East façade of “Offices & Stores” building in the Ludlow rail yards (c.1889-92)
A Recent Fire
Vandals set a fire in the Ludlow Railyard on June 10, 2020 and destroyed a deteriorated and mostly wooden engine repair shop building that dated from the 1920s.
Now, only a single historic building survives in the Ludlow yards. The Cincinnati Southern Railway, constructed between Cincinnati and Chattanooga in the 1870s, connected the Queen City to the newly industrializing South.
This railway proved a great boon to Ludlow. Thanks to inducements offered by brothers William S. and Albert S. Ludlow, the new railway chose Ludlow as its point of arrival and location to bridge across the Ohio River into Cincinnati.
The Cincinnati Southern located its supply yards and repair shops in Ludlow. With the building of the railroad from the mid-1870s onward, Ludlow became a Victorian industrial boom town on a small scale.
Much of the town’s-built environment, including its numerous historic Victorian houses and commercial buildings, exist due to the railroad. However, little survives of Ludlow's original railway architecture.
Of the dozens of structures built in the Ludlow rail yards, only one remains: a handsome, round-arched building of brick and stone.
The original Ludlow rail yards, built between the mid-1870s and mid-1880s, were mostly of wood. In 1887, a fire swept through the yards and burned these early buildings.
The man in charge of the Ludlow yards at that time was James Meehan (1834-1908), an energetic and colorful figure who rebuilt the yards between 1888- 1892 on a grander scale and in more permanent materials.
The surviving, round-arched building in the Ludlow yards dates from Meehan's rebuilding campaign. Although James Meehan and his wife Eleanor lived in Covington, Meehan spent much of his time in Ludlow.
He was a Victorian self-made man. An inventor, machinist, transportation engineer, and industrialist, he supervised the Ludlow rail yards from 1881-1893. Meehan's wife, Eleanor Childs Meehan (1839-1925), became a noted local writer who recorded regional history and stories from pioneer days through the early 20th century.
James Meehan’s family emigrated from Ireland to Covington in 1840. As a young man he worked for the Covington and Lexington Railroad. During the Civil War he joined the Confederate Navy. He was captured but escaped to Mexico where he engaged in railroad building under the ill-fated regime of Emperor Maximilian (1864-67).
Following Maximilian’s execution, Meehan returned to railway work in Northern Kentucky and, in 1881, became Master Mechanic and Supervisor of Motive Power for the Ludlow rail yards, at that time leased by the Cincinnati Southern Railway to the Cincinnati New Orleans & Texas Pacific Railway (CNO&TP).
Meehan repaired and refurbished rolling stock, implemented a more standard gauge, and designed and manufactured new railway engines. When the old wooden Ludlow rail yards burned in 1887, Meehan exhibited tremendous energy in expanding the yards and building more fire-resistant brick, stone, and slate structures, including repair shops 668 feet long, an 84-foot-tall smokestack, and a roundhouse for 18 locomotives.
c.1888-89 “Building new shops at Ludlow. (Ritchie Family Photograph, Kenton County Public Library)
The surviving historic structure in the Ludlow rail yards is one of Meehan's brick buildings, dating from the late 1880s or early 1890s. This building apparently functioned as the railyard "Offices & Stores," meaning that parts manufactured in the yards and elsewhere were stored there, available for use in the repair and construction of railway engines and cars (somewhat like the "parts department" of contemporary auto dealer ships). The north end of the building held offices and it is possible that Meehan had his own headquarters there.
The Ludlow Offices & Stores building is a fine piece of Victorian industrial architecture. Its masonry outer walls admit light through multiple, round-arched clerestory windows that originally illuminated the interiors above long runs of wall-mounted shelves for holding railway parts.
While the outer walls are of brick and stone construction, the floors and roof structure are of wood, supported along the building's central axis by wooden posts that sprout umbrella-like brackets. These heavy wooden structural elements would probably have performed better in a fire than exposed iron.
The building is 30 feet wide by 120 feet long, parallel to the north-south direction of the tracks. The long east façade was two stories high and opened to the tracks through arched openings in its exposed, stone "basement." (The earth has since been banked up on the east to nearly conceal this originally exposed basement). On the west, the building opens at its upper level under a Victorian canopy supported on wooden, spindle-turned brackets (this canopy was originally continuous; two sections of it now remain).
James Meehan's manufacturing and building activities went beyond the Ludlow yards. In 1889, he helped establish the Ross-Meehan Foundry complex in Chattanooga, Tennessee where, in 1893, he built a facility for manufacturing a railway brake shoe that he had invented and patented; it made him and Eleanor wealthy.
Some of the Ross-Meehan Foundry structures survive and are among Chattanooga's oldest buildings. They have been recently rehabilitated for use as a sports facility and a brewery. Meehan's business ventures went further afield: he owned a large foundry in Mexico City. Meehan surely shipped metal products north by rail from both his Chattanooga and Mexico foundries to his shop headquarters in Ludlow.
Sometime after 1893, Meehan built a series of six elegant Victorian townhouses on Butler Street in Ludlow (Nos. 12-22), likely to house railway-related workers. (The Ludlow Historic Society has recently purchased one of the "Meehan Row" houses, No. 20, and plans to restore it.)
The surviving Ludlow "Offices & Stores" building, with its multiple, round-arched windows, might be called "Industrial Romanesque"--a repetitious, functional interpretation of the powerful Romanesque Revival buildings designed by late 19th-century Boston architect H. H. Richardson, inspired by the round-arched European Romanesque buildings of the early Middle Ages.
Richardson's Romanesque buildings (which included the now-lost Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce building of 1885-89) were picturesque in their massing, and po etic in their materials. The modular and repetitious character of the surviving Ludlow railyard building is a more "rationalized" Romanesque that recalls buildings by Chicago architect Solon S. Beman (1853-1914), who worked for railway magnate and industrialist George Pullman. Beman designed the Pullman factory and the adjacent company workers' town of Pullman, Illinois.
He also designed Grand Central Station in Chicago and the "Ivorydale" factory-town complex for Procter and Gamble in Cincinnati (1884-89). Beman was a major industrial architect of the Victorian Midwest in the 1880s-90s, working especially in railway-related contexts.
However, while extensive Pullman repair shops existed in the Ludlow railyards, and while the surviving Ludlow railway building resembles Beman's designs, the building does not seem to have been directly con nected with the Ludlow Pullman works. With Beman in Cincinnati and possibly involved with the Ludlow Pullman works, it is possible that James Meehan knew him. However, Beman's architecture also represented a widespread industrial vernacular, or "railroad Romanesque" creatively adapted by those involved with designing utilitarian railway structures.
While James Meehan may have known prominent railway-related architects like Beman, it seems more likely that the designer of his new structures for the Ludlow railyards, including the surviving "Offices & Stores" building, was one of the engineers, architects, or draftsmen employed by the railroad itself. A possible candidate is engineer-architect Louis Gustave Frederic Bouscaren (1840-1904). In 1850, Bouscaren's French descended family emigrated from the island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean to Grant County, Kentucky.
A talented pupil, Bouscaren was admitted in 1854 to the Lycée St. Louis in Paris, France. He then entered the prestigious Ecole Centrale des Arts and Manufactures in Paris, where he trained as an engineer for three years. Returning to Northern Kentucky after the American Civil War, Bouscaren worked as a draftsman in the office of prominent Cincinnati Victorian architect Samuel Hannaford. In 1873, the Cincinnati Southern Railway hired Bouscaren to assist in building its road to the south. In 1876, he became the Cincinnati Southern's principal engineer and in 1881, chief engineer for the Cincinnati Southern's leasee, the CNO & TP Railway. Bouscaren is credited with designing the original Cincinnati Southern Railway bridge across the Ohio River at Ludlow (completed, 1877).
History research performed by Ruth Bamberger, Mark Mitchell, Patrick Snadon, and Andy Wartman.
John H. White, "Meehan, James" in: Paul A. Tenkotte and James C. Claypool. The Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2009), p. 612. White, On the Right Track: Some His toric Cincinnati Railroads (Cincinnati: Merton Printing Co., 2003), pp. 134-39. "James Meehan Dead," The Kentucky Post, 28 February 1908, p. 3 (obituary). On Eleanor Meehan, see: John Boh, "From Pioneer Days to the 1920s as re called by Eleanor Childs Meehan and George G. Perkins," in: Bulletin of the Kenton County Historical Society (March/ April 2014), pp. 2-10.
"The Ludlow Shops of the Cincinnati New Orleans & Texas Pacific Railway" in The Railway Review (November 24,1888), pp. 671-74 [A site plan in this article identifies the surviving brick building as "Offices & Stores"]. Also, on the Ludlow rail yards and Meehan's role see: Charles H. Bogart, "Cincinnati Southern Railroad" (p. 181); John H. White, "Cincinnati Southern Railroad Yard" (p. 182); Paul A. Tenkotte, "Cincinnati Southern Railway Bridge" (p. 182), all in Paul A. Tenkotte and James C. Claypool. The Encyclopedia of North ern Kentucky (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2009). Also, Charles G. Hall, ed., The Cincinnati Southern Railway (Cincinnati: Ault and Wiborg, 1902), pp. 102-03, 181.
White, On the Right Track, p. 136; Hall, The Cincinnati Southern Rail way, pp. 102-03.
Online see https://chattanooga.pastperfedtonline.com/webobject/5E050828-429D-A35D 846367271650 [description of a wooden foundry mold from the Ross-Meehan Foundry with brief history of the found ry]. On Meehan's Mexico City foundry see "News of the Courts" [James Meehan Estate], Cincinnati Enquirer, 18 March 1908. National Museum of American History, "Trade Catalogues from Ross-Meehan Foundries." https:// americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/SILNMAHTL.1473.
Architectural histories of railway buildings have focused on grand passenger terminals and associated train sheds at the expense of other building types; research into utilitarian shop buildings and manufacturing and repair facilities is rare. One of a few recent books to deal with "working" complexes and utilitarian structures is James D. Dilts, The World the Trains Made: A Century of Great Railroad Architecture in the United States and Canada (Lebanon, New Hampshire: ForeEdge / University Press of New England, 2018).
Walter E. Langsam, Biographical Dictionary of Cincinnati Architects, online at: architecturecincy.org. See al so, Michael R. Sweeney, "Bouscaren, Louis Frederic Gustav" in: Paul A. Tenkotte and James C. Claypool. The Encyclope dia of Northern Kentucky (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2009), p. 106.
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