The Moonville Tunnel
This is a little different from our usual posts, although it is in the heart of Zaleski State Forest - a beautiful forested, hilly section of Appalachia in South East Ohio.
No, this post is more about what use to be, what remains, and a little bit of what comes next...
"It was the loneliest stretch of railway from Cincinnati to Marietta. In the 1800s, the land around the town of Moonville was covered in forestland for as far as they eye could see. There were sparse pockets of cleared land from the iron furnaces, small farms and coal mines, but traveling these tracks by train was like careening down a highway in a fast car at a hundred miles an hour and turning off the lights. It was dark and desolate and difficult to see. The engineers had to watch for cows and deer, chunks of trees and water flooding over their path. Add the tree canopy above that literally hugged the railway bed so it was like one, huge tunnel of black and you had a place all engineers simply dreaded to pass. That was Moonville."
- excerpt from www.moonvilletunnel.net
Moonville was established in the 1850s after Mr Coe sold part of his land to the C&M Railroad to cut an even and flat route through the rough Appalachian terrain. This worked in Coe's favor as his land was rich with coal and clay which we could then get to the market easier. From this train stop a small mining town was formed topping out at around 100 people in the 1870s.
The train was both a blessing and a curse to this small town, providing a way to earn money and creating an easy walking path to get from town to town, however many lives had been lost by those entering the long dark tunnel or crossing the two narrow trestles over the nearby rivers.
As resources and the economy dried up in the 1940s so did the small town and by the 1950s all that remained were a few abandoned houses. In 1988 the trains stopped traveling this route and the tracks were pulled up.
Every small town has its ghost stories, between the train and the deaths this former town has many. The one I enjoyed the most was
The Ghost of The Engineer...
"On a cold November night in 1880, Engineer Frank Lawhead was taking the dark passage from Cincinnati to Marietta. He would have no more time than to blink at a light bearing down on him before his life was stripped away from him. The dispatcher failed to notify the train there was a second train coming toward them on the tracks. The train he was driving along the Marietta and Cincinnati route through the tiny town of Moonville would take a headlong trip straight into another train coming along the same tracks. He died, most likely, instantly along with the fire man on board the train.
The Fort Wayne Weekly wrote this on November 10th 1880:
1880 Frank Lawhead, Engineer Killed in Train Wreck Near Kings station in this county on Thursday last, Engineer Lawhead and Charles Krick, fireman, both of Chillicothe, were instantly killed by collision of freight trains, which, we are told, was the result of a mistake of train dispatcher. The trains were totally wrecked.(Athens Messenger, Thursday, Nov 11, 1880).
The Fort Wayne Weekly November 10th 1880
That should have been the last of it. But not long after the engineer and fireman were killed, a ghostly form dressed in white began showing up along the tracks frightening the engineers running the route from Cincinnati to Marietta. Those riding the desolate route would see something shining in the distance, then a white form would appear. Just as quickly, it dissipated into the blackness of the forest around them.
1895 Chillicothe Gazette wrote the following:
A ghost (after an absence of one year) returned and appeared in front of a freight at the point where Engineer Lawhead lost his life. The ghost is seen in a white robe and carrying a lantern. "The eyes glistened like balls of fire and surrounding it was a halo of twinkling stars" - Chillicothe Gazette, 17 Feb 1895
And to this day, visitors to the site still swear they see lights at night, find images of an engineer on their cameras."
There's also said to be a ghost of the brakeman, the lavender lady, and the bully - again all can be found at www.moonvilletunnel.net
Now all that is left is the tunnel, the stories, and a 16 mile Rail-trail which runs from just outside of Zaleski, OH to just outside of Mineral, OH.
Zaleski is still the densest most unpopulated forest in the state and is quite stunning. If ghost stories aren't your thing, go for the scenery, it is lovely and oh so quiet!
Since 2015 we have been exploring and sharing all the amazing things we’ve found in nature.
Emily is an Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist who is most often found out in the woods.