MOUNT VERNON -- Sometimes things remain easily recognizable over the years. But sometimes, they don’t.
The Heart of Ohio Trail access point in Mount Liberty looked very different a century ago, and only a few clues remain to help reconstruct what was once a busy railroad depot.
Located on Simmons Church Road on the southern edge of the hamlet, the access point offers trail walkers and bicyclists a gravel lot for parking their cars while they enjoy the paved trail that runs from Mount Vernon to Centerburg. The parking lot is on the south side of the trail, while on the north side stands a small information billboard.
Just across Simmons Church Road, also on the south side of the trail, is a small picnic area with a table. Although you’d never guess it now, this picnic area was once the site of the Mount Liberty train depot.
Travelers and freight would leave the train here before it continued on its way along the tracks.
The rail line is marked as a “proposed railroad” on the 1871 map of Knox County published by J.A. Caldwell and J.W. Starr in Granville. The actual line came through in 1873 as part of the Cleveland, Mount Vernon and Delaware Railroad Company. That company went belly-up in about a decade and was reorganized as the Cleveland, Akron & Columbus Railway Company in 1885.
Later it became part of the Pennsylvania Railroad and its subsequent incarnations before the line gradually fell out of use in the 1980s. It found a new life when work began in 2007 to turn it into the Heart of Ohio Trail, part of the Ohio to Erie Trail for hiking and biking.
A dirt or gravel driveway used to run behind the station, as can be seen in a vintage image from around 1910 posted on the trail’s information kiosk. The driveway is completely overgrown today with trees and brush, suggesting that it has been abandoned for quite a while.
Caldwell’s 1896 county map shows that the present parking lot site for the trail was at that time Shaffer’s Warehouse, presumably used for storing goods going to and fro on the railroad. The warehouse is the large, barn-like building to the right of the railroad crossing in the 1910 image.
The 1896 map also marks a water tank for steam engines which sat across from the depot on the north side of the tracks. This, too, is long gone.
One of the few clues that remains to tip off the casual visitor to the area’s original use is an old
post, now repainted, with a “W” on it. This stands near the station site, not far from what would have been the railroad crossing. It was the signal for incoming trains to sound their whistle to warn buggies and/or automobiles approaching the crossing that a train was about to come through.
Today the whistles and chuffing steam of locomotives are heard no more in Mount Liberty.