I didn't have much around my apartment for breakfast. Some Grippo's BBQ chips, frozen corn dogs, lemonade and two fortune cookies was about all there was. A small cookie made of flour, sugar, vanilla and oil with a message inside it seemed like a good thing to eat. I don't usually put any faith in the "fortunes" found within these takeout accompanying deserts, but since Gozer and I were about to go exploring, this one seemed like a good sign:
Was today's journey going to be delightful though? Exploring in the winter has its drawbacks. Daylight doesn't last as long (especially when you wake up at noon) and its generally cold out. I had a few things in mind to see that day but wasn't exactly sure if they were still there and if they were still standing - if they were, how interesting would they be? I didn't want to wander around for hours in the cold to find nothing or something boring to photograph. So hopefully the prophecy put forth by the breakfast fortune cookie was going to come true.
Gozer and I were in search of an abandoned street, Lancaster St., to be exact. According to some internet research, the street had a forgotten tunnel which could be found beneath the tracks of the Oasis Line railroad that borders Riverside Dr. and Columbia Pkwy. The suggested location offered by the internet didn't pan out, so we decided to take a gamble as we cruised up Riverside looking for The Forgotten Rail Station at Torrence Rd. I figured the Lancaster St. tunnel had to be somewhere near the abandoned rail station that Jeffy and I had explored and featured in an update back in 2009. Gozer and I parked the USS Rio Grande (the nickname for her car due to its resemblance of the Star Trek ship of the same name) and found some crumbling hillside steps, which we used to get up to the railroad.
All across the city, Cincinnati's hills are dotted with hillside steps. Nearly 400 sets of steps are maintained by the city, they were built into hillsides in an effort to connect neighborhoods and roads. The steps are recognizable by the unique metal handrails they use. Over time and for various reasons, certain sets of steps were abandoned. Riverside Dr. is littered with steps that once connected uphill (like the one seen above), now cutoff by Columbia Pkwy. Not only were the steps abandoned, but entire roads as well, such as the aforementioned Torrence Rd.
Upon reaching the railroad embankment, we had to make a choice. Go right or left.
The forgotten train station was to the right. I figured that if what we were looking for was there, we would've seen it when Jeffy and I had been there. So we went to the left, heading back towards downtown along the railroad tracks that eventually dead end at Sawyer Point. Thankfully, the sun was out this day, so it wasn't incredibly cold as we made our way down the tracks, walking behind a mix of homes that needed some upkeep and newer condos. At one point the tracks cross over the street on a bridge with no railing. We had to precariously walk on the wooden railroad ties, making sure to not drop our feet through or fall to the road below as we waved to passing drivers who looked up.
A train coming our way could've ended our day in a hurry. That is, if trains used these tracks often or if they could go fast through the area (they don't and they can't). The only times these tracks see use anymore is when the Ringling Brothers Circus comes to town or the Cincinnati Dinner Train comes by. The circus isn't due until March and the dinner train only runs on Saturday, so we ignored the warning sign about the tracks being in use. The sign pictured above would have more weight though, had these tracks been re-purposed. In 2002, they would've been used in the Metro Moves Light Rail plan and been used for rail transit. However, Hamilton County voted it down, so the tracks sit quiet while commuters clog neighboring Riverside Dr. and Columbia Pkwy each morning and afternoon with automobile traffic. Even today, the tracks would be an excellent right-of-way for commuter trains connecting the East side to downtown.
A few miles into the walk, I was beginning to wonder if we were going to find what we were looking for. All we had found was a syringe, a car seat and plenty of old railroad remnants.
Then the remains of infrastructure could be seen, breaking up the monotony of seeing nothing but trees and trash for the past half hour. The rusted remains of an iron fence could be seen next to the tracks.
Immediately, I knew we were in the right place. The fence was of the same design that we had seen at the abandoned train station. Before we went down to the tunnel though, we noticed more forgotten hillside steps. We decided to check those out first.
The brush that had grown up around the steps and their subsequent decay made them appear as if they were from some ancient civilization, not infrastructure that had been abandoned approximately forty years ago. As we climbed higher up the steps, the brush got thicker and thicker, a machete would've come in handy.
The steps reached a dead end, right up to the concrete barrier wall of Columbia Pkwy.
On the way back down, I noticed something in the woods. It was a tent, but by the looks of it, the inhabitant had moved on. The tent was sagging down, with shoes and various belongings left strewn about the campsite. I asked: "Anyone home?" but received no answer. Whoever had been squatting here next to the tracks was gone.
The hillside steps had once connected to another set of stairs that lead to the tunnel beneath the tracks.
Since being abandoned though, presumably with the construction of Columbia Pkwy which cut off the hillside steps from the neighborhoods above, the tunnel and steps have become a blank canvas for graffiti artists.
The stairs are littered with dead leaves and empty 40 oz. bottles, while the familiar hand rails are slowly rusting and falling apart.
Ironically, the stairs look like the kind of infrastructure you'd see connecting a city sidewalk above to a railway below ground, like that of the abandoned Cincinnati Subway. In this case however, they connect a sidewalk that's below to a railway above. The sidewalk runs through a small tunnel. The tunnel itself isn't that impressive or big. It, like the steps, is tagged up with graffiti representing profanity and sexual references rather than art. However, the tunnel is an interesting forgotten relic of a road no longer used.
On the other side of the tunnel are the remains of an asphalt path that reaches out to Riverside Drive. The tunnel itself is obscured from sight by a housing structure, which explains why we couldn't find it earlier when driving.
In the center of the tunnel entrance is a set of markings that appear to say: "1914." However, the third digit in between the 9 and the 4 is missing. How its missing, I don't know, I assumed it would've been etched into the rock like the other numbers.
On the other side of the tunnel is an overgrown asphalt path that connects with Riverside Dr. The path itself is hardly wide enough for a car to drive on, much less get inside the tunnel. Maybe the road was changed when houses along Riverside were demolished or the one currently in place was built, but it seemed the road was merely a pedestrian only right-of-way, meant to connect Riverside with the hillside steps. Despite the fact that you can't find the street on Google Maps, a newer sign is in place marking its existence, even if that existence is a forgotten one.
The prophecy foretold by the fortune cookie had come true, that day was a delightful journey, but it wasn't over yet. We hopped back in the USS Rio Grande and headed for the opposite side of town. I needed to go pick up my golf clubs, because we still had plans for some more abandoned fun that day...
...but more on that in part 2.