Exploring the CNO&TP Tunnels

The Cincinnati, New Orleans and Texas Pacific Railway (CNO&TP) is a railroad that runs from Cincinnati, Ohio south to Chattanooga, Tennessee. The railroad it operates, the Cincinnati Southern Railway, was constructed to Chattanooga and is owned by the city of Cincinnati and leased to the CNO&TP under a long-term agreement.

When completed in 1879, the route contained 27 tunnels, most of them concentrated in “The Rathole” between Danville, Kentucky and Oakdale, Tennessee. The tunnels, designed to be approximately 15 feet wide and 20 feet high, included:

  • Tunnel no. 2 at King’s Mountain, which was 3,992-feet long.
  • Tunnel no. 3 and 4 at Burnside.
  • Tunnel no. 5 north of Sloans Valley.

The tunnels were originally lined with timber, but most were eventually relined with stone and brick unless they went through solid rock.

In the 1940’s, when the Wolf Creek Dam on the Cumberland River in Kentucky was planned, the high water level in the new reservoir would flood a portion of the Pittman’s Creek bridge at the portal to tunnel no. 4. Work began in the late 1940’s to reroute the railroad and on August 3, 1950, tunnels nos. 3 and 4 were closed to northbound traffic; southbound traffic began using the new bridge on August 8.

The CNO&TP undertook a massive construction project between 1961 and 1963 that saw many tunnels bypassed with cuts and the reduction of steep grades and curves at a cost of $32 million. Included in the project was the bypass of tunnel nos. 2 and 5. Project 1 of the massive project removed tunnel no. 2 at King’s Mountain, Kentucky with a cut that was at most 140-feet deep. Project 2 removed tunnel no. 5 with fills as high as 215 feet and cuts as deep as 160 feet.

The completion of the project was heralded on July 10, 1963, when the New River bridge near Robbins, Tennessee was opened.

Last weekend, I set about to explore tunnels nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5 as they were within close proximity to each other and generally accessibly when dry. Tunnel no. 2, at King’s Mountain, was the easiest to access from a local roadway and from the railroad. It diverges from the mainline and proceeds into the narrow tunnel for nearly 4,000 feet. The ends are flooded but the tunnel itself remains dry and navigable.


Tunnels nos. 3 and 4 were bypassed with a major line change due to the damming of the Cumberland River. Accessed off of Richardson Road, a graded path along the old right-of-way leads into tunnel no. 3 and then tunnel no. 4. Both were bore through solid rock and were never lined.

Tunnel no. 4’s southern portal put out onto a major bridge over Pittman’s Creek, although no traces of the crossing remains today.

Tunnel no. 5, located south of Burnside, was relined and later improved with concrete walls to contain some slippage. It was inaccessible from the southern portal due to excessive water on the old right-of-way, but the northern portal was very much visible and open throughout.


Check out more of the Cincinnati, New Orleans and Texas Pacific Railway and explore it’s other abandoned alignments »

A Secret Ballroom Lies Under a Lake, Guarded by Neptune

This opulent ballroom was constructed in the 1800’s under the lake of the Whitley Estate in England, guarded by the statue of Neptune. How it came into existence, through a Victorian-era tale of corruption, disgrace and eventual suicide, made the over-the-top extravagance of an underground ballroom not only an architectural wonder, but a folly. Read More

Russian Rope Swing

Abandoned building? 


Rope swing? 

Valera Boluchevsky climbed to the top of an abandoned military hospital in Moscow and rope swinged off.

Don’t be scared.

My palms are sweaty just watching the video!

Slate Furnace
Slate Furnace

Kentucky’s oldest iron furnace helped win the War of 1812 down in New Orleans.

Slate Furnace, located along Slate Creek near present-day Owingsville, was constructed in 1791 for the purpose of smelting iron ore from local deposits for ten gallon kettles, which were in great demand by the early pioneers. The kettles allowed water to evaporate from the salt springs for salt, and to boil the sap of maple trees for sugar.

War production proved to be more lucrative.

In 1807, Colonel Thomas Deye Owings was contracted to supply cannon balls to the American Navy. Ammunition was brought to Maysville via oxcart and then floated down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. During the War of 1812, the Bourbon Iron Furnace supplied the Army Corps of Artillery with cannonballs, grapeshot and canisters. Much of the product was floated down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans.

After 47 years of operation, the Slate Furnace made its last blast in August 1838.

Find out more about Slate Furnace and other early iron furnaces »

Olympia Christian Church
Olympia, Kentucky

Olympia, Kentucky is an interesting dot on the local map.

Over a 10 minute period on March 3, 1876, a large portion of red meat began raining down over Olympia. Referred to as the Kentucky meat shower, the meat was identified as either venison or mutton. Samples that weren’t being quickly devoured by hogs and chicken were sent to Transylvania University in Lexington for further analysis.

The analysis revealed that the meat was lung and muscle tissue, and cartilage.

No explanation was ever formally given, although local lore claims that a flock of buzzards were flying overhead when they disgorged as a group.

Even absent of the meat shower, Olympia is an interesting stop, namely for the old Olympia Christian Church. It’s been abandoned for as long as I can remember and it’s condition has slightly worsened in the past few years due to a severe lean.

Check out more of Olympia Christian Church. If you know more about the church, drop me a comment or two below!

Abandoned in Place
Abandoned in Place: NASA’s Space Facilities

The United States was on the forefront of space exploration and research during the Cold War, a status that has since been superseded by other developing nations and Russia. Over the ensuing decades, space launch and miscellaneous facilities were used, reused, deactivated and abandoned all across the nation.

Roland Miller has taken it upon himself to document these locations that were the base for the first unmanned space flights to excursions to the moon in his new book, Abandoned in Place.

The facilities photographed in Abandoned in Place portray one of the most historic and technical adventures of the last century–from our first unmanned flights beyond the atmosphere to landing men on the moon. A sense of the urgency of the space race is evident in many of the images. Signs and labels in the images reflect the technology of the era. The structures depicted also recall the darker threat of nuclear war. Some of the images describe a future that could have been if the cold war had heated up. These launch complexes, engine test stands, and wind tunnels are the Bunker Hills and Gettysburgs of the cold war. References to the Great Pyramids, Chichen Itza, Stonehenge, and other major archaeological sites foreshadow the future of these modern ruins.

The upcoming book features scenes of launch towers, test stands, tunnels and control rooms from the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi to the Kennedy Space C enter in Cape Canaveral, Florida and the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, among other locations.

Old Crow Distillery
On Set

Several weeks ago, while being filmed for a segment for Kentucky Life, I took the opportunity to walk around Old Crow Distillery in central Kentucky. Not much has changed with the grounds, although it appears that the property may lay dormant for the foreseeable future. I sincerely hope that the buildings will be preserved; the owners are currently looking for a buyer!

845 Monmouth Street
845 Monmouth

The corner of East 9th and Monmouth streets in historic downtown Newport, Kentucky is still sleepy. The one-story building, originally faced with white stucco and flanked by a red tile sub-roof, was home to an El Rico drugstore. Banks later occupied the building, including National City, ending with a check cashing venture. After much alterations to its appearance, including the use of polyisocyanurate foam, the corner is now vacant.


The original facade for 845 Monmouth and El Rico Drugs can be seen.

The three-story Italianate Second Empire structure immediately to the east was built prior to 1900. At one point, the upper floors was home to several tenements while ground floor was host to a dry cleaner and other sundries. Today, the upper floors are vacant while the lower level is home to Carabello Coffee.

It was apparent that the previous owner was in the process of rehabilitating the interior. Some of the plaster walls and ceiling had been removed, revealing beautiful rough-sewn timbers. Buckets of paint and tools were scattered about. New windows were installed. For whatever reason, need it be financial or else, construction did not progress very far.

On November 10, 2014, Carabello Coffee announced that they were purchasing the corner building at East 9th and Monmouth, along with an adjoining building, and expanding operations. The addition will feature more seating, a slow bar, roastery annex and a training laboratory. WorK Architecture + Design and the City of Newport is assisting in the development. Check out the before and after for what will be an amazing anchor to the Monmouth Street retail district.

845 Monmouth Street


Foxy Shazam Disbanding

It was announced today that the American rock band, Foxy Shazam, is disbanding for an unknown period of time. I am under the assumption that after performing more than 2,000 shows, the band members just need some time to breathe and be with their families.

One of my favorite music videos, for I Like It, from the aptly named The Church of Rock and Roll, was filmed in the abandoned First German Reformed Church in the West End neighborhood of Cincinnati – their hometown. Read More