125 years of Railroad History
The Ada Herald celebrates the 125 anniversary of the Railroad Depot with a look back at its history
Thursday, December 06, 2012 5:13 AM
ADA - Fortunate is the town in which a railroad runs through. Settlers in the 1830's found the rich land of the Hog Creek marsh profitable for farming and cultivating. But it wasn't until 1852, when S.M. Johnson set up a sawmill and contracted with Ohio & Indiana Railroad to provide oak "mudsills" from the plentiful wooded land, that the village of Johnstown/Ada flourished.
Originally a small frame-built depot was used to accommodate freight. With the arrival of the first passenger train in 1854, the building's function expanded to service passengers, as well as, a telegraph office and even a hotel and activity center. In 1871, upon his return from the Civil War, Henry Lehr came to Ada and subsequently founded The Ada Normal School/Ohio Northern University. The small depot could no longer manage the rapid growth in traffic.
The Pennsylvania Railroad bought the tracks going through Ada in 1869, and was finally convinced of the need for a larger depot in 1887. It was originally designed to be a standard depot like many in other small towns, but the plans were changed. Instead, a beautiful, two-story "Stick Style" depot, with the telegraph office on the upper floor, was built. Stick Style architecture is recognized by its relatively simple layout, yet incorporates highly stylized accents including trusses, gables and decorative shingles, as well as bold panelled brick chimneys, wrap-around porches, spindle detailing, and panelled sectioning of blank wall. Our Ada Depot is one of the few surviving 19th century Pennsylvania Railroad passenger stations in Ohio!
The Ada Depot saw much activity in its prime. In 1900, a second rail was laid and by 1904, 1300 freight trains & 555 passenger trains were recorded going through Ada in one year's time. Nearby, a speed record was set of over 126 miles per hour. With so many trains at such high rates of speed, public safety regulations were demanded and a watchman's tower was erected in 1905 to control pneumatic crossing gates on Main Street.
The most notable recorded activity was the arrival of United States President William Henry Taft in 1910. President Taft was received at the Ada Depot, paraded through downtown Ada, and presented the commencement address for graduates of Ohio Northern University.
With the increase in automobiles and the expansion of more railway systems, the activity at the depot eventually waned. The Ada High School Class of 1958 was the last to begin the senior train trip to Washington D.C. at the depot. Later that year, the depot ceased operations and the Village of Ada purchased the building and grounds.
In the 1950's, the original old depot was torn down, located approximately where Keith's Hardware is now. The watchman's tower was removed and replaced by electric crossing gates in 1960. But the village has continued to maintain the Ada Depot and the adjacent Railroad Park. A PRR red caboose found a permanent site next to the Depot in 1994 and soon after, in 1998, the Depot found it's way into the National Register of Historic Places. After over 100 years of wear, the Depot underwent extensive detailed renovation in 2002 and is now celebrating its 125th Anniversary. Truly an Ada Treasure!
The Ada Depot is the center of many village activities including the Farmer's Market, Lincoln Highway Buy-Way map hub, and most recently Music on Main Street. The Ada Depot can also be rented out for private events by calling the Ada Police Department at 419-634-0010.
Much of the history of the Ada Depot was gathered from History of the Ada Community, by Agnew Welsh, Ada Community Centennial Program, and the Ada Sesquicentennial Memory Book, available at the Ada Public Library.