The Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad: Cleveland's Iron Cross


The Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad: Cleveland's Iron Cross

Additional Project Participants

Whitney Foster, Lynn Bycko


The Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad (WLE) was founded in 1871 and it was originally designed to span the distance from the Ohio River through the coal fields of southeastern Ohio to the ports on Lake Erie. Over several decades the WLE would grow through construction and mergers into a significant transport feed to Cleveland’s growing industries, mainly freighting coal. In the beginning, however, only 13.5 miles of track had been laid by 1887, and the railroad was jokingly called the "Wailing and Leg Weary."

After several early financial embarrassments, including a complete shutdown in 1879, Jay Gould, an American financier who became a leading American railroad developer and speculator, began buying large amounts of Wheeling’s stock the following year. With the fresh influx of funding, construction resumed.

Containing over one thousand photos in many different sizes and dating from 1863 to 1962, these photos are housed in 18 archival file boxes. Included with the photographs is a registry which lists the location of many assets by division and branch. This collection originally served to document railroad property, as the Interstate Commerce Commission mandated that all U.S. railroads photograph all assets, including equipment, motive power, towers, bridges and more. The purpose of this was to levy taxes on these items to be paid to the government. The Michael Schwartz Library purchased the Wheeling and Lake Erie photographs in 2000 from a collector.

Date Created



Cleveland Memory Project

What is Cleveland Memory?

The Cleveland Memory Project is a freely searchable online collection of digital photos, texts, oral histories, videos and other local history resources, built by the Michael Schwartz Library at the Cleveland State University in collaboration with a host of community partners around Northeast Ohio.

The Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad: Cleveland's Iron Cross