Last week a reader named Dave from Columbus mentioned that he had recently been riding on the Heart of Ohio Trail that runs from Centerburg, northeast to Mt. Vernon. I know a trail that runs into Mt. Vernon but it's on the other side and it has a different name. I've been riding the Kokosing Gap Trail for a few years and it is one of my favorites.
|Kokosing Gap Trail 2 1/2 miles east of Mt. Vernon|
I had no idea there was another rail trail in the Mt. Vernon area. Thanks Dave! As much as I love the Kokosing it's only 13 miles long end to end. I always start at Mt. Vernon and ride to the far end then back for a total of 26 miles. While always a relaxing and scenic ride at 26 miles it's just a little more than a warm up when riding my recumbent bike so often I'm hesitant to make the hour long trip by car to get to the trail head.
It seems that with every passing year I am growing less and less fond of sharing the roads with ever increasing car traffic and their inattentive drivers. So in order to find solace and safety on the rail trail I'm willing to accept a bit of four-wheeled purgatory to get there. Now with the discovery of a second trail radiating out from Mt. Vernon the thought of combining the two resulting in a 50 mile day makes the drive much more worth it.
Yesterday I decided to give it go and motored to the small town of Danville that is the eastern terminus of the Kokosing Gap Trail. From there I'd ride west to Mt. Vernon covering trail I'd been up and down many times for a warm up before going into adventure mode once I located the beginning of the HOOT trail.
I used the map on my smart phone to help navigate a couple miles of suburban streets across the southern end of Mt. Vernon and shortly I found the trail. The map showed the trail starting right where I was but new looking trail pavement headed east back towards the center of Mt. Vernon so I decided I would explore that way on the return trip.
As it shows in the opening picture I only had to pedal about a hundred feet and I was back in the shady peacefulness of the trees starting my first journey on the Heart of Ohio Trail. I love exploring new trails where I've never been. It's fun to see what's along the way. After a mile or two the trees opened up and I saw this 1/4 mile drag strip.
The HOOT trail follows a portion of the Cleveland, Mt. Vernon & Columbus Railroad and a few examples of its old iron is all that is left besides the grade itself.
These bridges cross Dry Creek several times Although it didn't look particularly dry when I passed over.
This one had an active hornet's nest attached so I didn't hang around too long.
Before I got on down the trail I did notice this plant growing on the railing with its interesting spiny seedpods. Not sure what it is.
The HOOT trail shot straight as an arrow for long stretches sharing the valley with State Route 36 and passed picturesque small farms and woodlands.
Another clue that a railroad once existed; glass telegraph insulators. There was quite a few rotting poles along the trail but the pins were all bare except for this one which I'm sure is the one Dave mentioned in his comment.
Eventually I pulled into Centerburg and the end of the paved trail. Centerburg has its name because it actually is the geographic center of the state.
On longer rides I carry a small snack to refuel at the half way point. Some salty pretzels and a little can of Coke hit the spot. One of the greatest things about cycling is how good food seems to taste both during and afterwords. I relaxed and finished my snack under the shade of a tree in a park before saddling up for the return trip.
When I was still a few miles out from Mt. Vernon while checking for traffic at a cross road I noticed this old brick building mostly obscured by trees. I hadn't noticed it on the way out so I turned around and pedaled up to investigate.
As I got closer I could see the structure was most definitely abandoned and in a sad state of disrepair.
I could tell it was an institution of some kind as I did a walk around of the grounds. Later I learned the place was known as the Knox County Poorhouse. First a residence for the county's less fortunate and later served as an infirmary and even a bible college before being abandoned for good.
Here is the best information I could find with a quick search:
In the 1912 "Past and Present of Knox County Ohio" Volume 1 on Page 80, the section on The Knox County Infirmary in part reads: "from an early date (Knox County) had charity and compassion on its unfortunate poor. In 1842, the county commissioners bought 132 acres in southwest corner of Liberty township as its first poor farm. In 1874, it became necessary to provide better quarters for the poor of the county due to an increase in the number of poor. After several difficulties, the new building was completed in 1877. The institution is located on section 2, Liberty township, on a beautiful elevation of ground on the south side of Dry Creek, near Bangs Station along the line of the Cleveland, Mt. Vernon & Columbus railway. The original building is 75 by 127 feet, with an open court in the rear 34 by 55 feet. It is four stories high with a tower rising 65 feet above the roof. Over one million bricks were used in the construction. It has three water tanks on the upper floor holding 40 barrels of water each. The building was heated by steam throughout. There were 100 good rooms, accommodating easily 125 inmates. The tax-payers of Knox county have ever cared for her soldiers and other unfortunate citizens."
Structural damage and decay is happening to several sections of the building.
At the rear of the house is this huge chimney which must have vented an incinerator or the steam boiler. On the northwest corner of the structure I found a marble plaque with the date of construction and the county officials behind the project.
I'm glad I happened upon the place and was able to have a look around and take a few pictures. Like so much of Ohio's earlier architecture I think this place's existence is drawing to a close.
I rolled back towards Mt. Vernon and passed the point where I started on the HOOT and kept riding east. This section of the trail was very new having been just recently paved. I passed by an old industrial area where a large factory complex once stood. All that was left was a couple smaller building frames and this huge smokestack.
The trail eventually came to an end where it intersected an active train track running perpendicular to the old line. Across the tracks I spotted the Mt. Vernon Station. The trail section in my photo ends at State Route 13 just before the old iron bridge in the background. Eventually the trail will continue on and link up with the Kokosing Gap Trail.
Cyclists and other trail users in Knox County have a real prize in their midst with these two trails.
Kokosing Gap Trail - Heart of Ohio Trail
Bike: HP Velotechnik Street Machine
Ride Time: 4:04:54
Distance: 55.69 Miles
Average Speed: 13.6 mph