The Little Miami was incorporated on March 11, 1836, and its first president, who served without pay, was Jeremiah Morrow, governor of Ohio. It was the second railroad incorporated in the state of Ohio. The first meeting to sell stock was held at Linton's Hotel, Waynesville, May 13, 1836; the second on June 2, 1836 in Xenia. The railroad was originally intended to run from Cincinnati to Springfield where it was expected meet the Mad River and Lake Erie Railroad, which was building south to Springfield from Sandusky on Lake Erie. At the time of incorporation, the National Road had not yet reached Columbus, and other than trails, the main shipping route for the Great Lakes region to the rest of the nation to the east of the Allegheny Mountains suitable for trade was via the rivers leading to the Great Lakes and from there, on to points east along the Erie Canal. Winter rendered passage over the Alleghenies impracticable for large shipments, and the Erie Canal froze. The only alternative winter shipping route to points east was a lengthy circuitous southern route by riverboat down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans for transhipment east, but the entire regions adjacent to the Great Lakes lacked a means of communication with the Ohio River for shipment of their products - Ohio had a rather extensive network of canals under construction by this time, but they too froze in winter like the Erie Canal. The Mad River and Lake Erie Railroad was projected to run from Sandusky on Lake Erie south to a proposed interchange at Springfield, where trains could be handed over to the Little Miami to proceed to Cincinnati -- thus providing the Great Lakes region and its products with year-round access to the rest of the nation, as access to any of the ships then sailing on the Great Lakes meant access to the proposed railroad link to the Ohio River. As such, the proposal of the two railroads working in close cooperation was projected to be one of the major trade routes of the era, and of particular importance during winter months.
Cincinnati to Milford and Loveland Constructed
By the end of 1841, the road was open from Cincinnati to Milford - 14 miles - along the Little Miami River, and preparations had been made to lay rails north along the river to Fosters. The first train ran December 14, 1841 from Cincinnati to Milford, making the journey in about ninety minutes. Additional track was opened to Loveland the next year.
Opened to Waynesville
The road's surveyors ran a route along the Little Miami River past what would become the Peters Cartridge Company at Kings Mills to South Lebanon and thence up Turtle Creek to Lebanon, Ohio and thence Waynesville. However, at a grade of 33 feet to the mile, it was too steep for locomotives then available. The city of Lebanon pleaded for the company to reconsider, but the route was instead laid along the river to what would become the towns of Morrow, Fort Ancient (where the gorge is 300 feet deep and where the Jeremiah Morrow Bridge today stands), Mathers Mills, Oregonia, and to Waynesville (which was on the opposite shore). This country even today is sparsely populated. Had the directors waited just a few years, more powerful locomotives that could climb the grades would be available.
Opened to Xenia
The road was pushed northward and the line to Xenia opened in August 1845.
Completion to Springfield
The road was completed to Springfield and inaugurated on August 10, 1846, bringing the total route-miles of its main line to 84 miles, giving Springfield railway service even before the state capital Columbus. By this time, the National Road had also reached Springfield, but the Mad River and Lake Erie Railroad had encountered difficulties in raising capital, and construction and would be delayed for three years in reaching Springfield and closing the gap in the plan to link the Great Lakes with the Ohio River. With the importance of the railroad's terminus at Springfield of only modest local value without the M.R. & L.E. R.R., the company's attention quite naturally turned to the state capital, roughly 40 miles east of Springfield. Surveys were favorable for building a line to Columbus diverging from the Little Miami mainline at Xenia, and management was quite active in the formation of a railroad styled the Columbus and Xenia Railroad. From Xenia, a connection was built to link to the Columbus and Xenia Railroad, its partner. The two companies combined their operations, but did not formally merge, on November 30, 1853. By 1856, the Little Miami had 116.25 miles of track, and the C&X had 63.25 miles. The two lines were always on cordial and cooperative terms, as they formed the only rail link between Cincinnati and the state capital at the time.
Upgrades and Shift in Transportation Patterns
The line had been built with an eye to cost containment, and this proved to be wise in view of the failure of the Mad River and Lake Erie Railroad to reach Springfield. Nevertheless, revenues from local agricultural shipments were promising enough to enable the line to upgrade to heavier rails and make other improvements during the middle of the century. By this time, the line gained the reputation for being one of the best-run lines in the nation. However, by 1853, the first of the three railway systems from the Eastern Seaboard that were to succeed in crossing the Alleghenies and reaching Ohio (the lines that would form the New York Central Railroad, the Pennsylvania Railroad, and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad were the three systems that were the first to reach Ohio from the East) had linked up with the growing railway network already in place in Ohio, such that it was possible to travel by rail from Ohio in the west to points east. The Hillsboro and Cincinnati Railroad was chartered in 1846 to run a line between Hillsboro and O'Bannon Creek in Loveland on the Little Miami's route. Later, the H&C had completed the 37 miles to Hillsboro. The H&C would lease its line in perpetuity to the Marietta and Cincinnati Railroad and ultimately became the mainline of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. This upended the established trade routes in Ohio, which were generally along a north-south axis to get goods or passengers either to Lake Erie or the Ohio River. The Lake Erie and Mad River Railroad had reached Springfield in 1849, but the intended synergies expected from Great Lakes traffic dissipated within a few years as trans-Allegheny railroads reached into Ohio. With the opening of those railroads' lines into Ohio, the most important traffic pattern irrevocably shifted to an east-west oriented axis. As the Little Miami Railroad ran northeasterly-southwesterly, its importance as one of the first potential links in a national trunk line was considerably diminished, and the mainline beyond Xenia to Springfield was reduced in importance to that of a mere branch. Henceforth, the Little Miami would guard its Columbus route, but looked to the West when projecting for the future.
Growth Through Mergers
The Little Miami Railroad leased in perpetuity all assets of the C&X on March 18, 1869, while the C&X continued to exist as a separate corporation. At that time, the LMRR had 123.49 miles of track and the C&X 75.33 miles. It would later acquire 42 miles of Dayton and Western Railroad track by lease in 1864 and 16.5 miles from the Dayton and Xenia Railroad.
The Little Miami joined the Cincinnati and Indiana Railroad in 1862 in building track along the riverfront in Cincinnati to link their two depots. The LMRR and the C&X then bought the Dayton, Xenia and Belpre Railroad in January 1865.
Absorbed into the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and St. Louis Railroad
The Little Miami Railroad was leased in perpetuity, renewable forever, all of its assets, including the DX&P, the D&W, and the C&X, to the Pittsburg, Cincinnati and St. Louis Railway, retroactive to December 1, 1869. The rent was $480,000 per year. The PC&St.L was part of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and the Pennsy co-signed the lease, guaranteeing the payments and other conditions. At the time of the lease, the LMRR system consisted of 195.65 miles of track. The system had cost $3,995,165 in track, right-of-way, and facilities, plus $1,065,968 in rolling stock, machinery, and a boat on the Ohio River. Later, the PC&St.L. merged with several other railroads to emerge as the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway.
On the Little Miami River between Kings Mills, Ohio and South Lebanon was Middletown Junction, where the Middletown and Cincinnati Railroad track met the LMRR.
The Lake Erie and Mad River Railroad, which initially was seen as being a natural ally and company with which the Little Miami expected to have a close cooperative business relationship was itself absorbed into the competing New York Central system. The Little Miami's most serious competitor, the Cincinnati, Hamilton and Dayton Railway (1895–1917), would become part of the Baltimore and Ohio system.