically catered to them. The influx of these transitory workers and their many needs greatly enhanced the economy of the town. Although improved steam engines and newer diesel engines lessened the need to change engines, Bellefontaine continued to be a stop for trains to shift crews. Bellefontaine also became a major service and repair center for the Big Four. The company built its largest roundhouse between New York and St. Louis in Bellefontaine. The roundhouse was used as a place for workers to repair and change engines. The roundhouse and surrounding area included a coal dock, car shops, communication stations (telegraph and later
telephone), and the division headquarters of the Big Four.
By 1904, one in four people employed in Logan County worked for the railroad. A similar ratio worked for the boarding houses, restaurants, stores and other related businesses that served the railroad and its crews. Thus it would be hard to exaggerate the importance of the railroad to the economy and livelihood of this county. The dominance as an employer and economic source continued through the 1950s with the New York Central system, formerly the Big Four, as the largest railroad company in Bellefontaine.
The railroad brought more than just jobs to Logan County-it brought people. Hundreds of men came to Bellefontaine to work at the roundhouse and other jobs dealing with the railroad. Many of these men and their families settled in the area. This increased the county's population greatly.
Thousands of the other people came through Bellefontaine and the county on numerous passenger trains. Several interurban railroads, which connected major cities in Ohio and the Midwest, also brought people to the area. However, these electric powered trains could not keep up with the competition from the automobile. The last interurban passenger train came through Bellefontaine in November of 1937. The New York Central's passenger trains held out longer with limited runs up until 1971. But ultimately the car, air travel and the federally supported AMTRAK passenger train proved to be too much competition for the New York Central Railway.
The railroad changed the society and culture of Logan County. Trains brought people from all over the U.S. into the county. It also brought news from the state, country and world. Many people from the county gathered at the various train depots to see all of the passengers and to
hear the news.
Bellefontaine reached its peak as a railroad town in the 1940s and 1950s. However, its days as a railroad town would slowly come to an end. The arrival of the more efficient diesel engines in the late 1950s and early 1960s lessened the importance of the roundhouse. This new type of engine, the emergence of newer means of personal travel and semi-truck freight transport greatly decreased railroad traffic through Bellefontaine. The roundhouse closed its doors in 1980 and on May 18,1983, Conrail, the latest in a long line of railroad companies, moved its terminal from Bellefontaine to Crestview, Ohio. This ended crew changes in Bellefontaine and its importance as a railroad town.
Logan County had many important industries besides the railroad in the late 19th and the 20th century. The A.J. Miller Company began in 1853 by making horse carriages and then started making cars in the early part of this century. However, they could not compete with the larger car makers so they specialized in hearses and ambulances. Over the years the Miller hearses became known and used throughout the world. They moved from Bellefontaine in 1960 and combined with the Meteor Company in Piqua, Ohio. The company then became known as Miller-Meteor.
Many other industries made Logan County their home. Some of these included Westinghouse, Rockwell International, Merchants Industries and Superfoods Inc. Two of the more recent employers in the area are the Transportation Research Center (TRC) and Honda of America. TRC was built near East Liberty in 1966. It is one of the world's largest test centers for all forms of transportation. Honda bought TRC in the mid-1980s. Honda of America built a large plant between Bellefontaine and Marysville in Union County in 1979. Over the last twenty years the main plant and its numerous supply and satellite companies have become one of the area's largest employers.
Despite all of these different industries and businesses in Logan County over the years, agriculture still remains as a principal part of the county’s economy and culture.