A Brief History of Lebanon's Railroads

By Kyle Montgomery

Few people today realize how hard Lebanon tried to get a railroad.

By the late 1870's Lebanon was stagnating economically. All the available farmland had been settled and no new major industry had located to the town for thirty years. Dirt roads and primitive turnpikes were both slow and the only transportation options in and out of town.

Lebanon, the seat of Warren County, was the last major town in the area not served by a railroad. Steam railroads were incredibly important to economic development in the late 1800's, and without one the citizens of Lebanon knew the town would remain backwards in comparison to her neighbours.

Efforts were made early on to get a railroad in Lebanon. The first railroad in Ohio, the Little Miami Railroad, ran to the east of town up the Little Miami River valley. When this line was originally surveyed it was planned to run up the Turtle Creek valley through Lebanon and on to Waynesville, but the steep grade required was too much for the early locomotives of the day.

In the 1840's numerous campaigns were made to get a branch built off of the Little Miami to Lebanon. However, the railroad company responded with little interest to the requests.

By the early 1850's the residents of Lebanon decided to take matters into their own hands and helped to charter the Cincinnati, Lebanon and Xenia Rail Road Company (CL&X). This company would make considerable progress grading a line from Waynesville through Lebanon to Mason.

A shortage of capital later caused construction to stall and in 1861 the CL&X went bankrupt before rails were even laid. After this failure the city leaders tried again to get a branch off the Little Miami.

Lebanon tried one more time to build a railroad in the 1870's. The Miami Valley Railway was charted in 1874 to use the old roadbed of the CL&X and run through Norwood to Cincinnati. The line was to be built as a 3-foot narrow gauge. At the time, narrow gauge railroads were thought to be cheaper to construct and operate than their standard gauge cousins.

The Miami Valley Railway would construct its line to Cincinnati through Blue Ash, Norwood, and down the Deer Creek Valley (close to the route of I-71 today). Outside investment from the Toledo, Delphos and Burlington narrow-gauge system helped the project to be completed. After a later reorganisation the railroad would come to be known as the Cincinnati, Lebanon & Northern Railway (CL&N) and it is under this name the line is most commonly known today.

The CL&N eventually earned the nickname "The Highland Route" because of its construction on the highlands between the Little and Great Miami Rivers. Most other competing lines were built in the river valleys and the CL&N was often the only line into Cincinnati or Dayton during floods.

In 1881 the first passenger train made the journey from Cincinnati to Lebanon. For many years some citizens would choose to commute to factories in Norwood and Cincinnati on the CL&N.

Some of the heavy industry that was promised with the railroad did come, although not to the same degree as surrounding industrial cities. The Oregonia Bridge company (later bought by Dave Steel) and the Elbinger Shoe Manufacturing Company were two of a handful of industries that would locate to Lebanon after the railroad's construction.

Many more merchants would benefit from reduced prices that the cheap transportation allowed. Lebanon no longer had to pay more for coal and other raw materials then surrounding towns.

In 1894 the line was made standard gauge and in 1896 the Pennsylvania Railroad gained a majority control. After this point the railroad would be operated as the CL&N branch of the Pennsylvania.

Two other railways were also bought by the Pennsylvania and made part of the CL&N system. The Dayton, Lebanon, and Cincinnati was constructed in early 1880's as a narrow gauge line connecting Lebanon through Centerville to other narrow gauge railways in Dayton. It assumed its current name when made standard gauge in 1891.

The Middletown and Cincinnati was a standard gauge line connecting Middletown to the Little Miami Railroad. It was purchased by the Pennsylvania in 1902. The Middletown and Cincinnati interchanged with the CL&N at Hageman Junction along US 42 in Union Township.

Passenger service on the CL&N ended in January 1934, shortly after Union Terminal opened and replaced the depot at Court Street in Cincinnati. With the Pennsylvania also owning the Little Miami Railroad, the line was no longer needed as a through route. A segment between Lebanon and Lytle was abandoned in 1952 and another segment between Mason and Blue Ash was abandoned in 1968. The steep line into Cincinnati was abandoned in the early 70's and only a few short miles now remain of the line that ran north to Dayton.

In the early 1980's the Indiana & Ohio shortline took over the remaining segments from Conrail (a Pennsylvania successor) and began to operate freight service as well as passenger excursions around Lebanon and Mason.

The city of Lebanon has since purchased the 4 miles of line from downtown to Hageman Junction. The city continues to contract through the Indiana & Ohio to provide freight shipping for interested businesses. It also leases the line to the Lebanon, Mason & Monroe (a successor of the Indiana & Ohio Passenger Corporation) for passenger excursions on the weekends.

Today, thousands of visitors a year ride on a roadbed first built in the 1850's. Few, however, have any idea how hard the town worked to finally get its railroad constructed.

For more information about the CL&N in Lebanon, visit my website Ohio Valley Railroads.

Special thanks to John W. Hauck's Narrow Gauge in Ohio for the information from which much of this article was written.

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Thomas Collins
The soldiers leave for World War I.
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State of Ohio
The railroads near Lebanon in 1914. Note the dashed lines representing the two electric interurbans that also provided passenger service to Lebanon.