Dredging up Success

A biography of Elias Sims (1813 – 1885)

Elias Sims
Elias Sims

Elias Sims was born at Onondaga, New York, August 4, 1813. Until he was 15 years of age, Elias worked on a farm, when he decided to leave it and strike out for himself. He worked as a laborer on the Erie Canal for some time, and was very soon selected as an overseer. He held this situation for about two years when he became deputy superintendent of the works, being at the time only in his eighteenth year. After considerable experience in this business, he decided there was an opportunity to make more money by contracting than by working on a salary, and he successfully completed other similar projects.

After sometime he obtained a dredging contract at Port Stanley Canada, and being very successful in this he entered into it as a permanent business and by 1856 was living in Cleveland and working as a contractor for dredging the “old riverbed”. He continued to renew his dredging contract with Cleveland from year to year and in addition to this, he executed some immense jobs at Grand Haven, Mich., Erie, Pa., and Milwaukee, Wis.

He was a major contractor in the construction of the Great Western Railroad in Canada, and canal locks in Iowa.  Sims was a pioneer in the system of dredging, by means of which all the lake harbors were able to receive vessels of double the old tonnage.

Daniel Rhodes and Mark Hanna, together with William Barnett and Elias Sims, came together as principals in the creation in 1867 of one of the century’s most interesting West Side transportation facilities. It was formally identified as the Rocky River Railroad.

Rocky River Railroad commuter train
Rocky River Railroad commuter train

The Rhodes and Hanna families had special affection for the unspoiled, forested countryside beyond the Highland Avenue (W. 117th Street) city limits, with its fruit farms, meadows, woods and clear lake vista all the way to Rocky River. That was where they went for their weekend recreation, and eventually the two families built country homes in that part of Rockport, which became the suburb of Lakewood. But travel was difficult in 1867. The principal avenue was Detroit Street, partly a toll road. Rhodes and Hanna must have reasoned that their railroad would enjoy a profitable patronage in connecting Clevelanders with the recreational country to the west, all the way to the Rocky River. At the same time it would extend their street transportation empire. The Dummy Line was a single-track railway with twelve passenger coaches and three twelve-ton steam locomotives. The engines were named after the road’s principal owners, Marcus Hanna, D. P. Rhodes, and Elias Sims. The western terminis of the Rocky River line was located in front of Cliff House (known also as Murch House) on Sloane Avenue at Edanola in an area that was known as Clifton Park.

Murch House (Cliff House), Train Terminal, 1874
Murch House (Cliff House), Train Terminal, 1874

Clifton Park, a residential neighborhood in Lakewood, is located on the high eastern bluffs at the mouth of the Rocky River. The name dates from 1866, when a group of Cleveland businessmen – among them Elias Sims, Daniel P. Rhodes, Ezra Nicholson, and Josiah Barber – formed the Clifton Park Association, to promote the area as a summer resort. By 1868 the association had built the Rocky River Railroad, which originated at Bridge Street at the city limits and extended to what is today Sloane Avenue in Lakewood. There, passengers disembarked to enjoy boating, bathing, large picnic groves and beer gardens.”