Long before Marietta had ribbons of concrete and asphalt going in all directions, she had ribbons of steel to bring people and goods to and from the city.
One of the first ventures was the Marietta and Cincinnati Railroad which linked the two cities by a patchwork of rails from Harmar to the Queen City at the western end of the state.
It has been more than a century since the last passenger settled into a wagon for the long journey west. If a person looks closely enough today, they can still find pieces of the line along Washington County country roads. If you look closely enough, you can still follow the route through the countryside.
The Marietta and Cincinnati Railroad had its roots in several other railroads, including the Marietta, Columbus and Cleveland Railroad, and the Franklin and Ohio River Railroad. Consolidations and mergers led to the creation of the Marietta and Cincinnati Railroad which led to the first train running between the two cities on April 9, 1857.
The railroad acquired several other lines before eventually being purchased by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The section of track between Scotts Landing near Marietta and Coolville fell into disuse and was eventually abandoned. The rails were removed and sold for scrap. Trains would then follow the route from Coolville to Belpre before moving up the river along the railway line used today. An unrealized plan called for the route to be extended from Marietta to Wheeling.
The original line did not follow the Ohio River to Coolville, but turned inland and followed a route south of Ohio 550. It was along this route that the path fan of modern iron can find traces of a train that has not run for over a century.
The tunnel, which gave the Tunnel community its name, collapsed a long time ago. Many other structures remain to this day, reminiscent of a vital transport link that was built to last for centuries but ultimately only used for decades.
Some tracks are easy to miss. A leveled platform crossing Ohio 339 near Vincent for example, or a small stone bridge over a stream. Others are impossible to miss, including huge culverts that jut out near roads, or some of the rock cuts through which the railroad once passed.
The largest recall of the Marietta and Cincinnati Railroad is along Walsh Road in Dunham Township. At the bottom of a hollow country, one passes under a set of giant sandstone pillars that stand 84 feet above a stream. The bridge that sat atop the pillars carried the line between Vincent and Cutler before crossing an equally impressive cut through the solid rock. A train last passed over the bridge in 1916.
Best to see what’s left of the railroad when the leaves on the trees are gone. Much of the old route is now on private property, although much of it can be seen from the roads.