Though it may not be the first place to come to mind as you plan your urban exploration travel for 2021, the state of Ohio offers a surprising number of fascinating abandoned places just waiting to be discovered. If a trip to the Buckeye State is in your sights in the year ahead, be sure to add the following locations to your itinerary.
The Best Abandoned Places in Ohio
B&O Harmar Bridge (Marietta)
For more than 150 years, this bridge over the Muskingum River in Marietta has stood as a familiar landmark to locals and people simply passing through the small town. First built in 1856 as a 900-foot covered bridge carrying horse and carriage traffic between Marietta on the east side of the river and Fort Harmar on the west side, the bridge was replaced two decades later by an iron superstructure.
The new bridge was designed to allow passage of trains operated by the Marietta & Cincinnati Railroad (M&C), which ran 173 miles between Fort Harmar and Loveland. The new bridge also featured a central swing span, which could be moved to permit large steamboats to continue their passage along the Muskingum.
At the turn of the 20th century, several railroads—including the former M&C—were absorbed by industry giant Baltimore & Ohio (B&O), which took over the smaller carriers’ infrastructure, including the Harmar Bridge. When massive floods swept across the state in 1913, the bridge sustained significant damage, requiring three of the four spans to be replaced.
After the B&O abandoned the bridge in 1962, it was left to decay until a nonprofit organization formed in the 1980s to raise the funds to construct a pedestrian path along the bridge. The Harmar Bridge became a popular destination for couples, who would attach a lock to the structure as a symbol of their partnership.
Unfortunately, the bridge was declared off-limits to pedestrians in early 2020 due to safety concerns related to the bridge’s structural integrity. A new fundraising effort is now underway to produce the estimated $2 million to $4 million needed to make repairs to the structure, but until the improvements are made, access to the property is at your own risk. Overall, it’s not surprising that this location made it onto our list of the best abandoned places in Ohio.
Wagner Manufacturing Company Factory (Sidney)
Founded in 1891, the Wagner Manufacturing Company was one of the first cast iron cookware companies established in the United States, and its prosperous factory helped put the town of Sidney, Ohio on the international map. Now, it sits as just another one of the many abandoned places in Ohio.
For decades, millions of home and professional chefs relied on their cast iron skillets, Dutch ovens and other products to cook flawless Easter hams and juicy Thanksgiving turkeys. In fact, “Wagner Ware” was so well-known in culinary circles that it was imported for sale in Europe. The company later diversified its product line to include cast aluminum cookware and its proprietary Magnalite line made from a magnesium and aluminum alloy blend.
In the mid-1950s, the Wagner family began divesting its holdings in the company, and the brand was sold multiple times in the decades that followed. Though the American Culinary Corporation of Willoughby, Ohio continues to manufacture cookware under the Wagner name, the once-booming Sidney factory was shuttered in 2008 when the facility was declared structurally hazardous and the owners declined to invest in the necessary renovations.
Now owned by Master Vision Polishing, the dilapidated building remains boarded up and covered in caution tape, with crumbling walls and collapsing floors marring the interior. A large portion of the structure further collapsed on Christmas Day 2019, prompting the city to move forward with emergency demolition on part of the building.
A robust security system remains in place to thwart trespassers, but it hasn’t been enough to keep a handful of determined urban explorers away from the property, including a group that managed to get into the building and subsequently shared videos of their expedition on YouTube.
Kerr’s Run Colored School (Pomeroy)
This time-worn wooden structure in the oldest neighborhood in Pomeroy, Ohio may not look like much from the outside, but it holds an oversized place in the state’s history. As one of the first schools for African-American children in this part of the country, “Kerr’s Run Colored School” opened its doors in the 1880s and continued educating students for several decades.
Among its most famous graduates was James Edwin Campbell, the renowned poet, author, editor, and educator who went on to become the first president of West Virginia State University. Campbell, who was born in the Kerr’s Run neighborhood in Pomeroy’s hardscrabble first ward, attended the school through eighth grade and finished his education at Pomeroy Academy.
After a few years spent teaching and serving as the editor of The Pioneer and West Virginia Enterprise newspapers, he took the helm at West Virginia State University in 1893. Sadly, his remarkable life was cut short by typhoid pneumonia in 1896, when Campbell was just 29 years old.
Though the school closed its doors in the early 1900s, it sat abandoned and largely untouched for the better part of a century, with thick, overgrown brush obscuring the nondescript timber frame. In 2007, the Meigs County Historical Society and Ohio Historical Society obtained funding for a small historical marker honoring the school’s role in Campbell’s life.
In 2019, a ceremony was held to unveil a Meigs County Bicentennial Marker at the site, closed with a reading from one of Campbell’s books. However, for now, it sits on a long list of abandoned places in Ohio.
St. John’s Church Cemetery (Pomeroy)
As one of the oldest cemeteries in southeast Ohio, the burial grounds at St. John’s Church in Pomeroy have been largely forgotten since the congregation dissolved in the 1920s. The church building itself has been gone for almost a century, but the cemetery can still be located by following an unmarked dirt path off Spring Avenue in the Naylor’s Run neighborhood.
Since the last burial took place here in the mid-1950s, plant growth and other forces of nature have gradually taken over the hallowed hilltop site, although many of the gravestones remain in remarkably good condition. No signs exist to alert passersby to the existence of the cemetery, but longtime locals can easily direct you to it.
Overall, it’s not surprising that this stunning urban exploration location made it onto our list of the best abandoned places in Ohio.
Iron Soup (Campbell)
Like many communities in the Industrial Midwest, the area surrounding Youngstown, Ohio was a thriving manufacturing hub for much of the 20th century. Entire ecosystems grew up around its steel-producing factories and related businesses, one of which was the small company town of Campbell.
With its company store and company housing, residents’ fortunes rose and fell alongside Youngstown Sheet and Tube, which employed at least one member of almost every household in town at its Campbell Works facility.
That all changed on September 19, 1977—now known as “Black Monday” in the region—when Youngstown Sheet and Tube suddenly shut down its Campbell outpost and furloughed all 5,000 of its employees. Many other manufacturing businesses soon followed, and virtually every family with the means to leave town and start over elsewhere did so, leaving behind a virtual ghost town where a bustling community once stood.
Much of the former Campbell company housing still exists, vacant and decaying, in the neighborhood that has since been dubbed “Iron Soup.” A few residents still live among the crumbling, boarded-up concrete structures.
In recent years, a nonprofit organization called the Iron Soup Preservation Society has formed in an effort to revitalize the area, raising money and volunteering time to rehabilitate the structures that are still worth saving and making them available as rental housing. The group also offers tours of the area by appointment, sharing the stories of the former boomtown with curious visitors in hopes of keeping the memory of one of the most interesting abandoned places in Ohio alive.
Hillandale Bridge (Euclid)
Near Hillandale Park in Euclid, an old brick road leads visitors to a most unusual sight: a bridge leading nowhere. Built in the 1920s as part of a housing development that never came to fruition, the bridge was abandoned during the Great Depression and was never revisited once the economy recovered after World War II.
Though it has sat largely forgotten for the better part of a century, the bridge has held up surprisingly well, bearing witness to the engineering prowess of builders at the peak of the Industrial Age. Its dramatic arches and gently curved roadway remain accessible to hikers and photographers, and its serene surroundings—which include verdant woods and a meandering creek—make it a popular destination for those in the know.
The remains of streetlights and other features are also visible along the bridge and the brick road leading to it. However, visitors should keep a sharp eye out for the few spots where the pavement has weakened and chunks of cement railing have crumbled into the creek.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can explore the trails beyond the bridge to discover the remnants of a few brick homes and another bridge from the ill-fated development. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes if you go this route, as the hike to reach the ravine and the additional ruins can be strenuous. While difficult to get to, this mecca of abandoned places in Ohio is well worth the work.
Sidaway Bridge (Cleveland)
Completed in 1930 as Cleveland’s only suspension bridge, the Sidaway Bridge was intended to connect the Jackowo Polish neighborhood on the south side with the Hungarian Kinsman Road community to the north. It replaced the original Kinsman Bridge, a footbridge built in 1909 as the longest wooden bridge in the city’s history, to provide additional clearance for the Nickel Plate Railroad to build facilities for its rapid transit line in Kingsbury Run below.
Just a few years after the new pedestrian bridge opened, it gained unwanted notoriety due to its proximity to a series of crime scenes. Between 1935 and 1938, 12 men and women were murdered in the area, and at least four of their mutilated bodies were discovered in various sites along Kingsbury Run. Several years after the last of the “Cleveland Torso Murders,” as they came to be known, another body was discovered on the slope under the Sidaway Bridge.
The bridge’s dark history didn’t end there. As the Kinsman Road neighborhood became more racially diverse in the 1950s and 1960s, many African-American children used the bridge to walk from public housing units on the north side to Tod Elementary School in the Jackowo neighborhood, which remained mostly white and Polish.
The bridge became a symbol of racial tension in the area during the 1966 Hough Riots, when vandals removed planks from the bridge and set it on fire, ostensibly to prevent the Kinsman Road residents from accessing the Jackowo side of the bridge.
Instead of repairing the damage to the bridge, the city opted to close it completely, a decision that ended up having large-scale implications a decade later as federal courts cited its closure as evidence that the city had actively worked to segregate Cleveland’s schools based on race.
For more than 50 years, the ill-fated yet elegant suspension bridge has sat abandoned, waiting for some party to invest in its repair and rehabilitation. Overgrown foliage blocks both ends on Sidaway Avenue and Berwick Road, and their location on private property makes it nearly impossible to access. Overall, it’s not surprising that this location made it onto our list of the best abandoned places in Ohio.
Warner and Swasey Observatory (East Cleveland)
Though ivy now covers its walls and its grand copper dome is now pockmarked with gaping holes, the former Warner and Swasey Observatory on Hanover Drive still shows evidence of its previous splendor. The observatory was a gift to the Case School of Applied Science from the Warner and Swasey telescope company, with its original tower and dome completed in 1919.
Over the three decades that followed, the facility continued to expand, but by 1950, the growing city’s increasing light pollution obscured most of the celestial bodies astronomers wished to study. The telescope was moved to a site in Arizona, and although research continued on the campus until the late 1970s, the observatory was closed for good in 1982.
In 2005, a wealthy developer purchased the property at a foreclosure auction with the vision of transforming the observatory into a luxurious residence, but those plans were scuttled when the developer was convicted of fraud and sent to prison in 2007. Since then, nature has continued to take its toll on the structures, making it a tempting destination for urban explorers in the region, looking for great abandoned places in Ohio.
Cincinnati Subway (Cincinnati)
At the dawn of the 20th century, the City of Cincinnati had grown to one of the nation’s 10 largest cities, thanks in large part to its prosperous river-based port system. When the Miami and Erie Canal was drained, city leaders developed a plan to replace the muddy eyesore running through the heart of the city with a 16-mile rapid transit system. The subway would loop around the city and travel underground to reach downtown Cincinnati before resurfacing and traveling above ground next to the Ohio River.
Though the city’s voters overwhelmingly approved the plan in the 1916 election, work on the subway didn’t begin until January 1920. The two-mile underground segment of the route was completed in 1923, but by then inflation had eaten up most of the budget for the project, forcing designers to dramatically reduce its scope.
The Central Parkway component of the route opened in 1928, and when the stock market crashed the following year, ushering in the Great Depression, any considerations for extending the route were effectively destroyed.
In the 1930s, several proposals for the project were floated, including one that envisioned running trolleys through the subway tunnels, but the tunnels’ sharp bends couldn’t accommodate the length of the cars. The city manager considered opening them to automobile traffic in 1939, but the cost of converting the tunnels was too steep to proceed.
All future plans for the Cincinnati Subway were abandoned in 1948, although discussions of repurposing the tunnels have continued for more than 70 years. Suggestions have included converting them into a bomb shelter, a retail district, a wine cellar and even another mass transit system.
Though the construction of I-75 in the 1960s destroyed a substantial chunk of the underground tunnels, several sections of the original route still exist, including the four stations built during the first phase of construction in the early 1920s.
For years, the city offered occasional tours of the remaining infrastructure, although these were curtailed in 2015 due to safety concerns. However, the stations still in existence are accessible to Cincinnati Waterworks staff, and there is potential for the tours to resume in the future. One of the tunnel gates can also be seen off Hopple Street near the Central Parkway.
Ohio State Reformatory (Mansfield)
Designed as an “intermediate penitentiary” to house inmates who had aged out of the juvenile corrections system but whose offenses didn’t warrant time in the state prison, the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield accepted its first residents in 1896.
True to its name, the facility sought to rehabilitate inmates by providing them with education, vocational training and religious teachings. Inmates who demonstrated significant progress after 18 months in the reformatory could be released; those who didn’t stayed another 18 months before being reevaluated.
Despite its low recidivism rate and relative success, the state eliminated funding for the reformatory model in the early 1960s, opting instead to convert the facility into a maximum-security prison. Citing crowded and inhumane conditions inside the facility, inmates successfully sued the state in the 1980s, and the reformatory closed its doors in 1990 when a new modern facility was built to replace it.
The former Ohio State Reformatory sat vacant until 1995, when the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society formed with the goal of preserving and restoring the original buildings’ striking architecture, which incorporated the Victorian Gothic, Queen Anne and Richardson Romanesque styles.
Their efforts have included removing debris, replacing the roofing, restoring the Warden’s quarters and restoring the central guard room between the West and East Cell Blocks (the latter of which remains the world’s largest free-standing steel cell block at six tiers high).
Both before and since its renovation, the Ohio State Reformatory has been a popular location for TV and movie shoots, most famously the acclaimed 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption. Despo
Today, the facility is available for public tours, including themed tours such as “History Meets Hollywood,” “Inmate Confessions” (led by a former inmate who was incarcerated there in the 1960s) and “Beyond the Bars,” which offers exclusive access to areas of the prison closed to the general public. The facility also claims a rich history of paranormal activity and offers a wide range of programs for first-time investigators and veteran ghost hunters.
Our Final Thoughts on Abandoned Places in Ohio
Those who are into urban exploration in the Ohio area should get comfortable with Ohio trespassing laws. Luckily, in the state of Ohio, the laws are easy to understand and are pretty cut and dry. For these cases, you should familiarize yourself with Ohio Revised Code Title XXIX. Crimes Procedure 2911.21.
For a layman’s explanation of what these rules and regulations are, please visit our article Ohio Trespassing Laws: Staying Safe Exploring in 2021. For more about obtaining permission to explore abandoned places, check out our guide Explore Abandoned Buildings: How To Get Permission.