Image the scene. It’s April 6, 1883. For the first time, Point Pleasant is linked to points east, to Charleston, to Richmond, to Washington and Philadelphia and New York City, by rail. To commemorate the event, a free excursion train is scheduled to travel to Charleston and back. Many locals, used to elegant tried-and-true steamboat travel, are a bit hesitant to get on the cars pulled by the smoking behemoth at the depot. It is, in their view, an explosive steel deathtrap. Luckily for us, Register editor George Tippett had no such fears and described the trip in detail.
“The trip was a very enjoyable one to all on board the train, and was made without any mishaps, save a little delay occasioned by one or two small slides between here and Maupin’s Station, caused by the heavy rain of Thursday night, and an hour or two’s delay at Ryan’s Run about nine miles below Charleston, where a fill had sunk several feet, forcing the track out of line. Here we all thought we would have to turn back, but the ingenuity and energy of Superintendent Stevens and Conductor Blakemore were brought into requisition, who were determined that the train should go through. Soon men were at work and the track was cribbed up and the train passed safely over, and flew on her way to Charleston…
No one need be afraid to travel on their train, for with them you will be as safe as if you were at your own fireside. They are accommodating and pleasant to all their passengers, be they ever so humble. There is none of the haughty air usually found among railroad officials…
Taking all in all, the road, for a new one, is in very good condition, and when it is ballasted, it will be hard to find a better or safer piece of road in the whole country.”
This was the culmination of years of political maneuvering, railroad company formations and mergers, and back-breaking work. Finally, after having first been proposed in the 1870s, the Ohio Central Railroad had reached the Ohio River. Of course, the finishing details were still waiting. At the time of Editor Tippett’s article, none of the depots and platforms were complete. The roundhouse and railyard were still unfinished. Trains returning from Charleston had to do so backwards because the turntable wasn’t finished. The track north from Kanauga to Corning, Ohio was finished, but the massive bridge across the Ohio was still under construction. Nonetheless, a win is a win.
For the next few months, every weekly paper had a column set aside for “Railroad Notes.” In it, you could find notes on the construction of the great railroad bridge piers, an announcement that our bridge would be modern steel instead of iron, praise for Stevens and Blakemore, updates on the building of depots and platforms, and rumors that the Hocking Valley Railroad was going to buy out the Ohio Central.
Sure enough, the railroad was in the process of being reorganized, but it was not bought out. It went through various names before settling on a division in 1885. North of Corning became the Toledo & Ohio Central, and our section became the Kanawha & Ohio Railroad. In 1890, it was bought by the Hocking Valley Railroad and reorganized into the Kanawha & Michigan.
This railroad, which was later absorbed by the New York Central, Conrail, Norfolk & Southern, and today the Kanawha River Railroad, built many notable structures around town. Along with the Ohio River Railroad (which I’ll cover next week), it built the grand, multi-level Union Station that has since been demolished. Their offices and company hospital were in the Mercy Hospital Building, now the offices of the Hyer & Littlepage Law Firm.
But, perhaps the remaining K&M structure that stands out the most is one most of us never think about, the Ohio River Railroad Bridge that towers over downtown. It was updated and modernized during the New York Central era, but the core of the structural systems (the piers, basic form, etc) are K&M designs.
Next week, I’ll cover Mason County’s other railroad that covered much more of our county.
Information from the Weekly Register.
Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society, reach him at email@example.com.