When I was a small boy, my family lived at the corner of Fourth Street and Wood Street.
It was the late 1940s, and on cold winter nights, as I pulled the covers up around my head, I could sometimes hear the train, its steam engine chugging hard as it rounded the bend at Possum Hollow headed up the East Fork valley toward Batavia. It was the “8:30 to Washington,” my grandfather would say, as he puffed on his pipe in the living room just outside my bedroom door.
A long whistle meant the train was approaching the station. It would stop for a few short minutes, and if I hadn’t fallen asleep, I would soon hear the slow chugs of the engine as it left the station on its long pull up the hill toward Williamsburg.
The sound of that train was just one small mark that the railroad made on Batavia. From the day in October 1876 when The Cincinnati, Batavia and Williamsburg Railroad’s first train steamed into town, life in Batavia was forever changed.
By the 1950s, passenger travel by train was giving way to the modern convenience of cars, but I still got my chance to ride the rails. My grandmother and I would get up early on a summer morning and walk down Main Street to the station to catch the westbound train to Cincinnati. In 1950 it was certainly quicker to just get in the car and drive in through Glen Este and Newtown, across the Beechmont Levee and into town on Columbia Parkway, but my grandmother was old school. She didn’t own, or drive, a “machine” as she called cars. Her independence came from knowing how to use the train.
We would climb the wide stairs from Main Street to the depot and then wait, her holding tightly onto my hand to keep me out of harm’s way, for the train to arrive. Amid the hissing and clanging of the steam engine, the conductor would help my grandmother and me board the train. On a summer morning, the windows of our coach were open and let in every sight, smell and sound of the ride.
We steamed down the East Fork valley past Roudebush Lane and Possum Hollow. We rode through whistle stops such as Perintown, South Milford and Newtown on the way to Norwood and then on to Union Terminal and a taxi ride to Fountain Square. Whatever it was that we were going to do in Cincinnati paled by comparison to that train ride. I would endure the shopping and help carry packages and bags because I knew that the day would end with the return trip on the train.
The railroad in Batavia was, however, much more that a fantasy for a small boy. It brought progress to Batavia. It brought the people and things that made Batavia a bustling center of commerce in the middle of Clermont County.
Passenger trains made Batavia a hub for travel from the far corners of the region to faraway places like Washington, New York and Chicago. New hotels opened in Batavia to make travelers comfortable while they waited for their trains. The Hamilton House at the corner Main and Market and The Teal House at the corner of Main and Riverside prospered as travelers made their way in and out of the area on the train.
Freight came in, and livestock and agricultural products from all over the central part of the county went out. Goods were transferred from wagons and buckboards to the train. Livestock was herded up Depot Lane and Clough Pike to pens and ramps, where they were loaded onto the train. Even more freight was unloaded from the train for distribution all over central Clermont County.
Batavia prospered as it was carried into the 20th century on the rails of the westernmost branch of the Norfolk and Western Railroad system.
Cars and trucks would by 1971 end the railroad’s passenger service. By the end of the 20th century, scheduled freight service to Batavia was at an end, as well.
On a cold winter evening though, if your ears are just old enough, you can still hear the 8:30 to Washington chugging up the East Fork valley toward Batavia.