[Ed. Note: Hicksville in the mid-1800’s was a town on the move, but following the collapse of nearby canals, its citizens needed a railroad line to support the growth of businesses and allow easier access to and from the city. Historian James R. Battershell, Jr. compiled this information in his Hicksville Centennial book (copyright © 1975). His account is excerpted for this site with permission.]
As early as 1836 the community had tried to get a railroad through town. With $100,000 capital for the five year project, it was a line to have run between Brunersburg (near Defiance) and Hicksville, and onto the Indiana State Line. This area was much too wild for this to ever materialize. The second project (1851–52), the Junction railroad company’s proposal of a line between Toledo and the Indiana line, collapsed due to a lack of cooperation with other railroads and was sold. With that line eventually going through Antwerp and the Air Line system put through Bryan and Edgerton, it was felt Hicksville would never get train service. A. P. Edgerton was so convinced, he moved to Fort Wayne in 1857.
With the coming of the 1870’s, a railroad line was to be built through Defiance County. It would however miss our town, and was to travel through Newville, Indiana. The citizens of Hicksville met and wondered what could be done. Still a leader of our community, A. P. Edgerton acted as spokesman. He reportedly told John Bunnel, his farmer and workman, “Go home and curry up my best riding horse at once. I’m starting for Baltimore, Maryland to see what I can do.”
A. P. offered them a proposition they could not refuse! He told the railroad board, “If you will deflect the proposed route ten degrees to the southwest, and go through a town called Hicksville, I will give you the land right of way through Defiance County.” The board agreed. Had they not, it is left to our imagination as to how much larger our community would have grown.
On March 13, 1872, the B & O, Pittsburg and Chicago Railroad Company filed its certificate of organization at Columbus. By June 10, 1874, 878 miles of track had been laid from Pennsylvania to Defiance. Finally on August 13, 1874, at 1:35 p.m., a train went through Hicksville at twenty miles an hour, whistling all the while.
George Patterson noted the railroad to be a constant source of joy and wonder as people awaited the scheduled trains. Groups of citizens took walks along the tracks on Sunday afternoons, picnicking along the right of way in good weather. The flattened “railroad” penny souvenir became all the rage. President Hayes smashed at least 100 on his 1876 campaign trip through town. Groups of girls met evening and afternoon trains, the train personnel becoming their heroes. One young and ardent suitor of Carrie Ainsworth even jumped off a fast track train when he saw her waving from her front door and broke his leg. Jumping slower freight trains headed to the Scipio Bridge earned continual stern admonitions for obvious reasons.
The railroad brought its share of tragedies. Several people were killed by accidents. Mrs. Bungard was run down by a fast line train in the early 1880’s. On a hot quiet afternoon in 1879, a fast line was derailed near Elm and East Cornelia Streets, seriously injuring 121 people and killing 19. Amid a sea of gapers and onlookers, Hannah Simpson, the mother of Mrs. Lillie Pettit, saw the need of those moaning, bleeding, and dying alongside the overturned coaches. Conventions of the day demanded women wear three amply gathered petticoats. Mrs. Simpson rushed in, removed her first petticoat and tore it into strips for bandages to the wonder of everyone. When that was gone, the second one came off right before the eyes of the male population too!! And wonder of wonders, she tore off the sacred third one for the need of bandages, all in an age when the feminine ankle was never seen, but only on rainy days.
[Ed. Postscript: For safety purposes, the track was elevated, and as many as twelve trains a day came through town with special coaches set up to transport fairgoers or for the Hart’s Girl Band. With the passenger and freight depots both demolished by workers in the twentieth century, Hicksville found itself once again without train service. But by this time, other forms of transportation could fill the void.]
B & O Railroad Section Gang (ca. 1921)
This group of men was responsible for raising the level of the tracks two feet, at the highest point from Rosedale to the St. Joe crossing. This task was accomplished by manually tamping stone beneath the ties, raising the tracks no more than two inches at a time. Pictured are (left to right) front row: Harold Mohr, Reginald Moore, unknown, Charles Rhoades, Charlie Jonesback. Second row: Ned Gessner, James Panico, Marvin Cole, Ambrose Kenner, Ward Bell, Milo Miller, Charles Jones. Back row: Edward Potter, John Higgenbottom, Roscoe Etchen, John Stauffer, Walter Hootman. From the History of Defiance County Ohio Illustrated 1976.
Cincinnati Northern R. R. Special Train Service
DEFIANCE COUNTY FAIR AT HICKSVILLE, O — Thursday, September 23.
From VAN WERT and Intermediate Stations to Sherwood:
Lv. Van Wert
RETURNING, Special train will leave Hicksville 7:00 pm, Sherwood 8:45 pm, running through Van Wert, Same date, September 23, making all stops.
Passengers will Change Cars at Sherwood In Both Directions
Don’t miss the Fair. BIGGER AND BETTER THAN EVER.
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