Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, in northern Athens County, is a small mining town called Nelsonville. Here, coal once was the king of the land. The coal mines have mostly long since been closed and much of those mine areas have been turned into the Wayne National Forest.
The Hocking Canal was the first form of transportation to come to the area that made coal mining a possibility. Even though the canal was short lived and fraught with problems, it opened up the possibility of moving the black rock to other areas of the state for financial gain.
With the introduction of the railroad, the coal mines of southeast Ohio became even more lucrative. Rail lines could be built not only to other destinations in the state and the country, but they could also be connected directly to the mining operations themselves by just laying down a rail line. This not only reduced the time it took to get the coal to the market, it also reduced the cost of transportation. When the canals came to the Nelsonville area, they were a big boon. However, during the winter months, the canals would freeze over, and the mines had to bring the coal from the mine to the canal boat, not easy. Plus, when the canals froze, the mines couldn't ship at all. This all changed with the introduction of the railroads.
Numerous rail lines were built in the area. Often the mine owners would build their own railroad to help control costs. Early on, many of these railroads used different widths of track, which made them difficult to transfer cargo from one line to another. It would take a little time for everything to become standardized.
Nelsonville became the headquarters of those rail lines serving the mining industry in southeastern Ohio. The most successful of those railroads was the Columbus & Hocking Valley Railroad which began in 1867. That rail line reached Nelsonville in 1869 and its arrival provided the town and the area with almost immediate growth.
Besides the great freight trains coming and going from Nelsonville, passenger service from Columbus to Athens began regular operations in 1870. At the height of the railroad boom, there were 3 daily passenger trains coming and going from Columbus to Athens. In the 1920s the Nelsonville Train Yard Office processed paperwork for freight shipments and at one time, the Nelsonville train yard was the 7th largest train yard in the country with 32 tracks.
Through a series of mergers and acquisitions and name changes, the Columbus & Hocking Valley Railroad finally went out of business. In 1972, the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway purchased the track from C&O and began acquiring rolling stock and renewing the former railway. Finally, in 1985, the HVSR began operations as a scenic railway and has been in operative ever since.
The Hocking Valley Scenic Railway is a non-profit corporation operated by volunteer members and dedicated to preserving its railroad past. Headquartered in Nelsonville, the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway is touted to be the number 1 tourist attraction in Athens County.
Special Train Rides
The Hocking Valley Scenic Railway offers a number of special train rides throughout the year, each with a different theme from fall foliage to Santas Claus. Contact the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway directly for a list of all their special rides.
NOTE: all special train rides book up quickly and advance reservations are strongly encouraged.