Pleasant Hill's Railroad History and West Milton's Overland Park
By Judy Deeter
PLEASANT HILL - This century-old Pleasant Hill postcard shows both the town as it was in the early 20th century and a bit of local railroad history. Its postmark date indicates it was mailed from Covington in 1910. It is from the private post card collection of Pleasant Hill historian Chuck Martin.
Along with a view of Pleasant Hill’s Main Street (State Route 48), there is a car of the Dayton, Covington and Piqua Traction Company. The Dayton, Covington and Piqua Traction Company (known locally as the “DC&P”) was an electric railway, which were sometimes referred to as traction trains or the interurban. They were short line railroads that operated between towns in a small geographic area. The DC&P line was just 34 miles long, running between Dayton and Piqua.
Each interurban train had just one car. The car moved along the railway route by electricity supplied from overhead lines and did not have an onboard fuel supply. (Note: The electric line attachment to the train car is difficult to see in this post card image.) The train cars were similar to trolley trains that still operate in Dayton and other American cities.
Along with the DC&P, two other interurban lines operated in Miami County in the early 1900s. They were the Springfield, Troy & Piqua and the Dayton and Troy Electric Railway.
The DC&P Electric Railway came to Pleasant Hill in 1902. Its arrival changed the lives of people in western Miami County. When railway operations began, many people living in rural western Miami County lived in isolation. People in outlying areas did not have such things as telephones, radios and seldom saw a newspaper.
In his book ELECTRIC TRACTION ALONG THE STILLWATER THE DAYTON, COVINGTON & PIQUA TRACTION COMPANY, local railroad historian Scott D. Trostel gives a detailed account of how rural people were suddenly able to attend social events, get improved education for their children (the interurban gave young people a way to attend town schools), move farm products to market, and get better medical treatment. Starting in 1903, mail was also transported on the DC&P.
In 1903, the company purchased a strip of land on the north end of West Milton and created a resort that they named Overland Park. The park was built to stimulate DC&P business. It certainly did that. The late local historian Rachel Ann Minnich wrote in the book WEST MILTON ITS FIRST 200 YEARS, 1807-2007 that the company “put in lawn swings, hammocks, tennis courts, baseball diamonds and pavilions on the grounds. A boat landing was built on the banks of the Stillwater River and canoes could be rented.”
Minnich said the park’s main attraction was an 80-foot by 100-foot dance floor. She wrote, “At one end was an elevated platform for the orchestra or bands. There was an automatic piano so people could dance the waltz, the bunny-hug, the foxtrot and the Charleston all night long. Dances were 5 cents.”
Overlook Park was one of Miami County’s places to go for fun in the early 20th century.
Friendships often sprang up between train employees, passengers and rural residents. Train employees took care to make sure passengers were as comfortable as possible. When train cars passed through areas, employees and local residents smiled and waved to one another. Down through the years, they got to personally know each other. If there were problems, either with the train system or local residents, the two parties helped one another. It has been said that in winter, residents sometimes cleared snow from the railway tracks so the train could continue its journey.
The Pleasant Hill DC&P ticket office was in the Teeter Building at the southwest corner of High and Main streets. A picture of the ticket office and several other DC&P images are shown in the Transportation chapter of the book A PICTORIAL HISTORY OF PLEASANT HILL, OHIO IN HONOR OF HER SESQUICENTENNIAL 1866-2016. The book also has a picture of a 1912 timetable. The timetable lists Jas. R. Randall as the General Freight Agent in West Milton. It shows that the DC&P went through Pleasant Hill northbound at 12:12 a.m. and 5:12 a.m. and southbound at 7:12 a.m. and 2:12 p.m.
The last run of the DC&P through Pleasant Hill was on Nov. 6, 1926. It seems the DC&P might have had financial problems. Part of the problem may have been that in the early years of the 20th century, the automobile came into widespread use. When the company started in Miami County, most residents went from place to place by horse. By the late 1920s, the automobile had come into general use.
An article in the Thursday, Nov. 11, 1926 edition of the MIAMI UNION newspaper describes the last days of the DC&P. It says, “The last car from Dayton on the line left there at 11:05 Saturday night (November 6th). (The Dayton car arrived in West Milton at 11:55 p.m.) The last car southbound left Piqua at the same time and arrived in West Milton at 11:47 p.m.” The cars were put in railroad barns in West Milton.
According to the article, the cars, rails, and small equipment were being sold to Jacob Ziskind, a railroad “junker” from Lowell, Massachusetts for $81,500. Telephone and light poles were being sold to utility companies and bids were being taken for the Overland Park land. The Overland Park ground was neglected for the next few decades. West Milton resident Jim Sarver purchased the park in 1976 and has done much restoration work to the buildings and land.
Local railroad history is fascinating to research. The books listed above can be found at libraries throughout Miami County. For more information about Pleasant Hill history, visit the Pleasant Hill History Center at 8 E. Monument St. They are open on Mondays from 3-7 p.m. Find them online at www.pleasanthillhistorycenter.com For information about this story, contact The Troy Historical Society at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at (937) 339-5900
This picture, from the Chuck Martin collection in Troy, shows a Dayton, Covington and Piqua train car at the Civil War soldier monument in Pleasant Hill.