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Water Street 1818: Railroad hub, maritime port

Anonymous • May 20, 2013 at 3:17 PM

Why is it called Water Street, when it’s not on the water? There is a good explanation for that.

When Sandusky was founded in 1818, the north edge of Water Street touched the shoreline of Sandusky Bay. But as Sandusky grew, so did the land along the bay.

As you may already know, Sandusky’s location was chosen because of the water – a good harbor, connected to Lake Erie, but with the added protection of the Sandusky Bay. And, therefore, well connected to other growing cites on the lake, such as Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit, and Buffalo.

So, in the new city of Sandusky, Water Street was the center of commercial activity. The newly-developed steamboat was one of the primary sources of transportation into Sandusky at this time. Boats arriving from these other cities docked at the edge of the street, delivering and receiving cargo and passengers. Merchants and manufacturers began setting up their businesses along Water Street and the nearby blocks along Columbus Avenue, Jackson and Wayne Streets, and along Market Street.

But the transportation revolution that began with the steamboat reached a substantial turning point with the advent of the steam locomotive. Construction of the Mad River and Lake Erie Railroad began in Sandusky in 1835, with the first train arriving along Water Street in 1837. Thus Sandusky became both a maritime port and a railroad hub on Lake Erie, in what was then “the West.”

Water Street became a busy place – too busy for the owners of businesses on that street. Trains traveled along the middle of the street, inconveniencing and endangering those on foot, including strangers arriving on boats and locals doing business. By 1847, therefore, Water Street business owners proposed moving the tracks off of this thoroughfare.

In 1848, city leaders decided to build a new street, Railroad Street (now Shoreline Drive), to the north of Water Street. But, of course, what was north of Water Street was just water, so by 1850, the shoreline was expanded into the bay with landfill and timber pilings. (The railroad tracks were laid over pilings where they intersected north-south streets; years later it was said that the pilings were buried in new fill. Whether any of these original pilings are still under the streets is a subject for discussion.) In the decade from 1850 to 1860, waterfront development flourished, with new docks and businesses dominating the shoreline.

And Water Street was no longer on the water.

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