Elyria, OH (ELY)
Founded in 1817 where the branches of the Black River converge and tumble to form beautiful falls, Elyria is famous for its charming central square and popular Apple Festival.
410 East River Road
Elyria, OH 44035
Annual Station Ridership (FY 2020): 5,098
- Facility Ownership: Amtrak
- Parking Lot Ownership: Norfolk Southern Railway
- Platform Ownership: Norfolk Southern Railway
- Track Ownership: Norfolk Southern Railway
In January 2014, a new shelter was put in place for passengers at Elyria after the former depot was damaged in an October 2013 fire and had to be removed.
The tracks running through Elyria have witnessed a number of railroad related structures rise and fall over the last 160 years of rail service. Two of these buildings still stand while the others are remembered solely through photographs and written memoirs. The old Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad (LS&MS) station was on Depot Street south of the eastern branch of the Black River and roughly half a mile west of the current Amtrak station.
Located on the south side of the tracks, it was a small wooden station with a simple gable and decoration in the Italianate manner that included window hood moldings and curved brackets supporting deep eaves. The depot was just one structure in a railroad complex that also included a water tank, pump house, repair shop, road master’s office, tool house, and Railway Express office. To the east there was a roundhouse and turntable. Most of these buildings were gone by the early 20th century when a new station was constructed.
Across from the current Amtrak station there is a long, orange-red brick building; the section facing East River Street is two stories while the wing to the back is one story and has numerous doors. This was the freight house used by the New York Central Railroad (NYC) after it absorbed the LS&MS in 1914. By the early 20th century, Elyria’s factories produced goods that were shipped across the nation. The freight house was likely located on the edge of town—on the eastern bank of the east branch of the Black River—so that its noisy activities would not disturb downtown businesses and civic functions. The wide doors on both sides of the one-story wing allowed merchandise to be easily unloaded from vehicles parked on the street, stored in the freight building, and later wheeled through the trackside doors to be loaded onto freight cars. Deep eaves supported by simple angled brackets protected the laborers and products from inclement weather. The freight house is currently used as office space but many of its original design features are still in place.
The most prominent reminder of Elyria’s rail heritage is the former New York Central Railroad Depot on the corner of Depot Street and East Avenue. Opened in 1925 just a few blocks east of Ely Park, it replaced the old LS&MS station. Although not the grandest structure that the NYC would build in Ohio, the $250,000 station was certainly an expression of confidence in the future growth of Elyria. As part of a general safety improvement plan, the railroad elevated its tracks through this neighborhood to avoid at-grade street crossings. Elyrians were pleased with the quiet result—the elimination of road crossings meant that locomotives did not have to blow their horns too much when they passed through town.
Constructed of reddish-brown brick walls that rise from a solid stone base, the two-story structure is accented by a prominent cornice and simple stone coping on the parapet. These features create the tripartite division found in classical compositions: base, shaft, and capital. The verticality of the building was emphasized through two-story window bays that were topped by decorative buff sandstone panels. They depicted tableau such as a locomotive wheel with wings that emphasized the exhilaration of travel.
In much of their work, New York City based architects Fellheimer and Wagner used clean geometric lines and unadorned surfaces to streamline their structures and fashion an updated neo-classicism for the twentieth century. By the 1920s, the duo had become well-known for their work on train stations. Alfred Fellheimer had been intimately involved in the plan for New York’s Grand Central Terminal, and the team had just designed and built the Union Station in Erie, Pennsylvania. Their famed Buffalo Union Station with its soaring tower and the subsequent art deco Cincinnati Union Terminal remain symbols of the railroads’ power and glory in the first half of the twentieth century.
In addition to grand depots, the architects also did a number of smaller stations for the NYC, including one in South Bend. At Elyria, an elegant canted façade graces the street corner and leads the eye to the main entrance on East Street. The projection of the entrance pavilion from the façade is countered by its deep recessed volume that contains sets of double doors above which rises a wall of glass to light the interior lobby. The recessed door and glass wall composition is prominently marked by a buff sandstone surround that undeniably indicates to the passerby that this is the main entrance into the building. As if this visual clue was not sufficient, a deep, angled marquee also marks the doorway and shelters travelers from the elements.
Just inside the doors, passengers originally would have encountered an octagonal entry lobby that rose the full height of the building. It was encircled at the second floor by a balcony—as indicated by the division of the windows on the exterior—and was crowned by a skylight. The lobby then gave way to the waiting room. Also full height, it was lighted by the sun that came through the two-story windows on the west façade.
Marble wainscoting six feet in height covered the base of the walls, a choice that was both luxurious but also easy to clean and maintain—an important consideration in a high traffic area. An ornamental plastered ceiling found its match in a terrazzo floor inlaid with strips of brass. Terrazzo became the flooring of choice in the 1920s and 1930s because it was easy to mold to desired shapes, could be colored, and was hard and durable. All of these interior details elevated what could be a rather utilitarian space into one of magnificence that firmly acknowledged the importance of the railroad in the life of the city. From the waiting room a passage led to the stairs and elevators that accessed the elevated tracks.
Other installations included a ticket office and baggage area, and a news stand and soda fountain to serve passengers and townspeople. The Depot Street facade had a wall of doors and a loading zone to facilitate the movement of freight.
Although opened to great fanfare in 1925, changes in national travel habits and federal funding priorities challenged the passenger rail business and the station closed in 1955. For the next half century, the station interior was reconfigured to host a lumber company and then a beauty school; during a few intervals it sat vacant. In 2000, the Lorain County Commissioners purchased the former New York Central Depot from Conrail with a plan to restore the structure and reconfigure the building and site to serve as a multimodal transportation facility that will provide space for local, regional, and intra-state buses, rental cars and taxis, and possible commuter rail. Amtrak can consider a move to the transportation center if funding becomes available in the future. The first floor of the station would serve as the passenger waiting area and provide ticketing booths, other travel services, and perhaps a railroad and transportation museum. The second floor would house the county’s transit agency and extra space may be rented out to produce income. The land to the east would accommodate the new bus bays and a parking lot.
The transportation center project is to be completed in four phases; each succeeding phase is undertaken as funds become available. With assistance from its Congressional delegation, Lorain County obtained $4 million and was able to undertake the first two phases. In addition to the federal funding, the county contributed $950,000. During 2007-2008, phase one focused on the building and work included asbestos abatement, exterior masonry repairs, and the installation of a new roof. Phase two in 2008-2009 focused on the restoration of the rotunda and other interior spaces now used by the public. The third and fourth phases will concentrate on the construction of the bus bays and facilities next to the station. The total cost of the project is estimated at $8 million.
Founded in 1817 where the branches of the Black River converge and tumble forty feet to form beautiful falls, Elyria was the vision of Heman Ely. Prior to his arrival, the area was occupied primarily by Wyandot American Indians who occupied part of northern Ohio after the Iroquois Confederacy drove them out of southern Ontario. The Wyandot and other American Indian groups were later defeated by American forces in the 1794 Battle of Fallen Timbers and were forced to give up their Ohio lands under the subsequent Treaty of Greeneville.
Before Ohio existed, the land south of Lake Erie—referred to as the “Western Reserve”—belonged to Connecticut, as many of the original thirteen colonies theoretically spanned the continent from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Heman Ely’s father was a shareholder in the Connecticut Land Company which had formed in the late eighteenth century to promote settlement in the Western Reserve. Through his father, Ely obtained 12,500 acres.
Within an few years of surveying the site and moving to Ohio, Ely built a dam across the east branch of the river and erected a grist mill and saw mill. Within two years, Ely organized the township, naming it after himself “Ely” and added “-ria,” perhaps a romantic allusion to the ancient Greek kingdom of Illyria on the eastern side of the Adriatic Sea. Ely also organized Lorain County, named after the Lorraine region of eastern France where he had lived. Quickly donating land and money for a courthouse, Ely ensured that Elyria then became the county seat and therefore a regional trade center.
In 1846 the Junction Railroad was chartered to connect Cleveland and Toledo, and was to pass through smaller interior towns like Elyria. By 1853 the line terminated to the west of the settlement. That same year, the Junction Railroad merged with the Toledo, Norwalk, and Cleveland Railroad to form the Cleveland and Toledo Railroad (C&T)—the Junction Railroad became the northern division and the Toledo, Norwalk, and Cleveland Railroad became the southern division. In 1866, the southern division east of Oberlin was abandoned and a new connection was made to Elyria by the northern division. The C&T eventually came under the LS&MS, which was subsumed into Cornelius Vanderbilt’s New York Central system in 1914.
Water power and rail connections helped make Elyria a manufacturing center that produced a wide range of goods including bicycles, screws and bolts, silk, and lace. Local inventor Arthur Lovett Garford designed the first padded bicycle seat; from there, he became involved with automobile production and he formed a partnership with Studebaker. Garford’s home now houses the Lorain County Historical Society. In the twentieth century, Bendix-Westinghouse manufactured air brakes and the Colson Corporation produced wagons, tricycles, bicycles, and other related items. Currently, Elyria is known in the construction world for the Ridge Tool Company; since 1923 it has made RIGID tools for the professional and do-it-yourself markets.
By the end of the 19th century, the town was described as a “sort of suburb of Cleveland,” which was northeast Ohio’s manufacturing hub on Lake Erie. A contemporary guide noted that the twenty-four mile ride by interurban trolley between the two cities only took forty minutes, and therefore “many people doing business in Cleveland find it more pleasant to reside at Elyria.” The trolley station was only a few minutes by foot from Ely Park, the town’s main square. Its four acres were planted with trees and today the park is still a popular gathering spot that includes benches and a gazebo.
The streetscape around the square is little changed, and most of the three-story brick Italianate buildings from the mid-to-late nineteenth century still stand; their uniform low height forms the “walls” of a public outdoor “room” where Elyrians gather for special occasions such as the winter Festival of Lights. The old county courthouse dating to the mid-nineteenth century sits on the south side of the park; in keeping with its important civic and judicial function, it is appropriately dressed with a pediment supported by columns topped with fancy Corinthian capitals. The Loomis Camera shop on the north side of Ely Square transports the visitor to the mid-twentieth century. Its colorful sign features a large camera—film, not digital—as well as big letters that spell out the shop’s name. With time, the display has become a piece of pop art.
The square has long been known for its fountain and monument. The fountain itself has changed appearance over the years. One version in the 1930s was illuminated; at night, the water “changed color” and its playful sprays were a popular attraction that drew visitors from the surrounding communities. The nearby Civil War Monument was erected in 1888 in memory of the townspeople who fought and died in the war. Union soldiers carved in granite guard the base while another soldier holding a large draped flag stands on the central column which rises about forty feet into the air. Interestingly, sculptor Joseph Carabelli was later elected to the Ohio House of Representatives.
Downtown Elyria sits on a peninsula formed by the east and west branches of the Black River. The area where they converge is now a series of parks, and one is named Cascades Park in honor of the falls located on each branch. The magic of the tumbling waters is entertainment enough, but for many decades, a rock ledge in the park sheltered two caged brown bears. No longer kept in that location, the rocky outcropping is still known as “Bear Cave.”
Whether you like your apples fresh, baked, dried, liquefied, or candied the third weekend in September is devoted to the popular fruit. Townspeople and visitors crowd the city streets for the Apple Festival, held each year since 1980. The event features an apple pie baking contest, children’s events, and a 5K race. One lucky young woman also receives the crown as Apple Queen, an honor that comes with a cash prize. The proceeds from the festival are invested in the upkeep and improvement of Ely Square.
Platform only (no shelter)
- Quik-Trak kiosks not available
- No ticket sales office
- Accessible Restrooms
- Amtrak Express shipping not available
- No checked baggage service
- No checked baggage storage
- Bike boxes not available
- No baggage carts
- Ski bags not available
- Bag storage not available
- Shipping boxes not available
- No baggage assistance
- Same-day parking is available; fees may apply
- Overnight parking is available; fees may apply
- Accessible platform
- Accessible Restrooms
- No accessible ticket office
- Accessible waiting room
- No accessible water fountain
- Accessible same-day parking is available; fees may apply
- Accessible overnight parking is available; fees may apply
- No high platform
- No wheelchair
- Wheelchair lift available