Kentucky Tag

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 »

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!

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


Hazel Green Academy
Hazel Green Academy

Susan Orlean, of the New Yorker, once said that living in a rural region exposes the body and mind to marvelous things: the natural world, the “particular texture” of small-town life and the “exhilarating experience” of open space.

It’s not difficult to argue that.

Hazel Green Academy was located in a remote small town in the hills of eastern Kentucky. The private school, set amongst the hardwoods and abutting flowing pastures, was an ideal location when it opened to students in 1880. It’s purpose was to offer low tuition rates, offer a good education to the underserved and offer its students a stepping stone to college and “a higher sphere in life” and hope. Read More

Cannel City Union Church
Cannel City Union Church

"What if everything you are being told about the demise of rural living is wrong? What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail to bring all these folks who say they might want a more rural life into the fold?"
-Robin Rather, Collective Strength

While the demise of rural life in many areas is overstated, there are many areas that are in long-term decline, brought about by sustained job losses and single-focus economies. In Cannel City, Kentucky’s case, it was coal and timber. The city was founded by the Kentucky Block Cannel Coal Company in 1905 as a company town for its nearby coal mines. At its height, three coal companies provided more than 500 jobs for a town that boasted a train depot for the Ohio & Kentucky Railway, several churches, stores, hotels and banks.

Cannel City’s Union Church was a multi-denominational church that was constructed in 1905. Read More

Frenchburg Presbyterian College
A Place to Stay

Six years in a foreign state will change a person. After living in Cincinnati, Ohio and experiencing the urban life, I had to move back out to Kentucky and reestablish my roots. I packed up my belongings, sold my house and moved into an old factory in the heart of Lexington.

I had become too accustomed to the land of the Buckeyes and cornfields. Ohio was a large state to explore but it never felt like home, despite living just across the Ohio River from Kentucky. It was an amazing state to wander about in, as it boasts an amazing amount of rust belt cities and abandoned buildings. There was an endless stream of explorations.

Moving to Kentucky was a huge change on all fronts. The topography was more hilly and considerably more raw. The abandonments were more scattered and far smaller in size. Exploring anything took significantly more legwork and persistence.

For nearly a decade, I had been attempting to photograph the inside of the Frenchburg Presbyterian College in Frenchburg, Kentucky. Read More