European Capital, British Iron, and an
American Dream: The Story of the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad.
By William Reynolds, Edited by Peter K. Gifford and Robert D.
Ilisevich. (Akron: University of Akron Press, 2002. 288 pp.
Hardcover, $44.95, ISBN 1-88483-691-7.)
First, a fair warning to readers, European
Capital, British Iron, and an American Dream: The Story of the
Atlantic and Great Western Railroad, is not, as the title would
imply, a secondary history of the Atlantic and Great Western
Railroad. Instead, this is the story of one of the railroad's
earliest leaders, William Reynolds, and how he viewed the
organization and construction of the railroad from 1851 until his
resignation from the road in 1864. Reynolds' recollections, written
some forty years after his departure from the railroad, provide an
interesting glimpse into the problems with 'empire' building in 19th
Like most early American railroads, the Atlantic
and Great Western came together not as a single unit, but as a
series of smaller roads ultimately connected, somewhat haphazardly,
into a larger transportation system. The impetus for the Atlantic
and Great Western emerged in 1851 in Kent, Ohio, known at that time
as Franklin. Marvin Kent, one of Franklin's leading businessmen,
pushed heavily for the small village to receive a rail line after
rivals in nearby Ravenna were connected by the Cleveland and
Pittsburgh Railroad. Through a few dubious political maneuvers, Kent
managed to receive a charter from the state of Ohio for the Franklin
and Warren Railroad, designed to connect the growing town of Akron
to Franklin and the Pennsylvania border. This stretch of road
through east Ohio would eventually become the Ohio Branch of the
Atlantic and Great Western.
Soon a New York branch was added, connecting with
the broad gauge Erie Railroad at Salamanca. Connecting the two
branches almost became problematic, as opposition from several
Pennsylvania communities and rival railroads prevented the Atlantic
and Great Western from receiving a charter through Pennsylvania.
This opposition was overcome through the use of a branching option
granted to an already existing railroad, the Pittsburgh and Erie.
The Pennsylvania branch, when finally constructed, ran through the
oil rich region of northwestern Pennsylvania, and Reynolds
frequently discusses his desire to control this lucrative traffic.
This was William Reynolds territory; not only did he grow up in
Meadville, an important stop on the Pennsylvania branch, but he also
led the organization of the Atlantic and Great Western in
Pennsylvania and served as the road's president.
Reynolds' primary focus throughout his narrative
is the financial problems faced by the Atlantic and Great Western.
These tales are of great interest; money is constantly changing
hands throughout the book, and at times it is difficult to follow
the trail. Here readers get a first hand account of how railroads of
the 19th century were built and operated.
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