Cedar Avenue Power House

The Cedar Avenue Power House is a former power plant for the East Cleveland Railroad in Cleveland, Ohio. The complex was later reused for the Cleveland Ice Machine Company, Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing, Thompson Products, and the Virden Manufacturing Company until its closure in 1979.


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

The new plant opened on December 18 28 29 and featured three high-speed engines belted to two No. 16 Edison bipolar generators that operated at 1,000 RPMs. Three horizontal tubular boilers, equipped with Murphy stokers, supplied steam to the engines. One Berryman heater, with two pumps, provided the boilers.

In late 1889, three high-speed 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 other boilers of the same size and make were soon added.

An addition was completed on the south side of the original powerhouse in late 1890, with two Cooper Corliss Engines belted to a large jackshaft. 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 in 1892 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.

Four Cooper Corliss single-cylinder engines were then added. 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 rated at 130 HP and equipped with Murphy stokers.

In 1893, the East Cleveland Railway merged with Joseph Stanley’s Broadway & Newburgh Street Railroad to form the Cleveland Electric Railway. 29 It then merged with Tom and Al Johnson’s Brooklyn Street Railroad and the South Side Street Railroad. 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 container and then to the hoppers of the mechanical stokers via chutes and conveyors built by the C.W. Hunt Company of New York. Gate valves operated by a fireman regulated it.

In 1897, foundations for a new powerhouse were laid. 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 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 Metropolitan Electrical of New York and a duplicate of an order by the Louisville Street Railway. The flywheel attached 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 powerhouse 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 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 The 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 converters 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 was 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, a 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 dump into an overhead coal storage bin. The unit was needed as the power plant was burning through 60,000 tons of coal a year.

Cedar Avenue Power House

Starting in November 1912, Cleveland Railway began to outsource some power generation to the Illuminating Company to resolve over-capacity concerns. 1

In July 1915 and 1916, the railway company requested permission from the city to rebuild and enlarge the power plant at the cost of $345,000. 22 26 The city’s Street Railway Commissioner investigated the need for the improvements, and whether it would be cheaper to outsource all power generation. It was determined 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 six mills per KW. The cost of energy production in the Cedar Avenue plant was about 1 cent per kWh.

Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing

Cleveland Railway exited the power generation business in 1917. 23 24 After it left its buildings, the three one- and two-story structures at 2199 Ashland Road were used by the Cleveland Ice Machine Company 37 and Westinghouse Electric.

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

The company completed a five-story addition in 1922 on the southern end of the plant (2203-2209 Ashland Road). 20

Thompson Products

Thompson Products purchased several buildings from the Cleveland Railway on January 26, 1936, to house its service division. 31

Thompson Products originated in 1901 as the Cleveland Cap Screw Company, selling bolts with heads electrically welded to the shafts. They soon expanded to automobile engine valves, becoming the largest valve manufacturer in the nation. 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

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

On January 10, 1941, 46 Tapco (Thompson Aircraft Products Company) was founded as a subsidiary of Thompson Products and was housed along Ashland Road. 45 The company’s production peaked during World War II when it made valves, booster pumps, and high-altitude fuel systems for the military. 46

Following the conclusion of World War II, Thompson Products and Tapco saw a rapid decline in defense production. 43 The company had around 3,000 canceled contracts worth more than $50 million during the month following V-J Day. By the end of August, Tapco employed 650, down from 12,000 at the peak of the war. Employment increased to 3,600 by mid-1946 due to growing demand for automotive values and parts.

Thompson Products announced an agreement on September 20 to partially relocate to Euclid. 43 The company 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 moved to Euclid, with only the Special Products Division, automotive replacement parts, and other forged-metal products remaining along Ashland Road.

A 1951 Sanborn map noted: 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

The Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation, formed on September 16, 1953, 42 from two lead developers of the Falcon radar-guided missile at Hughes Aircraft, became a lead contractor for intercontinental ballistic missiles in the fall of 1954. 42 35 The very definition of the company reflected the increasing complexity of the weapon systems, which had evolved from simple 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

The Ashland Avenue properties became 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 the Virden Manufacturing Company in 1919. 9 In October, the company moved to a new factory along Longfellow Avenue. 4

In 1920, two-story addition at Ashland Road and Longfellow, 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 A contract was let to the Griffin Construction Company in 1925 for a one-story machine shop and storage building, also designed by McGeorge. 6 Two expansions in 1936 and 1940 were built by the Higley Company for warehousing. 14 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, Virden had expanded over to the former TRW facilities along Ashland Road.

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

Virden had become the third-largest fixture manufacturer in the nation 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. It constructed 600 to 800 units of one design per run, with some designs totaling 150,000 units per year, with its designers sketching 2,500 fixtures per year selecting from 100 patterns that were prototyped.

Scott & Fetzer laid off several hundred from the Virden Lighting division in 1970 and 1975 because of housing sale declines. 11 15 It then sold off its Virden Lighting and Rembrandt Lamp divisions in December 1977 to a newly formed company, the Virden Corporation. 11

Virden failed to make payment to 300 employees on August 6, 1979. 12 13 The company had claimed that it was because of a parts shortage, but the company could not meet its financial obligations. 12 The company anticipated reopening but laid off the remainder of the employees in January 1980. On October 28-31, a complete auction was held at Virden Lighting, including its metalworking machinery, punch presses, lathes, machine shop, $700,000 in inventory, $1 million in parts, print shop, and real estate. 18



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