Last summer, after reading about the vanished Vinton County community of Moonville and the railroad tunnel that serves as the lone reminder that a little town once stood there, I came to an unsettling conclusion. Based on the information I had just taken in, which dated to 2010, and the most current data on websites up to that moment in 2016, it seemed Moonville was one of those places that fell into the category of you can’t get there from here.
The information I had told me that the tunnel had long been accessible via a bridge that was part of the old rail line, but had since been demolished. That meant in order to get to the tunnel from the nearby township road, one had to go down to the portion of Raccoon Creek that flows below where the span sat, cross the creek on a rock path if the water level was low enough and then scramble up the embankment to get to the tunnel entrance. Seemed like a rough way to go for what is such a popular location for those hardy individuals drawn to the site’s history of ghostly sightings, a sensation augmented by scattered remains of the town on the tunnel’s other side, a nearby cemetery and a feeling of being cut off from the world. (A far cry from my first and so far only encounter there on a bright Sunday afternoon in the summer of 1980 when it was neither spooky or isolated; seems it was quite the party spot at the time).
But after mentioning this concern of mine on Facebook, several kind souls informed me that like-minded folks erected and dedicated a foot traffic bridge over the spot once occupied by the railroad, making Moonville and its tunnel more available to visitors. Most of the ghost-hunters tend to give Moonville a try on autumn nights against its background of hills, bare trees and a leaf-strewn pathway that add just the right touch for supernatural doings. But the site is open at all times of the year and presents another dimension to any day-or-week-long trip to neighboring Lake Hope State Park.
Point is, Moonville is one part of the attractions we can find in our area, deserving of your patronage on these spring weekends when looking for an excursion that won’t eat up the entire day or your gasoline budget. Moonville is also interesting, at least for people like myself, with more than a passing interest in the region’s onetime dependence on railroads as a quick means of getting to the outside world. It’s a kind of fascination that spurs a sense of wonder, even at the everyday site of a train crossing the Ohio River span at Kanauga, Ohio, into Point Pleasant, W.Va., and then across the Kanawha River bridge from Point into Henderson, eventually following the Ohio south to Huntington or the Kanawha east toward Charleston. The train’s horn echoing against the hills works its own spell on those who happen to be attuned. And who are they? Anyone who remembers a father’s dedication to building a tabletop model railroad set and diorama for that onetime child’s delight.
Though not plentiful, tunnels still exist around areas where railbeds once existed, or the few that still bear locomotive traffic. Some, such as the Gallia County box structures found on Polecat Road at Addison and the appropriately-named Tunnel Road east of Vinton, are fairly standard and designed for auto use. Remains of a tunnel or two can be found in the western part of Gallia, where another rail line busily shipped people and goods to Oak Hill, Jackson and other points. But the tunnel that still stands on Scenic Drive just outside Vinton resembles Moonville in that it was hewn from the hillside with arched points of entry. It too was built for non-rail traffic, as the Hocking Valley and successor railways ran their line atop the tunnel. And that’s not to mention the trestle that stands a little further north on the line serving as an impromptu route into Vinton when the Raccoon runs high.
Although CSX abandoned its railbed from Minerton to Gallipolis in the early 1990s, the tunnels continue to be maintained, visible reminders of a transportation era from not so long ago that kept communities linked to the world. The railroad that inherited the Moonville tunnel stopped running through there some time ago, but like any good archaeological site, there are enough clues remaining to tell us that people and commerce once thrived at Moonville and similar towns on the line.
And speaking of places to go this weekend, don’t let a few raindrops discourage you from attending the annual Ohio Valley Expo at Buckeye Hills Career Center’s Rio Grande campus. The staff does an exemplary job of staging the two-day event, shedding the spotlight on everything from BHCC’s instructional services to business and vendor displays, live music, games and food. If you couldn’t attend Saturday, try for today from noon to 5 p.m. You won’t be disappointed.
Kevin Kelly, who was affiliated with Ohio Valley Publishing for 21 years, resides in Vinton, Ohio.