I first published this post in 2009, and a lot has changed since then regarding the state of the trail and also the amount of information available online about it. Since then, the Moonville Rail Trail has gotten its own wikipedia page and Moonville Trail Facebook Group. What passes as “good” in terms of blogging has improved considerably as well, and this post steadily became less useful to readers as time went on. Other writes and hikers have posted several, better and more complete descriptions of the trail and tunnel, so this revision will omit directions and grainy photos, and instead give some background on the tunnel and the conservation efforts surrounding it.
Following a fantastic but alienating trip to Iceland I was ready to reacquaint myself with America and do some lower-key exploring. While researching possible road trip destinations, I stumbled upon the Ohio ghost town Moonville, and its related train tunnel, which runs along Raccoon Creek in Lake Hope State Park. Since my visit to the Moonville Tunnel, the trail has fallen into disrepair. The access bridge to the trail has reportedly failed, leaving the tunnel only accessible by wading through Raccoon Creek.
Following the death of Neil Shaw, president of the Moonville Association, communications with the group on the state of the tunnel and conservation efforts began to fail. In July 2015, the first newsletter update since 2009 from the Moonville Rail Trail Association reports that the previously derelict bridge near the tunnel is set to undergo reconstruction. The association requests donations, but emails to the page’s “contact us” account are bouncing back.
The body of literature on the tunnel is overwhelmingly related to either hiking or the paranormal, making it difficult to find information of the history of the tunnel and the town. The Moonville Rail Trail Website devoted to the location focuses on its use as a horse path and hiking trail. This early post on the tunnel links to some sites devoted to the tracks; most of the sites focus on the paranormal, several have been deleted, and all are remnants of an earlier age of the internet— ghosts, even, if that comparison isn’t too maudlin. What is clear is that the Marietta and Cincinnati Railroad Company built the line to move coal from Moonville to Cincinatti.
Moonville was never a large town, and all that remains of it is the tunnel and the town cemetery. Even before the bridge collapsed, it was an arduous place to tranverse. The tracks pass through thick woods, across the foothills of the Appalachians, over a small river, and through a cliff. The tunnel curves slightly, and was made narrow to spare expense according to this site, which judging by the bounced email I got from the webmaster is probably also doomed.
The line never carried people, due to the nearby dynamite plant, but the area is subject to numerous ghost stories and supernatural speculation. Ghost sightings, urban legends, and reports of deaths in the Moonville tunnel have all been repeated online for at least a decade. Having a name like Moonville didn’t help suppress the lore, though the town was probably named after a family in the region.
The best resource on the history of the Moonville tunnel is, improbably, found on a website devoted to ghosts and haunted houses. Outlined there are several newspaper reports about accidents and deaths near the town and train tracks. I’ve added newsclippings in a gallery here to preserve them against link rot:
My visit was uneventful– no ghosts or bodies, mangled or otherwise, but a worthwhile trip nonetheless. It’s not a long walk to the tunnel from the road, and was very pleasant in the early fall when we went. Google maps underestimated its driving time by about 3 hours, the side roads are treacherous and slow going, add in a pit stop at this awesome dive bar along the way and it’s easily 6 hours from Louisville. When we finally got there it was past 3 a.m. and, we ended up sleeping in the car at a trailhead past the
Hope Furnace, which really deserves its own post. Setting up a tent in the cold and the dark wasn’t practical, but the trails are long and permit overnight camping, so we weren’t the only car in the lot. I still recommend the pit stop if you can find the bar in question, it’s all lit up with christmas lights and right on the side of the road with a moveable-letters sign out from like in True Blood’s opening sequence, which, like everybody else at the time, I was obsessed with.
Zanesville, Ohio is small but charming, best known for its Y-shaped bridge and the Exotic animals running loose in the woods following the suicide of its owner and operator. Maybe there are some Bengal tiger ghosts out there now? If you do make the trip out there or otherwise legend trip, urban explore, trespass, or otherwise sneak into places— report back your findings.