Finding history in Petrolia’s road construction

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A piece of Petrolia’s history has been uncovered during the reconstruction of Petrolia Line.

Birnam Construction is currently working to reconstruct the road from the Bear Creek Bridge to Tank Street. While they were digging, they came across the former bridge, near the base of the hill. And there was rail line on top of it.

At first, town officials thought the rail had been used has reinforcement for the bridge but local historians and Town Councilor Mary Pat Gleeson corrected them. It was the World’s Shortest Rail Line, as recognized by Ripley’s Believe it or Not.

Gleeson says at one time Petrolia and Corunna were closely connected economically. Oil from the area was sent to Corunna for refining and that meant many families also gravitated toward the St. Clair River. Many, she says had summer homes there.

So town fathers were talking about linking the communities with a trolley car. When the bridge near Fairbank House had to be replaced, they decided to embed the line into it.

But Gleeson says the idea – and the bridge-length rail line – were abandoned. “What happened I do not know, I just suspect the economy the economic times put the kibosh on it,” she tells The Independent.

Gleeson remembers the bridge from her childhood. “When we would go to camp … one of the things we always said was ‘did you know we have the shortest streetcar track in the world?”

Gleeson says eventually, as the town paved and repaved the road and the tracks became less prominent.

The track and the bridge disappeared around the 1960s. Officials decided to reroute Bear Creek and build the bridge further to the east.

That would explain why construction crews found the bridge so far north, according to Director of Operations Mike Thompson. “We weren’t expecting that at all,” he says. “We had no idea it was there.

“When they rebuilt the road (in the 1960s) they built new base of the road and put the new road overtop of the bridge. So when Birnam was digging, they were digging up the old road; there is also an old asphalt road there…It’s still in good shape but its been buried for years.”

The town took a number of photos of the unique piece of the town’s history and a couple of pieces of the railroad track were also removed for posterity.

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