Cincinnati Western Railroad


Standard gauge railroad graded between Cincinnati and Indiana in the mid 1850s

Never completed


Much like the ill-fated Dayton & Cincinnati Short Line and their unfinished tunnel under Walnut Hills, another ambitious project from the 1850s was a railroad partially constructed to the west of the Mill Creek Valley. The Cincinnati Western Railroad (not to be confused with the nearby Cincinnati & Westwood Railroad) was chartered on February 10, 1851 to construct a single-track standard gauge railroad from downtown Cincinnati to Chicago via Connersville, Rushville, and Indianapolis. Urban legend suggests that this was to be a narrow gauge railroad, however the earliest passenger-carrying narrow gauge line in the United States wasn't opened until nearly 20 years later, in 1871. Construction of the Ohio portion of the railroad, stretching approximately 30 miles to the Indiana border, was financed through the sale of $600,000 in capital stock. Indiana-based companies would be responsible for the connecting routes to Indianapolis and Chicago. According to one report, the Cincinnati Western intended to utilize the towpath of the Miami & Erie Canal to reach a station in downtown Cincinnati near the canal's bend at Plum Street. A proposed map shows the terminal for the railroad at Harrison Avenue near Western Avenue in Brighton, which at the time was the edge of town.


Prior to the formation of the Cincinnati Western, the New Castle & Richmond Railroad was chartered on February 16, 1848 in Indiana to build a line between its namesake cities via Hagerstown and Greens Fork. The company was authorized on January 24, 1851 to extend northwest beyond New Castle to Lafayette. The expanded route made this a potentially attractive connection for the Cincinnati Western. On February 26, 1853 the New Castle & Richmond was renamed the Cincinnati, Logansport & Chicago Railway to better reflect its expanded ambitions. The original line opened between New Castle and Richmond in December 1853, operating jointly with the Richmond & Miami Railroad and the Eaton & Hamilton Railroad, which continued the line southwest to Hamilton, Ohio. The route west of New Castle was yet to come.

Cincinnati, Lawrenceburg & Aurora Electric Street Railroad Lightweight Car at Cincinnati Car Shops

Remnants of the western end of the tunnel during construction of I-74 and rerouting of Baltimore Avenue in the early 1970s.  Fay Apartments is just barely visible at the bottom left behind the trees.  This is likely the very top of the tunnel, with the bottom being filled in over time and from the new construction work.

Photo by Donald Eilermann, provided by Melvin L. Garrison.

The Cincinnati, Cambridge & Chicago Short Line Railway was incorporated in Indiana on January 25, 1853, to build from New Castle southeast via Cambridge City to the Ohio state line where it would join up with the Cincinnati Western near Peoria, not far from the C&O of Indiana crossing built 50 years later. The Cincinnati, New Castle & Michigan Railroad was incorporated on April 11 of the same year to build north from New Castle towards St. Joseph, Michigan and Grand Haven on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan via Muncie, Marion, Wabash, and Goshen. These companies would bypass Indianapolis and Lafayette for a shorter route to Chicago via Connersville, New Castle, Anderson, Kokomo, and Logansport.


While these other railroads were under construction, the Cincinnati Western was readying its own building program. The major engineering challenges described in the charter were the crossings of Mill Creek, West Fork, the Great Miami River, and a tunnel at the head of Badgley Run Valley. Badgley Run actually follows Virginia and Kirby Avenues north towards College Hill and Mt. Airy, so the description in the charter may have been to differentiate it from West Fork Creek, which would require a high trestle at approximately today's intersection with Kleeman Court in Monfort Heights. The tunnel would be approximately 2,900 feet in length, built under what would later become Fay Apartments and later The Villages at Roll Hill. This tunnel was most likely needed to minimize the railroad's curvature, since Roll Hill comes to a sharp point at its northeast end, and trains would not be able to navigate the sharp curve. It was perhaps also needed to maintain the company's maximum proposed grade of 50 feet per mile, or 0.95%. However, based on the route to Monfort Heights, the railroad would be about 100 feet below the crest of the hill upon reaching North Bend Road near Sprucewood Drive.  This would require a significant cut to breach the ridge between North Bend and Jessup Roads. There is also the possibility that the company understated their ruling grade, which would constrain operations and reduce profits, making the venture less attractive to prospective investors.


Construction of the Cincinnati Western Railroad's Roll Hill Tunnel started in the middle of July, 1853.  The east portal was located near a sharp bend on Faraday Road, about a quarter mile uphill from Cass and Dreman Avenues.  The west portal was just east of the intersection of present-day Montana and Baltimore Avenues. While under construction in 1854, a financial panic centered in Ohio precipitated bank failures in Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, and Maryland. The panic was caused by a bank tax imposed several years earlier and excessive speculation in railroad securities. During the panic, banks in Ohio relied heavily on their correspondent institutions in New York City, resulting in a drop in deposits and diminished investment funds for projects like the Cincinnati Western and its Indiana counterparts.  Due to the reduction in funds, work on the tunnel was ceased early in 1855 while the financial situation and the disposition of connecting and competing railroads were sorted out.


On May 1, 1854, the Cincinnati, Cambridge & Chicago Railway and the Cincinnati, New Castle & Michigan Railroad were merged to form the Cincinnati & Chicago Railroad. The Cincinnati Western was folded into this new company on May 10, 1854 under President Caleb B. Smith of Cincinnati, Vice-President Solomon Meredith of Cambridge City, and Secretary Thomas Newby also of Cambridge City. In that year it was reported that $2.3 million had been subscribed, enough to cover the estimated $2.1 million cost of construction to New Castle. On October 10, the Cincinnati, Logansport & Chicago Railway was also merged into the Cincinnati & Chicago Railroad. The unfinished line between Richmond and Logansport was leased to John W. Wright & Company on October 16, 1856 who began operating it on December 1, and the joint operation towards Cincinnati ended. The full line between Richmond and Logansport opened on July 4, 1857. It was sold at foreclosure on April 28, 1860 and reorganized on July 10 as the Cincinnati & Chicago Air-Line Railroad. Grading had been completed from Wabash southeast to the Ohio state line, and portions were later sold to the Fort Wayne & Southern Railroad and Connersville & New Castle Junction Railroad.


As these and other connecting railroads opened between southeast Indiana and Cincinnati in the 1860s through 1880s, there was no point in resuming construction on the hilly Cincinnati Western route. Nearly a century later, the incomplete tunnel was apparently breached during the construction of Fay Apartments, and the west portal was exposed when Baltimore Avenue was rerouted during I-74 construction in the early 1970s. Some attempts were made to document the tunnel while the west portal was exposed. Thomas C. Klekamp was part of this group of explorers, along with Kees DeJong, and Richard A. Davis. David Pittinger of the Hamilton County Recorder's office spoke to Klekamp in the 1980's about the west portal investigation.  He recalled going into the tunnel approximately 400 feet, then he decided it was unsafe and everyone left the tunnel. They recommended that the tunnel be closed off, and no one should be permitted to enter for fear of collapse. Larry DeSalvo, a grader operator with the construction company, reportedly saw a narrow gauge construction track in the tunnel but didn't investigate too far, and the opening was subsequently sealed.  The east portal was filled in over time by erosion and landslides, but there were attempts to open it up in the 1980s and 1990s by David Pommert to find and extract a work locomotive that was supposedly left in place when construction ceased.  There are reports that disgruntled workers dynamited the tunnel entrance due to non-payment of wages, leaving the work locomotive potentially intact farther inside.  Newspaper reports quote William C. Roll, a local landowner for whom Roll Hill is named, saying that the locomotive was extracted at some point prior to the start of the Civil War. 

Cincinnati, Lawrenceburg & Aurora Electric Street Railroad Lightweight Car at Cincinnati Car Shops

Bore holes for blasting powder are visible in one of the rocks in the creek bed above Faraday Road in March, 2021. At approximately this same location the water from the creek disappeared underground, presumably into remnants of the tunnel.

While there is no obvious evidence of the tunnel, the east portal remains buried under a small creek above Faraday Road. There's a sharp bend in the road, a culvert to drain the creek, and then the start of a concrete pile retaining wall to stabilize the numerous landslides caused by Fay Apartment construction above. The tunnel was just to the north of the creek and a few hundred feet in into the hillside. Elevation profiles suggest the tunnel floor is about 30 feet below Faraday, which was rerouted temporarily to allow for construction back in the 1850s. After completion, Faraday was to have a bridge over the railroad below, not unlike the 26th Street overpass at Covington's tunnel for the L&N to Corbin. Exploration in March 2021 revealed water from the creek apparently draining into the abandoned tunnel below, and bore holes for blasting powder in at least one large rock were seen in the creek bed. Below Faraday is a significant fill which curves to the southeast towards downtown and is made up of the excavated soil and rock from the tunnel. The volume of this fill indicates that several hundred feet of the tunnel were excavated on this side. There used to be graded trestle approaches immediately outside the west portal of the tunnel and across the valley at Montana Avenue, but those were destroyed when I-74 was built.  There is some grading in Mt. Airy Forest, but it is relatively short and could potentially be newer mountain bike trails that have been cut into the hillside instead.


Tracking the route through White Oak, Groesbeck, and Northbrook is difficult due to recent suburban development and the relatively flat terrain. Nonetheless, old maps and a few long-gone farm ponds and berms in historic aerial photographs show that some grading was done before it was wiped out. Immediately north of I-275, the route is much more evident. There are many cuts and trestle approaches along the west edge of Triple Creek Park, on private property between Triple Creek and the Butler County line, and through the extreme north end of Richardson Forest Preserve. Many thanks go to Rick Johnson of the Hamilton County Park District for bringing this to light. Supposedly there were bridge piers in the Great Miami River where the line crossed into Ross (known as Venice at the time), though this has not been confirmed. Northwest of Ross the roadbed becomes very difficult to spot, but the 1855 company map and GIS contours of Butler County show grading along Layhigh Road and Spyglass Ridge. A long series of cuts and fills remain between Kirchling and Millville-Shandon Roads too. There's clear evidence of the route in current aerial photos of the flatter portions of Butler County in two locations: southeast of OH-129 and Robinson/Gates Roads, and northwest of OH-732 and Dunwoody Road stretching nearly to Weaver Road.


Just about at the Indiana state line the Cincinnati Western's unfinished route crosses the tracks of the Indiana Eastern Railroad. There was one report that the Indiana Eastern (formerly the C&O of Indiana) used the unfinished roadbed of the Cincinnati Western, but this is unlikely based on the maps and route descriptions. The few scattered incomplete earthworks and the buried tunnel under Roll Hill are all that remain to this day. While the Dayton Short Line and its tunnel under Walnut Hills remained in the local press through the 1870s, and its assets were mentioned in various title transfers into the 20th century, the Cincinnati Western was all but forgotten by the close of the 1850s. If not for the tunnel breaches, it's possible nobody would know about this railroad at all today.


Photographs from South Cumminsville to Colerain Township


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