SAINT JAMES — Fear of noise and dirt — and landowners’ unwillingness to invest $200 each — changed the course of a county railroad route more than 165 years ago.
The Big Four (Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and St. Louis Railroad) was looking to build a train station in northern Morrow County around 1850.
But when railroad officials were spurned by Iberia residents, who thought a railroad would be too dirty and noisy, they looked about a mile southeast. Instead, Saint James, also known as Iberia Station and Harwood, got the depot a few years later.
The Big Four route connected Galion, Saint James, Edison, Cardington, Ashley, Columbus and Cincinnati.
A post office was established at the station, located on the west side of the track where County Road 51 intersects. By the turn of the century Saint James had about a half dozen houses and a general store.
David Grooms’ father, Kenneth “K.R.” Grooms, served as the station agent for a number of years until it closed in 1949.
“My dad ran to work every day. He didn’t walk; he ran. It was less than a quarter of a mile,” said Grooms, who was born in 1938 and spent nearly two decades in the village before going to college.
Grooms has a handful of old photographs with images of his father at the station. He said his father learned calligraphy so he could become a railroad agent.
“In those days they got Western Union telegrams there. The station was sort of the center of the community. There was a general store in Saint James when I was little. We also had a grain elevator,” he said.
The depot was typical of many built along the Big Four lines. The order board indicated there was business for the next train. The semaphore signal was set to “stop.” The uniformed agent sat in the operator’s bay and one of his assistants held a U.S. Mail bag.
“I would sit listening to the railroad workers’ stories,” Grooms said.
Grooms estimates five to six trains per day would come through the tiny hamlet.
“We had mail trains come through every day, the (number) 747 train and the 746 train, both northbound and southbound.”
His father moved here from Indiana and brought with him a love of basketball.
“When he got here in 1919 he got some guys and pulled freight wagons out of the freight house. They played games there. Also, there were two Presbyterian churches in Iberia. One closed, so they took the pews out and laid out a basketball court,” Grooms recalled. “This was before schools had basketball teams.”
Grooms also remembers playing with his younger brother Jim and a few neighbor kids. “I got a bicycle and rode down the road, Route 61 to Iberia Road.”
He estimates there were seven or eight houses in the town at the time.
The depot was closed and no longer an agency by 1949. It was moved off site and used as storage at the feed mill. It is unknown when it was torn down.
Today a large lumber yard sits there, along with a smattering of residential dwellings.
“That came after I left. Frank Hirschner farmed that property when I was a kid,” Grooms said.
He also recalls the general store.
“I was very little, but they had cabinets with farm tools. Boots were up on the high shelf.”
Grooms’ family also farmed. “We had 40 acres and raised some angus cattle and crops.”
The elder Grooms passed away in the 1990s. His son has retired from teaching and also farms, residing in Morrow County.
“I still drive by the old place just to see it,” David said.
Gretchen Woogerd Barth lived across the street from the Grooms family and next to American Lumber.
“My parents lived there until last year. I lived there from 1979 until 1996 when I went to college,” Barth said.
“It was quiet, it was safe … no crime. My parents left the keys in the car unlocked the whole time.”
Reach Conchel at 419-946-3010, extension 1806, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.