LIMA — On a late spring day in 1918 the city started the process of razing and replacing the South Main Street bridge over the Ottawa River — to the editorial cheers of The Lima News.
“The principal necessity for having a bridge on Main Street that looks anything but disreputable, is the big fact that the span is crossed by more persons than any other bridge in Lima,” the News noted June 10, 1918. “The greater part of Lima’s big shops and factories are located south of the river; workmen go across the bridge from all sections of the city; passengers going to and from the Erie depot see the old iron structure and smell the perfume from Hawg Creek. It is a step finally taken that should bring about a celebration when the concrete span is completed, the boulevard lights installed and lighted.”
South Main Street 100 years ago was the principal artery to Lima’s industrial area, the heart of which was powered by steam. Along the west side of Main Street between Vine and Fourth streets was the Lima Locomotive Works and, just to the north of the Loco, the round house and maintenance shops of the Lake Erie and Western, one of three railroads that came together in a maze of tracks in the area.
To the north of the Erie Railroad, shops, restaurants, hotels, cigar stores and saloons flanked South Main Street. Lima’s electric street railway delivered workers to the plants and passengers to the Erie Railroad depot.
World War II brought even more activity to the area. The locomotive works turned out tanks and special locomotives. At its peak the Loco employed more than 4,300 workers. The Nickel Plate, successor to the L E & W, transported much of the war material produced in the south Lima plants.
But times were changing. In 1947 the Loco began a series of mergers intended to ease the switch from manufacturing steam locomotives to turning out diesel power. The last of more than 7,700 steam locomotives rolled out of the shop in 1949. In 1950, as Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton Corp., the plant switched to making road graders and other construction equipment, particularly cranes. B-L-H was sold to Clark Equipment Co. in 1971, which closed the plant in 1980.
In September 1956, the last Nickel Plate steam locomotive passed through Lima. In 1960, 80 years after the city donated land to the railroad for maintenance shops and a round house, the Nickel Plate shops were demolished.
Through negotiations between the Allen County Historical Society and the railroad, the last steam locomotive produced at the Loco, Nickel Plate Engine 779, was donated to the city. Today, the engine is exhibited in Lincoln Park along with a Pullman car formerly used by the president of the New York Central Railroad and caboose built in 1882 at the Lafayette Car Works, which was on the site eventually occupied by the Loco.
Beginning in 1997, the maze of buildings on the old Loco site, some of them more than a century old, were leveled. After that the site passed through the hands of various companies touting plans to produce clean energy on the site. For 18 years, however, little happened. Recently the site was purchased by Husky Lima Refinery.
Reach Greg Hoersten at email@example.com.