Sunday, June 26, 2011

Blackhand Gorge Means Scenery and History

In the middle of an old railroad cut on the trail through the Blackhand gorge.
My kids and I have walked the trail at Blackhand Gorge since they were infants. Their stroller, wagon, and bikes have gone on the trail too. It's one of our favorite places.

Only as they get older do they start to appreciate where they are walking. The photo above is not far from Blackhand Rock and in the middle of the remains of a railroad cut that existed on the trail.

All in one year-round scenic spot are geological marvels along the south shore of the Licking River, American Indian history, Ohio & Erie canal history, railroad history, and roadway history.

It seems every time we visit I get to share more and more of the fascinating story of the Blackhand Gorge.

Here's the front and back side of a postcard found at  The back describes the scene a few decades back:

"In earliest recorded times Black Hand Rock, on the bank of the Licking River near Newark, Ohio, bore the outline of a giant human hand, reputedly of Indian origin and identified in legend with the blighted romance of a tribal chieftain. A highway now traverses what was the first electric railway tunnel in the United States."

The trail is now a bike and walking path through a state nature preserve. It's more than that. Much more.

It's a gorge. The Licking River cut through sandstone in Eastern Licking County just east of where the glaciers stopped moving, cutting a gorge that remains intact today. It's a stunning view and every season has a reason to be here. Fall may be the best time of all.

It's where an interesting American Indian story and lesson can be found. A large black hand, purportedly painted by natives to the continent, once was visible on one of the sandstone walls. Whomever painted it, it's a lesson in history and in preserving visible history. I have to struggle to tell my kids why they can't see it today. "It was destroyed over 150 years ago. Destroyed means its gone forever," I said.

It's where an Ohio & Erie canal stretch went through. Sandstone block lines the lower portion of Black Hand Rock along the river. The block are the remains of the towpath and further upstream there are remains of an amazing aqueduct that carried the canal and its cargo across the Licking River. When my kids are older we hope to walk that side of the River.

It used to be an electric railway that ran between Zanesville and Newark. Until I found this postcard image, I didn't know that the north bank of the Licking River hosted the first tunnel along an electric railway in the United States. I'm told the postcard is right and, in fact, the tunnel is still there. That's a tidbit for our next visit though.

Walk a little bit further west of the railroad cut and a modern, still-running railway runs. It's a CSX line leased to the Ohio Central Railroad between Newark and Cambridge. The rail bridge that crosses the Licking River is a sight to see in its own right.

It was also a roadway. The electric railway went away and a roadway came in its place. Again, I didn't know that until I saw the postcard. More for later.

Now, it's a trail. One rainy afternoon this June we passed numerous walker and bikers. It's never overrun with people, though. Nature is before you in all its beauty.

It's rare when you can just go for a walk and have so much to both see and learn.

Enjoy it, Licking County. Enjoy it.

Blackhand Gorge is a fascinating place indeed.


Editor's Note: My original post had some factual errors which Aaron Keirns helped me correct. I apologize for misinterpreting some facts. Any errors that remain are all mine.

Aaron wrote a book about the Blackhand Gorge titled Black Hand Gorge, A Journey Through Time. Reading Aaron's book is another activity for the future.

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