AVON LAKE - Tom Patton loves the history of the Lake Shore Electric Railway.
The Avon Lake businessman has amassed thousands of items related to the history of the railway, an interurban system that ran between Cleveland and Toledo from 1901 to 1939.
Patton wants to open a museum in the former Lake Shore Electric Railway's car barn building in Beach Park Plaza on Lake Road, which was stop No. 65. Patton, who owns the plaza, wants to put the museum in a building behind the former theater and next to the U.S. Post Office.
If all goes according to plan, Patton would like to open the museum by the end of this year.
He got some help from Avon Lake City Council, which approved a permit for Patton for a 15,000-square-foot museum on Aug. 26. The city’s Planning Commission approved the conditional-use permit in early August before forwarding it to council.
The conditional use permit was issued on the basis that Beach Park Plaza is zoned B2 for business, which allows museums and libraries as long as they are open to the public during normal retail hours. The permit, which has to be enacted upon within six months, also was issued on the condition that Patton paints the parking spaces and access lanes in the parking lot to help guide drivers.
The museum also will feature two blacksmith shops and a body shop where Patton envisions live history workers showing students and youth organizations how to make parts that were used on the rail line and railcars.
The Lake Shore Electric Railway had dozens of destinations along Lake Erie between Cleveland and Sandusky, including Stop 65 in Beach Park, where there was once a railway station, a theater, the Saddle Inn and other entertainment venues such as an amusement park.
Since Patton and his wife, Tomie, have owned the plaza, Tom has grown interested in the Lake Shore Electric Railway. He has traveled around the region and across the country to retrieve railway artifacts. The items, many of which Patton acquired on eBay in the past 10 years, are a testament to the region's early transportation history.
"It's a lot of stuff," Patton said. "If we don't save it, who knows where it will wind up? We want to make sure we preserve it and eventually get it in the right hands by turning it over to Heritage Avon Lake."
Patton's collection includes a piece of the first rail line manufactured in 1895 by the Johnson Rail Line Co., owned by Thomas Johnson, who started the steel mill in Lorain. Other pieces include lanterns used on the interurban railcars, conductor hats with the station location badges and railcar parts such as a cow catcher and luggage racks.
The collection even includes a variety of railcar fare boxes — invented by Johnson — for passengers to drop their change in. The cost? Three cents for minor trips or 5 cents to get from Avon Lake to Cleveland.
An estimated 5 million of the railway's 7 million annual passengers stopped at the Beach Park Station each year.
"There weren't a lot of paved roads then," Patton said. "People didn't travel far distances in automobiles yet. With the rail line, people didn't have to travel too far for entertainment. A lot of the amusement parks that used to be along Lake Erie were built by the Lake Shore Electric Railway to generate more revenue. People wanted to travel, get out and do things, visit family in other towns, and the railway provided them a way to do that.”
Stop 65 also was where a water plant and power plant were built for the railway. The power plant eventually provided a power grid for Avon Lake.
"Without the power plant and the water plant, there would not have been an Avon Lake," said Tony Tomanek, president of Heritage Avon Lake.
In 2009, Patton, along with historians Dennis Lamont and Al Doane, researched and wrote “Lake Shore Electric Railway,” a pictorial published as part of Arcadia Publishing's “Images of Rail” series.
Patton also is working with Amherst native Drew Penfield on expanding information for the museum. Penfield has a collection of Lake Shore Electric Railway maps and is compiling a list of the railway's employees for genealogy research purposes.
At this time last year, the Ohio History Connection (formerly the Ohio Historical Society), awarded Beach Park Plaza a historical marker that is in front of the plaza and next to the Lake Shore Electric Railway line's trolley baggage car No. 38.
"We're gaining momentum, and we hope that momentum continues," Patton said of putting the final pieces in place. “We think the museum would be a great thing to have for the area and give people another reason to come to Avon Lake."
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