Former Pennsylvania Railroad Train Depot in Ada OH


Ada Pennsylvania Station and Railroad Park, Ada Ohio
Date added: February 27, 2024 Categories: Ohio Train Station Passenger Station
Ada Pennsylvania passenger station historic photo (1900)

The Ada Pennsylvania Passenger Station was placed in service in December 1887, and served for nearly half a century as Ada's gateway to the outside world, symbols of civic pride and a community hub, at least until the emergence of the rubber wheel and automobile age. Ada's station, in contrast to many neighboring communities, lies at the center rather than the edge of town. Equally important are the size and distinctively "fanciful" design of the station, both tangible evidence to all visitors and passers-by that this was not your typical small-town Ohio station, and perhaps by extension, that Ada is not just any town. Larger than the standard small-town combination station plan, Ada Passenger Station features spacious passenger and baggage areas, an attached freight room, and an elevated second-floor telegrapher's office, an accommodation seldom employed on rural combination stations in the Midwest. Of the few pre-1900 Pennsylania passenger stations still surviving in Ohio.

According to H. Roger Grant, one of the nation's authorities on railroad architecture, the Midwest region shared commonalities in station design that distinguished them from New England and the South. Generally newer, less ornate, and more standardized, Midwestern depots can be considered transitional between the "fussy," custom styles of New England and the simple carbon copy ones of the trans-Mississippi West. Yet numerous exceptions did exist, such as in Ada.

During the 1880s the Pennsylvania Railroad adopted standard plans for depots west of Pittsburgh on its Southwest Division. In contrast to large urban stations and terminals, most rural stations were designed by company engineers, not architects, yet architecturally they were still often influenced by residential styles fashionable at the time. Combination depots were used on railroads at "local stations of minor importance where the amount of freight or volume of passenger business did not warrant construction of separate freight house or separate passenger depot". Combination stations sheltered passenger, freight, and train control under a single roof. The standardized plans reduced costs but still allowed for minor architectural variations for individual lines and towns. The Pennsylvania developed several classes of station design, with the combination plans designated class "A," "B," or "D." Ada's Passenger Station is larger than any of the standard combination plans, and certainly more ornate, suggesting a strong local influence over the final design. With its 26' x 76' dimensions, second-floor office space, and handsome Stick Style detailing, Ada Passenger Station was more like the Pennsylvania's Class "F" station reserved exclusively for county seat towns. The Pennsylvania Railroad Museum in Lancaster, Pennsylvania was unable to find a copy of the original plan for the passenger station, and the 1917 Inventory lists it simply as "Plan CE 3995" in "Vol. 4 - No. 21" with materials used and dimensions.

Ada, Ohio, known as Johnstown until June 19th, 1855, was platted on August 1st, 1853 by William Mitchell, a timberman from Kendallville, Indiana, from land he purchased in 1852 for $1,000. The surveyor was Henry T. Rudisil, an assistant engineer for the Ohio & Indiana Railroad. In 1855, Mitchell returned to Indiana and transferred part of his holdings to Sanford M. Johnson. A Fort Wayne, Indiana man, Sanford Johnson came to the Ada settlement in 1853 to set up his sawmill along the oncoming track construction and make "mudsills" for the railroad. He was the real founder of Ada, deeding some of his land to the railroad for right-of-ways, and land that would become the site of the new passenger station in 1887 and Railroad Park.

Johnstown was named in honor of Sanford Johnson but was changed to Ada on June 19th, 1855 by General Thomas Kilby Smith, a Washington post office official, to avoid confusion with a Licking County, Johnstown, Ohio.

Although the village name had been changed in 1855, the depot name was not changed to Ada until October 21st, 1867, so throughout the Civil War Ada was identified on the railroad line as "Johnstown West." The railroad lease was assigned to the Pennsylvania Company on April 1st, 1871. It continued to use the small depot and after the 1887 station was built, the smaller depot was used for freight storage. The railroad sold it or removed it in the 1930s.

Ada's development as a college town perhaps helped in the Pennsylvania Railroad's decision to build a new station in 1887. In 1871, Henry S. Lehr, Ada's schoolmaster, built a two-story brick building with the help of Ada citizens and opened a Normal School on Main Street about three blocks south of the railroad tracks. By 1887, the campus had two buildings and a student population that had increased from 147 to 2,434. The school eventually became Ohio Northern University with colleges of arts and sciences, business, law, pharmacy, and engineering and celebrated its 125th year in 1997.

In June of 1887, The University Herald (now The Ada Herald) reported a rumor that the Pennsylvania Railroad planned to build a new brick passenger station in Ada similar to many others in small towns along its rail lines. They must have altered their plans and by December 1887, The University Herald announced the two-story wood depot was open to travelers.

In June of 1869, Pennsylvania Railroad officials had been granted a 999-year lease to the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago Railroad tracks. This trunk line of the Pennsylvania ran through Ada and was approximately halfway between Pittsburgh and Chicago.

The increase in student population using the railroad for transportation and the increased commerce a college town brings were perhaps the reasons the Pennsylvania Railroad decided in 1887 to build a more impressive two-story structure in a rural village like Ada with a population of 1,000.

The new passenger station was the source for national news as it came over the wires in the telegraph office. William Jennings Bryan, Warren G. Harding, William B. McKinley, and other politicians came by train to deliver speeches or take part in debates at the university. On June 3rd, 1910, President William Howard Taft arrived in his private railway car to give the commencement address at Ohio Northern University. When Frank B. Willis, an Ohio Northern professor, made successful bids for Ohio governor in 1915 and for U.S. Senator in 1921, he always had his campaign train stop in Ada.

Entertainers, actors, and speakers from New York and Chicago on their way to Ft. Wayne often stopped to give performances at the Ada Whiteside Opera House. Swami Vivekananda from India arrived at the station in 1894 to explain the Hindu Vedanta movement.

Perhaps by virtue of their central location in Ada, the station and Railroad park have served as the community's primary public gathering place. Few communities of Ada's size feature a one-acre park in such close association to their depot. The importance of the park space to the residents of Ada is reflected in the fact the village purchased the lot in 1958 to ensure its continued use as a park. Although physical alterations to the park include a surface parking lot, park benches, and picnic tables, and new plantings, it still retains its historic configuration, open space, view sheds, and memorial cannon.

Before the Pennsylvania and New York Central Railroads merged to form Penn-Central in 1968, the Pennsylvania Railroad had begun to liquidate some of its holdings. In 1958, it offered Railroad Park to Ada for $6,430. The village asked that, after the agent left, the passenger station also be included in the sale.

In the following November election, Ada citizens passed a half-mill levy to run for six years so the village could buy the park and the station since both were an integral part of the town. This ensured the station would not be demolished and the parkland would not be sold. In 1971, the Hardin County Historical Society was appointed council's agent, and the Society with the help of local service clubs and youth organizations replaced the roof, painted the station, and cleaned the interior. In 1972, they leased the second floor to the Ada Model Railroad Club. In 1976, the Historical Society returned the station to the Ada Village Council.

The station was used as a polling place for several years, and in the 1980s served a variety of commercial functions. Since February of 1997, the passenger station has been vacant except for the second-floor model train club.

The Ada Area Community Improvement Corp. has served as an agent for village-owned property since 1981, and two-thirds of its trustee members are elected officials. It was a joint decision of Ada Council and CIC in 1996 to restore the depot and ask the village's 3,953 citizens and 2,900 university students to help. With the aid of The Ada Herald, the weekly newspaper since 1885, and a major fund drive that has exceeded the $50,000 goal, the depot has a new roof, new furnace and cooling system, and a prime coat of paint.

A New Jersey resident Carl Baughman, the Ada passenger station agent in 1946, with 40 years of experience as a railroadman, researched the roof and paint color of the 1887 passenger station. He reported the original paint records have been destroyed. Following advice from Mr. Baughman and the curator of the Pennsylvania Railroad Museum in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the new roof is red, and the depot's colors will be grey with a dark brown trim. This is similar to a restored brick and wood Pennsylvania depot in Lewistown, Pennsylvania, from an earlier period.

A 1997 Hardin County, Ohio visitor's brochure describes the Ada passenger station as "one of the Midwest's finest examples of Stick style architecture." A listing and description of the Ada station also appears in the 1996 edition of Janet Potter's Great American Railroad Stations.

In a tribute to the station on its 100th birthday in 1987, Ohio Northern University Art Professor John West wrote, "Our depot reflects and embodies the legacy of the shipwright, cabinetmaker, slater, and carpenter at the peak of their prowess." "Immigrant and first generation craftsmen and their magnificent skills can been seen in the joints, fittings, and details of the Depot".

Building Description

The Ada Pennsylvania Passenger Station and Railroad Park are located near the town center of Ada, a rural northwestern Ohio college community, population 5770 (1990). A rectangular parcel adjoining Conrail's main line, Railroad Park today includes the original 1887 station, a landscaped park area with Civil War monument and a paved parking lot.

Built in 1887 by the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Ada, Ohio passenger station is an intact example of transportation history when railroads replaced canals and stagecoaches in the eastern part of the United States. A good example of a midsize combination station serving a rural village community, the Ada depot is unique because it is one of the few Stick-style wooden stations still preserved in Ohio.

Its Stick style architecture is also unique to Ada as older business buildings on Ada's Main Street were built of brick in the Italianate style similar to nearby developing villages.

Other smaller wooden railroad depots along the Pennsylvania Railroad east-west line, including the first Ada depot built in 1859 by the Ohio and Indiana Railroad near the present depot, have been moved or destroyed. The skilled 40 or so men who came from the Pennsylvania Railroad craft shops in Pennsylvania to Ada 110 years ago were responsible for constructing the station.

The passenger station, a 76-foot by 26-foot two-storied gabled building of white pine with a sandstone foundation, was built in the Stick style. The depot was constructed on site; nothing was prefabricated. The track-side canopy with its original standing seam steel roof still stands, but the original slate roof was covered in the 1970s with asphalt shingles. The three chimneys are corbelled and the east chimney is decorated with cast-red brick architectural scrollwork.

Both east and west passenger sheds that extended from both sides of the station on the track-side were removed sometime in the 1960s after the station agent closed his office. Wood awnings on the south entrance and freight entrance were also removed as were the decorative roof ridgecaps. The railroad also dismantled and removed the watchman's tower at the Main Street crossing in 1960. The remaining gabled shed roof on the north has decorated triangular curved millwork brackets and exposed decorated rafters. The turned wood posts are set on cast iron bases. Water has caused some damage to the end posts and the rafters under the canopy. Several of the original outside electric lights with porcelain steel light reflectors still hang from the rafters. The original brick platform, laid from the building to the track, extends beyond on the east and the west where the extended sheds once stood; the brick is in fairly good condition.

Five pine entrance doors on the north and south sides of the first-floor exterior and a north freight door have chevron inserts framed by an inverted cruciform. The first-floor ticket office bay windows on the north side of the building have four 2-light windows that are clear glass. The dormer above on the second floor has multiple light-stained glass borders track-side and the same window treatment on both sides of the dormer. The panes are stained glass in various colors of red, blue, and yellow. These windows are in the second-story office that housed the Western Union Telegraph in 1888 and later served as an office for the Supervisor of Track.

The use of stained glass for practical as well as decorative purposes appears to have been widely used on many of the Pennsylvania's railroad depots. The freight storage area on the first floor at the west end of the Ada building has two 25-light stained glass windows on the west wall and one 12-light stained glass window on the north wall. One railroad historian notes this type of stained glass "provided additional, if muted, daytime lighting".

Except for the removal of the two extended sheds, the awnings and ridge caps, and the replacement of the south baggage door with a glass display window in the 1980s, the exterior of the depot looks much as it did 111 years ago. Although the original plan was not available, fortunately, the building date and a written description of the building materials used are documented in a 1917 Pennsylvania Railroad inventory at the National Archives in Washington D.C.

On the first floor of the interior, the partition separating the passenger waiting room and the baggage area was removed sometime before 1944. The wall and floor show traces of its location.

The present space forms a 39-foot by 26-foot room with 16-foot ceilings. This space includes the restrooms. A separate freight storage area 16 feet by 12.5 feet is enclosed at the west end.

The interior pine walls and ceiling of the station are covered with narrow tongue and groove wainscoting and the floor is maple. Window and door trim on both first and second floor windows and doors have corner blocks with rosettes. The agent's office and ticket window on the first floor facing north are still in place. The baggage door trolley and track are visible above the south baggage door, now a display window. Several original globed ceiling fixtures are in place and additional modern strip lighting has been added.

Significant architectural features of the first-floor interior are two fireplaces, one on the east end and one on the west wall outside the freight storage room. Both are masonry brick with a Roman arch and decorative brick in a sawtooth manner on the front. The mantels are bluestone slate. They were painted several years ago by a tenant. A restroom on the first floor was modernized in the 1970s and a second restroom was added in 1995.

Access to the basement is an interior door to the east of the agent's office. The outside basement walls are constructed of sandstone with lime mortar, and the supporting floor joists are white pine. The original floor under the waiting room area is concrete. When a coal furnace, vented through the central chimney, and a coal bin were added, an additional excavation was made and this part of the basement floor is dirt. Early in the 1890s, the Ada Water, Heat, Light and Power Co. was granted a franchise to furnish utilities from a central system. Probably soon after that date a coal furnace, electric lights, and village water replaced fireplace and stove heat, gas lights, and water from a second-floor tank. A gas furnace later replaced the coal-burning furnace.

The basement has been used for storage of various items: a cast iron bench base, lumber, an original depot water fountain, a perforated veneer molded wood bench, and two doors with the 1958 gold and brown colors of the depot.

The entrance to the upper floor is from an outside door on the north side of the building, up a flight of stairs that curve at the top landing. The handrail is hickory. Since 1972 the Ada Model Railroad Club has sub-leased the second floor and has its club room in the old telegraph office.

The club has on display some artifacts left in the depot: the 1958 depot signs; a 1903 railroad map; signal flags; a large crossing sign; posters; and the old outside arrival/departure board. One of the railroad receiver units remains mounted on the wall of the Model Railroad clubroom.

In 1887, the new passenger station was built on a 123 feet by 377 feet section of land (1.05 acres) owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad in the center of Ada's downtown business section. The remaining land was wooded to the east, and cleared land close to the track was used by the local stave company to pile staves for shipping. The area was becoming unsightly.

Agnew Welsh in The History of the Ada Community tells of two early attempts by the citizens to build a soldiers' monument in that area on Main Street. A wooden structure in about 1882 was replaced in 1892 by a brick structure that also became dilapidated.

In 1902, a committee of G.A.R. members secured "a siege gun from Fort Mifflin, below Philadelphia. The [War] Department charged $50 for loading the gun on board the cars and this was raised by subscription. The Pennsylvania Railroad transported it here free of freight charge." J. B. Weber of Leipsic, Ohio poured a limestone foundation and installed "a Barre granite base, die and gun rest for $575." The memorial cannon was dedicated on May 30th, 1902 by Mayor L. A Greer and turned over to the Ada Carman Post 101 of the Grand Army of the Republic.

The railroad gave the town permission to plant a privet hedge, place benches in the area and it became a gathering place for the community. Citizens and the local newspapers began to refer to the area around the depot as Railroad Park and the dirt lane beside the park running east and west from Main Street to Johnson Street as Railroad Alley. The park is still called Railroad Park, but the alley has been paved and renamed Central Ave. The cannon is now cared for by various service groups. Ada had a concrete bandstand in the park where the community band played weekly during the 1930s until it was torn down sometime in the 1940s.

In 1989, a Conrail freight train transported, also "freight free" along the same route the cannon had traveled, a 1941 Pennsylvania Railroad caboose built in Altoona, PA. The Ada Community Improvement Corp. initiated a "caboose in the park" project. After five years of fundraising, volunteer restoration, and assistance from the Pennsylvania Railroad Museum in Lancaster PA, the Pennsylvania cabin car #477779 complete with its Keystone logo was moved to a permanent site in Railroad Park beside the depot in 1994.

A Friendship Garden with additional trees, herbs, and flowers planted by the Hardin County Herb Society in 1991 is maintained by the Ada Chamber of Commerce, and volunteers in Railroad Park. Walks, benches, two picnic tables, and lights are maintained by the village.

In 1958, after the Pennsylvania Railroad sold Railroad Park and the station to the village, Ada Council expanded the parking area from the rear of the station to the east end of Railroad Park to accommodate downtown businesses and visitors.

Ada Pennsylvania Station and Railroad Park, Ada Ohio Ada Pennsylvania passenger station historic photo (1900)
Ada Pennsylvania passenger station historic photo (1900)

Ada Pennsylvania Station and Railroad Park, Ada Ohio Ada Pennsylvania passenger station and part of Railroad Park memorial Civil War canon dedicated in 1903. (1905)
Ada Pennsylvania passenger station and part of Railroad Park memorial Civil War canon dedicated in 1903. (1905)

Ada Pennsylvania Station and Railroad Park, Ada Ohio Crowd awaiting arrival of President W. H. Taft in front of Ada depot in 1910. (1910)
Crowd awaiting arrival of President W. H. Taft in front of Ada depot in 1910. (1910)

Ada Pennsylvania Station and Railroad Park, Ada Ohio President W. H. Taft's Ada arrival in his private car June 3<sup>rd</sup>, 1910. (1910)
President W. H. Taft's Ada arrival in his private car June 3rd, 1910. (1910)

Ada Pennsylvania Station and Railroad Park, Ada Ohio Frank B. Willis, professor at Ohio Northern University, giving a campaign speech at Ada's Main Street crossing in 1914. Willis was elected Ohio Governor in 1915 and Ohio U. S. Senator in 1921. (1914)
Frank B. Willis, professor at Ohio Northern University, giving a campaign speech at Ada's Main Street crossing in 1914. Willis was elected Ohio Governor in 1915 and Ohio U. S. Senator in 1921. (1914)

Ada Pennsylvania Station and Railroad Park, Ada Ohio Ohio Northern University students from College of Engineering waiting to board the train at Ada's station, circa 1920s. (1920)
Ohio Northern University students from College of Engineering waiting to board the train at Ada's station, circa 1920s. (1920)

Ada Pennsylvania Station and Railroad Park, Ada Ohio Ada passenger station with Conrail train. (1987)
Ada passenger station with Conrail train. (1987)

Ada Pennsylvania Station and Railroad Park, Ada Ohio Ada station with community restored Pennsylvania caboose. (1994)
Ada station with community restored Pennsylvania caboose. (1994)

Ada Pennsylvania Station and Railroad Park, Ada Ohio East side of Ada station and part of Railroad Park village parking lot. (1997)
East side of Ada station and part of Railroad Park village parking lot. (1997)

Ada Pennsylvania Station and Railroad Park, Ada Ohio West side of Ada station and part of Railroad Park, taken from Main Street. (1997)
West side of Ada station and part of Railroad Park, taken from Main Street. (1997)

Ada Pennsylvania Station and Railroad Park, Ada Ohio North side of passenger station with detail of dormer and original canopy passenger shed roof. (1997)
North side of passenger station with detail of dormer and original canopy passenger shed roof. (1997)

Ada Pennsylvania Station and Railroad Park, Ada Ohio North canopy shed and door from passenger waiting room. The outside door to the right leads to the second floor and the former telegraph office, now the headquarters of the Ada Model Railroad Assoc. The original brick platform and two support posts are also visible. (1997)
North canopy shed and door from passenger waiting room. The outside door to the right leads to the second floor and the former telegraph office, now the headquarters of the Ada Model Railroad Assoc. The original brick platform and two support posts are also visible. (1997)

Ada Pennsylvania Station and Railroad Park, Ada Ohio North dormer housing telegraph office with Stick style and decoration detail. Windows shown are stained glass. (1997)
North dormer housing telegraph office with Stick style and decoration detail. Windows shown are stained glass. (1997)

Ada Pennsylvania Station and Railroad Park, Ada Ohio South side of station showing decorative wood details. (1997)
South side of station showing decorative wood details. (1997)

Ada Pennsylvania Station and Railroad Park, Ada Ohio West side of station with original decorative: wood carving under stained glass windows in freight storage area. (1997)
West side of station with original decorative: wood carving under stained glass windows in freight storage area. (1997)

Ada Pennsylvania Station and Railroad Park, Ada Ohio West side of station with original decorative: wood carving under stained glass windows in freight storage area. (1997)
West side of station with original decorative: wood carving under stained glass windows in freight storage area. (1997)

Ada Pennsylvania Station and Railroad Park, Ada Ohio Exposed decorated rafters. (1997)
Exposed decorated rafters. (1997)

Ada Pennsylvania Station and Railroad Park, Ada Ohio West end of station with door detail to freight storage area. (1997)
West end of station with door detail to freight storage area. (1997)

Ada Pennsylvania Station and Railroad Park, Ada Ohio West end showing closer detail of triangular curved support posts for track-side canopy. Freight cart is original to station. (1987)
West end showing closer detail of triangular curved support posts for track-side canopy. Freight cart is original to station. (1987)

Ada Pennsylvania Station and Railroad Park, Ada Ohio Detail of water damage to shed roof trim. (1997)
Detail of water damage to shed roof trim. (1997)