NELSONVILLE - The Hocking Valley Scenic Railway, which was the largest independent railroad entirely within the state of Ohio, offers visitors a look into the past.
Located less then an hour ride from Parkersburg, nestled in Ohio's Appalachian foothills is the town of Nelsonville, the scenic railway is at 33 East Canal St.
The city was the former home to the Nelsonville Brick Co., which opened in the late 1870s. Along the route, visitors can see the historic Hocking River Valley between Nelsonville and Logan, including the historic company town of Haydenville, remnants of the once-prosperous Hocking Canal, and the remaining brick kilns of the Nelsonville Brick Co.
As a result of the once booming industrial/coal mining operations in the Nelsonville area, several railroads were built, including what ultimately became the Hocking 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.
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.
The Hocking Valley Scenic Railway is now an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization 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 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," said volunteer Chris Burchett. He's been helping out around the railroad since 1997.
"The kids love it, absolutely," Burchett said. "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 - every Saturday and Sunday at noon and 2:30 p.m., from Memorial Day weekend through the end of October.
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 brick company houses are still standing, as well as the church, though the old brick plant that the town was built around is long gone. The original brick Haydenville train depot built in 1903 still stands and is being restored, with the hope of it being a stop once again.
Remnants of the 1830s-built Hocking Canal parallel the tracks, and the historic, nearly-complete Lock No. 19 can be seen from the train. Before the ride ends, the train arrives on the Hocking College campus and its recreated 1850s Ohio pioneer village known as Robbins Crossing.
At Robbins Crossing, visitors have a chance to see a working blacksmith shop, candle-making, yarn spinning, craft-making and more. All buildings are original area log cabins that have been moved and restored. Visitors have a chance to walk through the village self-guided for about 30 minutes before the train departs and the journey comes to an end in Nelsonville about two hours after the initial departure.
There is on-board narration relating to the history of the area.
Tickets average about $15 and the train rides are approximately two hours. While the coaches are not handicapped accessible, there is a wheelchair lift available at the Nelsonville Depot. Free parking is available.