The complex of buildings along Ashland Road between Cedar Avenue and Thackeray Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio began in 1888 as a power plant for the East Cleveland Railroad. It was later reused for the Cleveland Ice Machine Company, Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing and Thompson Products. Under Thompson, it became part of the Thompson Aircraft Products Company Pump Division, which manufactured pumps and valves for the military and industries in the United States. After Thompson vacated in the mid-1960’s, the buildings became home to the Virden Manufacturing Company until its closure in 1979.


History

East Cleveland Railroad Cedar Avenue Power House

In the late-1880’s, streetcars powered by horses and mules were commonplace, 25 but there was a push in Cleveland to move to an electric railway network. In early 1888, the East Cleveland Railroad Company began construction of a power plant at Cedar Avenue and Ashland Road to operate their lines by electric. 28

Opened on December 18, 1888, 28 29 the new plant featured three high speed engines belted to two No. 16 Edison street railway bipolar generators, the largest of Edison’s generators, which operated at 1,000 RPMs. Three horizontal tubular boilers, equipped with Murphy stokers, supplied steam to the engines. One Berryman heater, with two pumps, supplied the boilers.

In late 1889, three high speed 18.5×18 inch Armington & Sims engines, of 250 HP at 200 RPMs, were installed. The new engines were twice the capacity of the first three engines, belted to two No. 32 Edison generators, which were twice the size of the No. 16 Edison’s. 28 Four extra boilers of the same size and make were soon added.

In late 1890, an addition was completed on the south side of the original power house, with two 28×48 inch Cooper Corliss Engines belted to a large jack shaft. 28 The addition to the boiler plant consisted of seven boilers of the same make and model as the others. A third Corliss engine was installed two years later when two of the original three engines installed in the plant were removed. The third original engine was removed later in the year, and replaced with an Allis engine the same size as the Cooper, belted to two 150 KW Edison bipolar generators.

Another addition was completed in 1892 to the north end of the original building, with foundations for four 30×48-inch Cooper Corliss single cylinder engines. The engines, rated at 750 HP and belted to a 500 HW General Electric four-pole generator, were installed over the period of the next two to three years. 28 Those generators operated at 350 RPMs. Eventually, there were two batteries of seven and one battery of ten boilers, each being 18 feet×72 inches and featuring 72 four-inch tubes rated at 130 HP. They were equipped with Murphy stokers and located adjacent to railroad tracks so that coal could be unloaded into the boiler room.

In 1893, the East Cleveland Railway Company merged with Joseph Stanley’s Broadway & Newburgh Street Railroad Company to form the Cleveland Electric Railway Company. 29 It then merged with Tom and Al Johnson’s Brooklyn Street Railroad Company and the South Side Street Railroad Company. The Cleveland Electric had become known as the Big Consolidated Street Railroad for all of the lines it had acquired over the years.

A new boiler house was constructed consisting of ten 400 HP Babcock & Wilcox boilers. 28 Within the boilers was an overhead storage bin for coal with a capacity of 1,500 tons. The coal was delivered to the bin and then to the hoppers of the mechanical stokers via chutes and conveyors built by the C.W. Hunt Company of New York. It was regulated by gate valves operated by a fireman.

In 1897, foundations for a new power house were constructed. 28 An engineer for the company described the new plant, which included compound engines that would supersede the single cylinder units, and multipolar direct connected generators to supplant the belted two- and four-pole machines. Upon completion, the power plant featured 17 generators of 140 to 1,000 amperes capacity each. 27

On January 1, 1899, a new 400-ton, 32-foot high General Electric generator, one of the largest in the world at 4,363 amperes, was installed. 23 Its size was second only to one ordered by the Metropolitan Electrical Company of New York and a duplicate of an order by the Louisville Street Railway Company. The flywheel attached, 25 feet in diameter, weighed 160,000 pounds. Steam for the new engine was provided by a battery of ten steel boilers built by the Babcock & Wilson Company of New York, and constructed to withstand a pressure of 200 PSI. The new generator was used to furnish power during peak demand.

Non-condensing exhaust steam was sold to a salt company adjacent to the power plant at a price that made it difficult for the central station companies in Cleveland to compete with the Cleveland Railway’s power house on a per-kilowatt-hour output. 23

By 1900, the East Cleveland Power House was the largest non-condensing direct-current plant in the United States. 23

An engineer with Big Consolidated discussed about the power plant’s future at that time, stating that electrical power distribution, similar to what was being instituted by the Metropolitan Company of New York, could be implemented for Cleveland. 27 Land would be acquired outside of the city and the current transmitted to substations within Cleveland where it would be distributed to various streetcar lines. The main wires would be laid in conduits and carry an alternating current of at least 6,000 volts. At the substations, the current would be passed through rotary convertors and transformed into a direct current of 500 volts.

Big Consolidated added a battery storage facility in July 1901 28 when an order for Williard batteries were placed with the Sipe & Sigler Company of Cleveland. The battery consisted of 216 cells with a normal rating of 4,000 ampere hours. A differential booster, installed by the Bullock Electric Manufacturing Company of Cincinnati, was connected to the storage battery.

In 1902, new coal handing apparatus was installed, designed by the Wellman-Seaver Engineering Company of Cleveland and built by Variety Iron Works. 28 An entire car of coal could be brought in on a transfer table and then lifted into an elevator. From there, the coal would follow an overhead track and dumped into an overhead coal storage bin. The unit was needed as the power plant was burning through 60,000 tons of coal a year.

Cleveland Railway began to outsource some power generation to the Illuminating Company to offset a power plant that was over capacity beginning on November 15, 1912. 1

In July 1915, it requested permission from city commissioners to rebuild and enlarge the power plant at a cost of $345,000, 22 stating that the equipment was obsolete. 26 After no action was taken, it made the request again in 1916. Street Railway Commissioner Fielder Sanders investigated the need of the improvements, and whether it would be cheaper to outsource all power generation instead of improving the existing facilities. It was later decided that the cost to upgrade the Cedar Avenue power plant was prohibitively expensive. 2 Additionally, the cost of outsourcing electric production to the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company was less than 6 mills per KW. The cost of energy production in the Cedar Avenue plant was about 1 cent per KW.

Cleveland Railway opted to exit the power generation business in 1917. 23 24 The buildings were then reused for Westinghouse Electric.

East Cleveland Railroad Cedar Avenue Power House

A 1913 Sanborn Insurance map showing the seven turbines, two stacks and auxiliary building along Ashland Road.

Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing

After the Cleveland Railway Company left the power house in 1917, three one- and two-story structures at 2199 Ashland Road were used by the Cleveland Ice Machine Company. 37 It then fell into the hands of the Westinghouse Electric Corporation.

The Westinghouse Electric Corporation, established by George Westinghouse in 1886, produced electrical equipment that evolved into a multi-purpose engineering firm. In 1894, the Cleveland-based Walker Manufacturing Company brought against Westinghouse a patent infringement lawsui. Walker, founded in 1883 by machinist John Walker, constructed power-transmitting machinery and cable railway networks. 1 Walker eventually lost the case, and court ordered constraints on the company’s activities led to its sale to Westinghouse for approximately $1 million in 1898.

Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company post-1922 used the structure to manufacture and sell circuit breakers, elevator motors and controls, fans, fuses, insulating materials, lamps, lighting fixtures, motors, panelboards, ranges, safety switches, small turbines, solor glow heaters, stokers, switchboards, water heaters, watshour meters and welding equipment. 30

A five-story addition on the southern end of the plant, at 2203-2209 Ashland Road, opened in 1922. 20 On April 10, 1933, Westinghouse transferred its local sales and service offices to Edgewater Park, where an existing lighting products division was located. 38

Thompson Products

On January 26, 1936, Thompson Products purchased several buildings from the Cleveland Railway Company. 31 Containing 60,000 square feet os space, it housed the company’s service division.

Thompson Products originated in 1901 as the Cleveland Cap Screw Company, selling bolts with heads electrically wlded to the shafts. They soon expanded to automobile engine valves, becoming the largest valve manufacturer in the United States. Some of their high-performance valves were later used in aircraft engines beginning with World War I. 40 In 1926, the company was renamed Thompson Products after the general manager, Charles Thompson. 35

On January 10, 1941, 46 Tapco, or Thompson Aircraft Products Company, was founded as a subsidiary of Thompson Products. It used the Ashland Road facility as its base. 45 Production under Tapco soared due to the escalation of World War II, producing not only values, but new products such as booster pumps and high-altitude fuel systems. 46

Cleveland Railway announced that it would sell a warehouse at Cedar Avenue and Ashland Road to Thompson for $250,000 on December 1. 32 Thompson had been using about 75% of the 138,000 square-foot structure for the manufacture of aircraft parts. The city council’s transportation committee approved of the sale on February 2, 1942 for $275,000. 33

Following victory over Japan and the conclusion of World War II, Thompson Products saw a rapid decline in defense production. 43 During the month following V-J Day on August 14, 1945, the company had around 3,000 cancelled contracts, or more than $50 million in total value. By the end of August, Tapco employed 650, down from 12,000 at the peak of war. Employment increased to 3,600 by mid-1946 due to increasing demand for automotive values and parts.

Thompson Products announced an agreement on September 20 to partially relocate to Euclid. 43 Thompson reorganized its Cleveland-area operations into five divisions based on product lines. Four of the five units, Light Metals (aluminum foundry operations), Piston Ring, Parts and Accessories and Valve and Jet Propulsion, were to be housed at Tapco in Euclid, with only the Special Products Division, automotive replacement parts and other forged-metal products, to be located at its Ashland Avenue factory.

Following World War II, Thompson began focusing on aerospace and defense contracts, especially during the ramp up to the Vietnam War and Cold War. 40

A 1951 Sanborn map noted that the Westinghouse Electric plant was home to Tapco, Pump Division:20

  • 2203-2209 Ashland Road was the six-story service building.
  • 2176-2203 Ashland Road were manufacturing areas, one- to two-stories in height..
  • 2151-2175 Ashland Road was a finished products warehouse, five-stories in height.
  • 2225-2229 Ashland Road was a three-story machine shop.
  • Other portions of the Thompson Products plant extended across the railroad tracks towards East 65th Street and north to Cedar Avenue.
East Cleveland Railroad Cedar Avenue Power House

A 1951 Sanborn Insurance map.

The Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation, formed on September 16, 1953 42 from two lead developers of the Falcon radar-guided missle at Hughes Aircraft, became a lead contractor of the ICBM development in the fall of 1954 42, reporting to the Air Force. 35 The very definition of the company reflected the increasing complexity of the weapon systems, which had evolved from simply weapons and into components that worked together through electromechanical, electronic and hardware processes. Ramo-Wooldridge’s Guided Missile Research Division had proven its worth on the Atlas, Titan and Thor programs, and its maturing General Electronics Group was developing plans to move from customer funded research-and-development contracts into production. 41

Thompson Products became a major investor in Ramo-Wooldridge, holding exclusive rights to the preferred stock and Class A shares. 42 In October 1958, Thompson invested $20 million, or 20% of its net worth, into Ramo-Wooldridge, and the two companies merged to form the Thompson-Ramo-Wooldridge (TRW). 44

An April 27, 1959 article listed the Ashland Avenue properties as part of TRW’s Light Metals division. 32 On January 27, 1961, TRW announced plans to acquire a 55-acre tract on Pleasant Valley Road in Independence for a $3 million master warehouse and headquarters for its automotive replacement parts division, replacing their Ashland Road facility. 36 TRW sold their Ashland Road complex on November 1, 1962 for approximately $500,000 to Albert A. Levin, a Cleveland attorney and real estate investor. 34 TRW continued to occupy the buildings under terms of a five-year lease while their Independence facility was leased to other tenants.

In 1963, Tapco became known as TRW Equipment Group as part of a branding effort for its groups and divisions. 45 47

By the mid-1980s, energy prices were dropping and defense spending began a sustained decline as the Cold War waned. 47 In 1985, TRW began divesting non-strategic businesses, such as aircraft components, dissolving their Light Metals division between 1978 and 1989. 40

Virden Manufacturing Company

The Howler Manufacturing Company, a manufacturer of brass, electroplaters and other metal goods, was renamed to the Virden Manufacturing Company in 1919. 9 It was headed by John C. Virden. 4 In October, the company moved to a new factory along Longfellow Avenue.

East Cleveland Railroad Cedar Avenue Power House

A 1913 Sanborn Insurance Map showing the Virden Manufacturing Company along Longfellow Road.

In 1920, a two-story, 40×92 foot addition at Ashland Road and Longfellow Avenue, designed by E. McGeorge, was let to contract in May for $60,000. 7 Construction work was completed by the Myers-Kuhn Construction Company. 8 In 1925, a contract was let to the Griffin Construction Company for a one-story, 40×80 foot machine shop and storage building, also designed by McGeorge. 6 Another expansion took place in mid-1936 when a contract was awarded to the Albert M. Higley Company, 14 and again in mid-1940 when a new two-story 150×70 foot warehouse was built by the Higley Company. 16 Over the ensuing years, the company expanded into the manufacture of fluorescent and incandescent lighting equipment, 9 and then into commercial and residential lighting products. 11

By 1963, portions of Virden had spilled over to the former TRW facilities along Ashland Road.

East Cleveland Railroad Cedar Avenue Power House

A 1951 Sanborn Insurance Map showing the Virden Manufacturing Company along Longfellow Road with its assorted expansions.

In 1946, Virden was elected a director of Eaton Manufacturing Company 9 and became director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland in January 1951, later rising to chairman of the board. On September 28, 1958, Virden was named president of Eaton Manufacturing Company and diversified the company. 5 He also announced his resignation as chairman of the board of the Virden Company. 9

The Virden Company was acquired by Scott & Fetzer Company of Lakewood in 1965. No changes took place at its operations at 6103 Longfellow Avenue. 10 The fixture manufacturing plant was placed under the Virden Lighting division.

Virden had become the third largest fixture manufacturer by 1968, with production tripling from 1960. 17 The company sold more than 1,000 varieties from its biennial catalog producing 10,000 to 15,000 fixtures per day. Virden constructed 600 to 800 units of one design per run, with some designs totaling 150,000 units per year. Its designers sketched 2,500 fixtures per year selecting from 100 patterns to be prototyped.

Scott & Fetzer laid off several hundred from the Virden Lighting division in 1970 and 1975 because of housing sale declines. 11 15 The company sold off its Virden Lighting and Rembrandt Lamp divisions in December 1977 to a newly formed company, Virden Corporation, headed by Albert M. Cherry. 11 Virden at the time of the sale had 360 employees.

Virden failed to make payment to 300 employees on August 6, 1979. 12 13 The company had had claimed that it was because of a parts shortage, but the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1554 stated that the company owned Cleveland Trust Company $5 million and Scott & Fetzer $2 million, paying them first instead of their own employees. 12 The company anticipated on reopening but laid off the remainder of the employees in January 1980. On October 28-31, a complete auction was held at the Virden Lighting Company, including its metal working machinery, punch presses, lathes, machine shop, $700,000 in inventory, $1 million in parts, print shop and real estate. 18

Prior to 1987, the property from Cedar Avenue to Thackeray Avenue along Ashland Road was transferred to Weiser Management Inc. 39 A quit claim deed for $60,000 was filed on July 7, 2008 to Bleacher Beast Inc., who was foreclosed upon on February 28, 2012. On June 21, the parcels were transferred to Sandusky Solutions LLC.

Sources