Beginning to end of passenger train service in Wilmington, Midland and beyond

By Melinda Danenbergs - Contributing columnist

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

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

Photo courtesy of Bob Murdock, formerly of Clarksville

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

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

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

It’s southern terminus was Midland City or, in those days, Clinton Valley. The northern terminus was Columbus.

The Midland connected with the old Marietta & Cincinnati Railroad and the passenger could then transfer to that line for Cincinnati, or points east. Progress of the construction of the Midland line was reported periodically in the Wilmington News Journal from 1882 to 1884.

Soon after its opening, there was a grand excursion train run over the line from Columbus to Cincinnati on November 13, 1884. The railroad’s president, Orland Smith, organized the excursion train, which consisted of nine new coaches, his private car, and a baggage car. The management of the “‘road” were invited as well as the merchants of Wilmington, and various dignitaries of the day.

A firsthand account by an unknown journalist 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 rail to the Blanchester depot.

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

At Clinton Valley, he observed that there was “a commodious new depot built and that a number of new buildings were going up. He theorized that Clinton Valley would soon be a future town, rivaling Blanchester.”

From Wilmington to Columbus, the Midland ‘road had a station every 3 ½ miles; some of them were Pleasant Corners, Morgans, Jasper, and Rattlesnake, which was listed at 45 miles.

Another interesting fact about the Midland was that it was the 14th ‘road to enter Columbus and it passed through the counties of Clinton, Fayette, Madison, Pickaway, and Franklin — a distance of 71 miles. Thus from Hillsboro to reach Columbus, it took the author of the Hillsboro article about 4 ½ hours.

The Midland was first named the Cincinnati & Columbus Midland Railroad, but soon the name was changed because of another railroad line’s similar name which caused confusion in shipping, billing, etc.

The “Throwback Thursday” picture of the train on the tracks by the depot and Champion Bridge is on the Midland Line. Old postcards show that there were two sets of tracks that went on either side of Champion Bridge’s building.

In 1956, due to discontinuation of passenger service, train rides were sponsored by the Clinton County Historical Society and these were the last passenger runs on the lines going through the town, designated to commemorate this historic occasion of almost 103 years of passenger service by train.

Bookings could be made by phone and available seats went quickly when notice of the sign-up was opened 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 late by 39 minutes.

One of the trains was driven by a veteran engineer named E.E. McCoy, who had previously completed 50 years of railroading on June 12, 1956. McCoy was from Newark and had been running trains in the Wilmington area for nine years. This was to be his final run before retirement.

The view of the B&O depot shows some of the large numbers of people that wanted to be part of the occasion. Their names were listed in a newspaper article.

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

Dusty was born in Marshall, Ohio and of Quaker descent, attending Wilmington College to secure his education. Dusty and wife Grace had settled in Wilmington, after he completed a stint of teaching.

Due to the number of reservations made for the last ride, an extra coach was ordered by B&O agent of the day A. M. Perry. The two trains running that day in 1956 were the last regular passenger trains scheduled to pass through Wilmington, thus (as per 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” Wed, April 8, 1885.

3. Photo of the Wilmington B & O Depot from Bob Murdock, former employee at the Photo Department in Blanchester, Ohio. Also he worked with Blanchester Historical Society. Lived in Clarksville.

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

5. Author of the Wilmington News Journal’s The Daily Grist Column from the ‘50s.

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

7. “ Last Passenger Train Drew Hundreds,” July 21, 1956

8. “Big Crowds Ride Last Train to Pass 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 Wilmington’s & Clinton County’s Bicentennial…1810-2010

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

A crowd gathers at the station with the Champion Bridge Co. in the background. crowd gathers at the station with the Champion Bridge Co. in the background. Photo courtesy of Bob Murdock, formerly of Clarksville

By Melinda Danenbergs

Contributing columnist