Road construction crews digging near Akron Children’s Hospital uncovered a piece of the city’s past while working on West Exchange Street road and tunnel projects, said Chris Ludle, the city’s deputy service director.
“What we found in there is [that] the old trolley tracks were left in the road,” Ludle said recently. “The steel is fine, but the wood is rotted.”
The discovery delayed some work in the immediate area, Ludle said, because the tracks had to be removed, but weather conditions were not ideal.
“We knew we couldn’t tear all that out because winter was upon us,” he said.
Once that’s done, Ludle hopes to get back on track. He said he’s hoping the gaps in the road created by FirstEnergy’s vault project and the city’s “Rosie” sewer tunnel project will be closed up by the end of the month or the first part of May.
Akron’s old trolley system dates back to October 1888, when the first electric streetcar debuted.
Three years later, Akron Street Railway Co., whose officers included brothers F.A. Seiberling and C.W. Seiberling, had more than 15 miles of track, according to a story on the trolley system by Akron Beacon Journal writer Mark J. Price.
The trolley system survived into the 20th century, when tracks were removed and lines were taken down.
The city has been ripping out the remains of its trolley system for as many years as the track ran. The trolley system started phasing out in the ‘30s and the last streetcar ran in 1947.
As early as July 28, 1933, the Akron Beacon Journal reported that the Akron Transportation Co. was “removing six streetcar rail crossovers at downtown intersections, and the covering and removal of rails on abandoned lines elsewhere in the city…” The crossover at Main and Exchange was included in a list of scheduled removals.
A Dec. 20, 1940, article refers to streetcars on the East Exchange-Main Street lines being replaced by trolley buses in a “modernization program.”
On Dec. 27, 1956, the Akron Beacon Journal reported that the city once again was considering removal of streetcar tracks from Exchange Street.
“The question of removing the tracks comes up periodically but nothing has ever been done because officials say the city lacks funds,” the Beacon reported.
More than 60 years later, the funds have arrived and something will be done, Ludle said.
“We’re removing all those trolley tracks,” he said.
On Tuesday, crews were doing that, breaking up the rotten wood and dumping it on a truck to be hauled away.
Gino Minniti, a construction observer for the Akron office of DLZ Engineering, Architectural and Construction Services, said the wood tracks were paved over during previous projects, but caused defects in the road as they decayed.
"The old ties are causing divots in the road," Minitti said. "That's why wood is not good for roads."
After the ties are removed, Minniti said, the contractor will put in a new base. He said the section being worked on Tuesday had no rails.
A worker at the site who declined to be identified said that crews had come across small sections of rail during work at Locust and Exchange.
Alan Ashworth can be reached at 330-996-3859 or contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.