A unique trip to history awaits in Southeast Ohio
Nestled in Ohio’s gorgeous Appalachian foothills is the former industrial powerhouse known as Nelsonville. Once an important center, it was home to the Nelsonville Brick Company, opening in the later 1870s. It produced several million bricks during its existence, including the very famous sidewalk bricks known as Star Bricks because of the star design on the top of each brick. During this same time, the coal industry was also expanding rapidly, as the coal in the area was some of the best in the world at the time.
As a result, several railroads were built in the area, including what ultimately became theHocking Valley Railway. This railroad was the largest independent railroad contained entirely within the state of Ohio, spanning from Toledo, Ohio, to Athens –home of Ohio University–and the Ohio River town of Pomeroy, Ohio. Nelsonville was a major junction for the railroad, as it was one of the principle yards for putting together the coal trains to head north to Lake Erie. At one time, the Nelsonville yard was one of the largest in the world when it was built. Eventually, the coal industry played out, the Hocking Valley Railway became part of the Chesapeake & Ohio and Nelsonville transitioned from industrial power house to tourist, history and art center.
Enter the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway. This all-volunteer, non-profit organization has been providing family-friendly train rides from historic Nelsonville since 1972. The primary diesel locomotives used date back to 1952, while the coaches passengers get a chance to ride in were built anywhere from 1917 to the 1960s. “We absolutely love what we do. That we get to restore and operate such historic equipment in such a beautiful, historic area is worth every bit of it,” says volunteer Chris Burchett. He’s been helping out around the railroad since 1997. “The kids love it, absolutely,” he continued. “Plus the fact that the kids from many years ago are now bringing their kids, not to mention grandkids, now is amazing to say the least. The people we have here are top-notch. We hope everyone has a chance to ride the train with us.”
Trains depart the Nelsonville Depot—a replica of an original Hocking Valley depot in Rising Sun, Ohio—each Saturday and Sunday at Noon and 2:30 from Memorial Day weekend through the end of October. Then there are several themed trains operating throughout the year, including the Easter Bunny Train, Ohio’s Friendliest Train Robbery, Fall Foliage, All-Caboose, Santa Trains, and New Year’s Eve Train.
As the weekend train winds through the Hocking River Valley, it passes through such former company towns as East Clayton and Haydenville. Haydenville was the last company town in Ohio and several of the unique brick company houses are still standing, as well as the beautiful church, though the old brick plant that the town was built around is long gone. The orginal brick Haydenville train depot built in 1903 still stands as well, and is currently in the process of being restored, with the hope of it being a stop once again. As the train continues up the line, it comes to stop just outside Logan where it reverses direction and heads back toward Nelsonville. Remnants of the 1830s-built Hocking Canal parallel the tracks as well and the historic, nearly-complete Lock No. 19 can be easily seen from the train. Before the ride ends, though, the train arrives on the Hocking College campus and its recreated 1850s Ohio pioneer village known as Robbins Crossing. Here visitors have a chance to see a working blacksmith shop, candle-making, yarn spinning, craft-making, and much more. All buildings are original area log cabins that have been moved and carefully restored. Visitors have a chance to walk through the village self-guided for about thirty minutes before the train departs and the journey comes to end in Nelsonville about two hours after the initial departure.
Along with the history of the area, passengers have a great opportunity to take in the beautiful natural sights along the way. And the different historical notes and sites, as well as the general area history, are pointed out during the trip by way of the on-board live narration.
As for tickets and information, the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway has put together an informative Web site at www.hockingvalleytrain.org. And the friendly staff for their toll-free number is very helpful as well. Tickets average about $15 and the train rides average about two hours in length. While the coaches are not handicap accessible, as it is vintage equipment, there is a wheelchair lift available at the Nelsonville Depot. And let’s not forget that parking is free in any of the three lots around the depot, which is located next to the famous Rocky Boots Outdoor Gear Store along Business Route 33 (Canal Street).
Summer is here and it’s time to get out and have a fun day with the family!