Batavia is celebrating its bicentennial this year, and The Clermont Sun is publishing a series of historic vignettes. Author Ron Hill is past president of the Clermont County Historical Society, was editor of the Society’s newsletter for 17 years, and edited two of the Society’s books and wrote another. He is a member of the Cincinnati Railroad Club.
By Ron Hill
The second railroad to serve Batavia was the Cincinnati and Portsmouth. It was a narrow-gauge steam railroad organized by Henry Brachmann in 1873. A narrow-gauge line, 3′ between rails, was cheaper to build than a standard gauge, 4′ 8 ½″. After bankruptcy in 1877, it was reorganized as the Cincinnati, Georgetown & Portsmouth Railroad.
The route entered Clermont County at Clough Pike and curved northward to Mt. Carmel and then east through Summerside, Glen Este and Willowville to Olive Branch. It then went south to Amelia. From there it went east to Hamlet and Bethel before entering Brown County. Construction began in 1876, and the first train ran to Mt. Carmel in 1877. The line was completed to Georgetown in 1886. The line never made it to Portsmouth, because the Cincinnati & Eastern Railroad, later called the Norfolk & Western, reached there first.
In 1901, Andrew Comstock bought the line and modernized it. He changed the gauge to standard, filled in the culverts, straightened curves and electrified it. He built a modern electric generating plant at Olive Branch and a lake to provide cooling water for the plant. Not only did the electric plant provide power for the railcars, it also provided electricity for the hamlets along the railroad, including Batavia.
A park, called Highland, was built adjacent to the lake. The lake later was called Allyn after the mother of one of the CG&P officials. Highland Park was made into a resort, with boating, sports fields, picnic tables and a pavilion.
Taking a trolley to a park was a popular day’s excursion for many people before the days of the automobile. The railroad dropped visitors off on the west side of the lake at a station near the power plant. They then crossed a swinging bridge to get to the picnic grounds, which were adjacent to Amelia Olive Branch Road. The first electric car reached Georgetown in 1902. The site of the power plant was also the point where the Batavia Branch line left the main line and dropped down the hillside to Batavia.
The Batavia branch was built in 1903. It Crossed the Lake Allyn dam and followed Old Route 74 down the hillside to the East Fork River valley, where is followed the N&W tracks toward Batavia. It then passed under those tracks and ended near State Route 74 at the depot.
The Clermont County Historical Society does not have a picture of the original depot, but based on pictures of the other depots built by the CG&P at the time, it was a small wooden structure. In 1917, it was replaced by a 18′ x 40′ concrete block building with 5′ cornice.
The building had three apartments, ticket office, waiting room and electrical room from which Batavia received her day current. You passed thru the building to reach the trolley car. No signs of the depot remain, as it was destroyed when the N&W RR realigned its tracks.
Because of the steep grade of the Batavia Branch and the Mt. Washington Hill, the CG&P used steam engines to pull their freight trains. In 1917, the CG&P had to stop service several times because of a coal shortage due to WW l. The closure of the power plant affected the electricity in the hamlets that the railroad served. The Batavia Branch was abandoned in 1934.
Only a single car of the trolley type served passengers in Batavia. Since there was no way to turn the trolley at Batavia, it was necessary to have a trolley that could be driven from both ends. A trip from Batavia to Cincinnati required a person to change cars from the Batavia Branch to the Main Line at Highland Park. At Carrel Street, near Cincinnati, a passenger had to change cars to the East End Trolley to reach the heart of the city, because the CG&P did not have track rights into downtown Cincinnati.
A 1903 timetable shows that the CG&P dispatched 15 trains eastbound from Carrel Street Station each day except Sunday. Seven of these trains only went as far as Hamlet. The same timetable reveals that the trolley made 10 round trips a day between Batavia and Highland Park Station. The first left Batavia at 6:13 a.m. and the last at 7:28 p.m. The ride up the hill took 15 to 20 minutes and cost 5 cents.
The right or way of the CG&P Railroad can still be seen from Old State Route 74 near Olive Branch. Just east of the intersection of Shayler Road and Old State Route 74, if you look west, you can see a large stone trestle that was on the CG&P main line. Lake Allyn is now a camp for handicapped children. Behind the camp, the foundation of the power plant is still visible.