Start to finish passenger train service in Wilmington, Midland and beyond

Melinda Danenbergs’ research led to this column – inspired by her interest in railroads and local history, and by the News Journal/Clinton County History Center Thursday, Jan. 13 photo “Bridge to Train’s Past.”

The beginning of passenger rail service in Wilmington was when the Cincinnati, Wilmington & Zanesville built the line entering Clinton County at Clarksville and through Wilmington to Sabina.

According to former Bicentennial historian Bernie Quigley, it was also known as the Sheepskin Railroad. That was in 1853. A second railroad was completed in 1884. This railroad, known as “Midland”, would eventually become part of the B&O Railroad.

Its southern terminus was Midland City or, at the time, Clinton Valley. The northern terminus was Columbus.

The Midland was connected to the old Marietta & Cincinnati Railroad and the passenger could then transfer onto that line for Cincinnati, or points east. Construction progress on the Midland Line was reported periodically in the Wilmington News Journal from 1882 to 1884.

Shortly after it opened, a large excursion train ran the line from Columbus to Cincinnati on November 13, 1884. Railroad president Orland Smith organized the excursion train, consisting of nine new coaches, from his private car and a baggage car. The direction of the “road” was invited as well as the merchants of Wilmington and various dignitaries of the time.

A first-hand account by an unknown reporter in the Hillsboro Highland Weekly News, dated 1885, wrote of his travels to the State Capitol in Columbus from Hillsboro. He boarded the Hillsboro Accommodation on a Wednesday morning and traveled by train to the Blanchester depot.

The Hillsboro Accommodation was a spur of the Marietta & Cincinnati, taking passengers to Blanchester via Russell’s Station, Lynchburg and Westboro. “After waiting just seven minutes, passengers could catch the morning train to Columbus via a connection at Clinton Valley, or later to Midland City, just four miles to the east.”

In Clinton Valley, he observed that there was “a spacious new depot being constructed and a number of new buildings being erected. He speculated that Clinton Valley would soon be a future city, rivaling Blanchester.

From Wilmington to Columbus, the Midland route had a station every 3½ miles; some of them were Pleasant Corners, Morgans, Jasper and Rattlesnake, which were listed at 45 miles.

Another interesting fact about Midland was that it was the 14th route into Columbus and it passed through Clinton, Fayette, Madison, Pickaway and Franklin counties – a distance of 71 miles. So, from Hillsboro to reach Columbus, it took the author of the Hillsboro article about 4.5 hours.

The Midland was first named the Cincinnati & Columbus Midland Railroad, but soon the name was changed due to the similar name of another rail line which caused confusion in shipping, billing, etc.

The ‘Throwback Thursday’ photo of the train on the tracks near the Champion depot and bridge is on the Midland line. Old postcards show that there were two sets of tracks that went either side of the Champion Bridge building.

In 1956, due to the cessation of passenger service, the train rides were sponsored by the Clinton County Historical Society and these are the last passenger rides on the lines through the city, designated to commemorate this historic occasion closely 103 years of passenger train service. .

Reservations could be made by telephone and available places sold out quickly when the notice of registration was open to the general public. It was estimated that there were 400 passengers, including standing room only. The number of passengers and a minor accident near Columbus caused the last train to be delayed 39 minutes.

One of the trains was driven by a veteran engineer named EE McCoy, who had already completed 50 years of railroading on June 12, 1956. McCoy was from Newark and had operated trains in the Wilmington area for nine years. It was to be his last race before retirement.

The view of the B&O depot shows the large number of people who wanted to participate in the occasion. Their names appeared in a newspaper article.

Along with the special train rides, a series of articles giving historical railroad information was created by Dusty Miller, who was a regular columnist for “The Daily Grist” for the News Journal.

Dusty was born in Marshall, Ohio and of Quaker descent, attending Wilmington College for an education. Dusty and his wife Grace had moved to Wilmington after completing a teaching internship.

Due to the number of reservations made for the last journey, an additional coach was ordered by the B&O agent for the day, AM Perry. The two trains running that day in 1956 were the last scheduled passenger trains scheduled to pass through Wilmington, so (according to another article) passenger service in Wilmington lasted 102 years, 11 months, nine days, 17 hours and 52 minutes!

Reference articles:

1. “Throwback Thursday: Bridge to Train’s Past”, Wilmington News Journal, January 13, 2022

2. Columbus & Cincinnati Railroad, Midland Railroad, “New Route to the State Capitol”, Wednesday, April 8, 1885.

3. Wilmington B&O Depot photo of Bob Murdock, former photo department employee in Blanchester, Ohio. He has also worked with the Blanchester Historical Society. Lived in Clarksville.

4. “Steam Locomotives Then & Now”, by Dusty Miller (he was related to my great-grandmother, his sister’s child… I claim him as a distant cousin). July 12, 1956

5. Author of The Daily Grist column in the Wilmington News Journal of the 1950s.

6. “B & O Railroad Through City Completed November 1884, by Dusty Miller, July 11, 1956.

7. “Last passenger train drew hundreds,” July 21, 1956

8. “Large Crowds Take Last Train Through Wilmington Saturday” July 23, 1956

9. “The Midland”, November 19, 1884 The Wilmington Journal

10. “A Little History – Clinton County Railroads” by Bernie Quigley for the Clinton County Historical Society during the Wilmington and Clinton County Bicentennial… 1810-2010

11. “2010 Clinton County Bicentennial – Celebrating a Place Called Home: Past, Present, and Future.”

A crowd gathers at the station with the Champion Bridge Co. in the background.

Jose P. Rogers