A Brief History
The Hockhocking Adena Bikeway offers relaxing and scenic views of southwestern Ohio, winding its way along the Hocking River and what remains of the Hocking Canal. Much of the trail uses a former branch of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway, which was once known as the Hocking Valley Railway (HV), dating to the 1860s. A short section of the trail around Athens uses a former Baltimore & Ohio right-of-way. The HV was originally built to tap the region’s rich coal deposits and remained quite profitable for nearly 60 years until these seams began playing out. The former HV south of Columbus began seeing increasingly less traffic and was slowly abandoned beginning in the 1930s. The right-of-way that is today’s Hockhocking Adena Bikeway had its rails removed during the early 1970s.
While coal brought railroads into the Hocking River Valley, the state of Ohio was one of the earliest pushing for improved transportation. As early as 1834, U.S. Congressman John Chaney from Ohio proposed building what would have been known as the Hocking Valley Railroad from Lancaster to a point on the Ohio River. However, this idea fell through from lack of support, as did another planned railroad during summer 1853. During the 1820s, the state began construction of the Ohio Canal designed for better transportation and which connected Cleveland at Lake Erie to Portsmouth along the Ohio River. It was completed during the early 1830s; subsequently several tributaries were built connecting back to the main body of water. One of these was the Hocking Canal that flowed from north of Lancaster to Athens.
As railroads began reaching Ohio by the middle of the century, it was clear that this mode of transportation would eventually replace the canals. Rail could operate in all types of weather and did not have to be closed during winter. On April 14, 1864, the Mineral Rail Road was chartered to build from Columbus to Athens, a distance of 72 miles. This new company turned out to be the first serious endeavor to establish rail service through that area; however, it took time to secure enough funding before construction could begin. Milbury Greene, which owned a salt works at Salina just north of Athens, purchased the railroad’s charter and pressed hard to see it built. After a short time, he was successful in convincing several wealthy area businessmen to finance the project.
During May 1867, the railroad’s name was changed to the Columbus & Hocking Valley (C&HV), and construction proceeded soon after. The first 14 miles were opened from Columbus, south to Canal Winchester by July 16, 1868. Work proceeded quickly to the south; Lancaster gained rail service on January 13, 1869, and Nelsonville by August 17. Nearly a year later, the rail reached Athens and opened for service on July 25, 1870. The line from Athens to Columbus constituted the main line of the C&HV, and by January 1871, branches extended north of Logan to tap additional seams of coal at locations such as New Straitsville, Gore, and Winona.
Two other railroads were important in the history of the C&HV: the Columbus & Toledo Railway, chartered in 1872, and the Ohio & West Virginia Railway, formed in August 1878. The former would eventually complete a route from Columbus to Toledo by January 1877, while the latter was opened between Pomeroy, Gallipolis, and Logan by January 1881. For some time, the three railroads used each other’s lines via trackage rights to gain access to access Columbus, Toledo, and the Ohio River. To streamline operations and improve efficiencies, they elected to merge, forming the Columbus, Hocking Valley & Toledo Railway (CHV&T) in July 1881. During the next two decades, the new system continued to prosper on coal while adding more lines, such as the Monday Creek Branch and Snow Fork Branch (both located north of Nelsonville) to tap additional reserves of coal.
During 1895, the CHV&T built the 17.5-mile Wellston & Jackson Belt Railway from McArthur Junction to Jackson and also operated the small 6-mile Athens, Amesville & Chauncey Railway, located around Athens and built by coal interests to serve nearby mines. Following the financial Panic of 1893, the CHV&T fell into bankruptcy and was reorganized as the Hocking Valley Railway (HV) in 1899. In 1910, the HV was acquired by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway, whose original intention for the property was to provide it with a western outlet for coal originating in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky; it later served as a connection to the C&O-controlled Pere Marquette Railway in Michigan after 1947. With C&O financial backing, the railroad gained direct service to Lake Erie in East Toledo and opened a new dock via a 3.5-mile branch from Walbridge.
At its peak during the 1920s, the HV boasted a system of 348 miles; however, the decade also witnessed the beginnings of a slow decline since its system south of Columbus was running out of coal. As a result, the HV’s former Mound Street Shops in Columbus and facilities in Logan were shuttered. More cutbacks came in the 1930s when the branches to Jackson, Straitsville, and other nearby spurs were abandoned. Because the line from Columbus to Toledo thrived on through-freight and coal to the lakes, it continued to prosper and is owned and still operated by CSX Transportation today. From the 1940s onward, cutbacks continued south of Columbus. The corridor that is today’s Hockhocking Adena Bikeway between Nelsonville and Athens ended service after August 30, 1972.
Today, much of the original Hocking Valley Railway south of Columbus is gone except for a few stretches, including 11 miles between Logan and Nelsonville now known as the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway (offering excursion trains). Ohio is home to several railroad attractions, including the Hocking Valley Scenic Railroad; Bradford Ohio Railroad Museum in Bradford; Byesville Scenic Railway in Byesville; Dennison Railroad Depot Museum in Dennison; Lebanon Mason Monroe Railroad in Lebanon; Marion Union Station in Marion; Ohio Railway Museum in Worthington; and Warther Carvings in Dover (home to intricately carved trains made from ivory, ebony, and walnut).Do you have Historical Photos of the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway?
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