Central Ohio Railway

The Central Ohio Railway was a railroad that connected Columbus, Ohio to Bellaire at the Ohio River. The line played an integral role in the development of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, especially after a bridge was completed over the Ohio River that enabled the eastern markets to be able to connect with Chicago and the midwest.


It was realized that a railroad to connect Wheeling, West Virginia to the midwest would be valuable in transporting goods from the east coast westward into Ohio and ultimately Chicago. The Central Ohio Railway, chartered in February 1847 by interests in Zanesville, was proposed  to connect Columbus, Ohio to Bellaire.3 Construction began in June 1850, 2 but the work was besieged with problems. The wide Muskingum River at Zanesville had to be bridged, and major cuts had to be performed through hard sandstone, such as at Blackhand Gorge along the Licking River east of Newark, which required the excavation of 65 feet deep by 700 feet of rock. Much fill and trestle construction was required along Big Walnut Creek, and a tunnel in Cambridge had rockfalls, which forced the daylighting of nearly half of the tunnel.3 The section between Zanesville and Bellaire required six tunnels and around 12 large bridges alone.

In January 1852, the first portion of the line was opened from Zanesville westward to Newark, followed with the Newark to Columbus segment opening.3 In Columbus, the railroad followed by what is today Port Columbus Airport, crossing Alum Creek and Nelson Road south of Fifth Avenue and past army barracks where it swung southwestward to enter Union Station. In November 1854, the entire line was opened eastward from Zanesville to Bellaire.

But much of the line had been poorly constructed.3 The track was unballasted, and derailments were frequent. In addition, a lack of frequent sidings meant that regular schedules could not be met. Financial difficulties plagued the railroad until it was placed into receivership in May 1859, only being reorganized in December 1865 due to an increase in traffic relating to the Civil War.

Crossing the Ohio

The completion of the Central Ohio Railway to Bellaire led to the development of heavy industries such as the Bellaire Nail Works. Completed in 1860, the complex was the forerunner of the Carnegie Steel Mill.1

The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) was also completed from the east, becoming the first line to reach the Ohio River in Wheeling, West Virginia, which resulted in the opening of the first railroad coal mine in the United States.1 But the B&O desired a link to Chicago, a growing market that few in the east had access to. On November 21, 1866, the Central Ohio concluded a deal with the B&O for a term of 20 years, during which the B&O would operate the railroad. The deal was finalized on December 1.2 With a later acquisition of the Sandusky, Mansfield and Newark Railroad, the B&O was linked from Bellaire to the port of Sandusky along the shore of Lake Erie, which gave it a link to Chicago.

All that was needed was a span over the Ohio River. Discussions on a crossing began in the late 1860s but was briefly held up due to a ferry between Bellaire and Benwood, West Virginia. The ferry owner had an injunction filed in court, and the matter was soon escalated to the U.S. Supreme Court where the injunction was lifted. Soon after, the selection of an engineer for the proposed bridge went to Jacob Linville, president of the Keystone Bridge Company, where the trusses were manufactured.

In 1870, the approach ramps had been constructed. The Bellaire approach included 43 arched spans measuring 33 feet, 4 inches wide, varying in height from 10 to 20 feet over the ground. Each span consisted of 37 stones, representing the 37 states at the time of completion. The Benwood approach consisted of stone piers with iron trusses that supported the rail above. In 1871, the new six-span through truss Ohio River bridge was completed at a cost of $1,000,000. The bridge consisted of 14,854 cubic yards of masonry, while the piers and abutments contained 25,375 cubic yards. The bridge length if 8,566 feet.

The B&O rail line ultimately became part of the Cincinnati to Pittsburgh secondary, with the section of line between Columbus and Newark being shared with the Pennsylvania Railroad.3 By 1955, the B&O had one passenger train each way and generally less than 10 freights per day. In 1983, the B&O Cambridge to Bellaire line was abandoned.


Barnesville to Bellaire


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