words by Mark Schweitzer, photos by Charlotte Gintert
Long ago, back before there was a Metro Regional Transit Authority — or a FirstEnergy Corporation or even Ohio Edison — our public transportation and electricity was managed by a single entity: Northern Ohio Traction and Light.
If you look at the six-story building at 47 North Main Street, right before it curves toward Howard, you can still see the NOT&L letters cast into some of the stonework of the former company headquarters. The company originated in the 1890s as an operator of electric interurban passenger rail lines around Akron and later between Akron, Cleveland and Canton, as well as to Wadsworth via Kenmore and Barberton. By 1919, the system collected 19 million fares annually.
While the downtown headquarters (which eventually became home to Ohio Edison) and its huge train shed (which is now set for demolition) are certainly worth noting, our interest this month falls to more utilitarian structures — namely, the large trolley car barns found at the northern end of Kenmore Boulevard, where it intersects with Lakeshore Boulevard.
With their sturdy brick construction, fancy Flemish gable ends and large garage doors, the trolley barns were designed for storage and repair of the fleet of trolley cars that crossed up into Akron and down into Kenmore. Like the boulevard with its wide median, the old structures recall a time when mass transportation was used by all classes of people and a trolley ride to school, work or local parks was a common experience.
Built in 1913, the barns were the central feature of a large NOT&L complex that also included a massive train yard, with numerous switching tracks and its own electric substation building. The largest of the three buildings had offices above, and each had three bays to route cars through. The location was a convenient one, since it was located in a busy industrial area in Southwest Akron and had solid connections to a growing Kenmore (which was still an independent city) and north toward Downtown Akron. All three of the structures were more than 500 feet long, and when full, they could hold around 100 trolley cars in total.
Because travelers normally used the trolleys to get to school or work, it was expected that revenue would drop on the weekends. Surprisingly, this is why companies like NOT&L owned or leased amusement parks where people could spend their leisure time as well as their money. Locally, NOT&L leased Lakeside Park on Summit Lake. It also provided service to Blue Pond Park on East Market Street, Silver Lake Park to the north and Springfield Lake Park to the south.
Eventually, the interurban lines would fall victim to improved road networks between major cities. Electric trolleys would give way to “trackless” trolleys and electric busses, and later, the gas-powered buses we all know. The trolley barns were used for bus storage and repair until a new transit authority was formed in the late 1960s and new bus facilities were built just northeast of the old trolley buildings, beginning in 1972. Since then, the old “car barns,” as they have come to be known, have served various industrial uses, including warehousing and storage.
Today, these old Northern Ohio Traction and Light Company trolley buildings might seem a little derelict and quaint. But beyond being a reminder of Akron’s booming past, they recall a time when cheap and convenient mass transit was a popular idea that served a lot of people very well. Perhaps that time may come again.
Mark Schweitzer is a lifelong Akron resident and proud of it.
Charlotte Gintert is an archaeologist by day and a photographer by sunrise and sunset. You can check out her photos at www.capturedglimpses.com and follow her on Instagram at @capturedglimpses.