If Hell Town Exists, Where in Cuyahoga Valley National Park Is It?
Cuyahoga Valley National Park was established as a recreation area 46 years and 10 months ago. And for 46 years and 9 months, thrill seekers in Northeast Ohio have claimed that a section of the park was haunted. A listener asked our “OH Really” team to find out more about the legend of Hell Town.
Few people remember the Robert Blake TV series, “Hell Town” and with good reason; it lasted just a few weeks in the mid-80s. But say “Hell Town” to people in Northeast Ohio, and it might conjure up images of Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Specifically, a portion centered in what is now the Village of Boston.
“My name is Lance Wilfred. I’m from Creston and Litchfield, Ohio. My question is about Hell Town. It collapsed a while back to where nobody lived there. I visited there with a couple friends of mine, and I’ve always wanted to hear more about it.”
To get him some answers, I went right to the source. Rebecca Jones Macko is a ranger with the CVNP, with a background in Folklore and Public History.
Jones Macko says every urban legend probably starts with a grain of truth. And in this case, it started in the 1970s as the government began buying up properties in what was then Cuyahoga Valley Recreation Area.
“Unfortunately, as we were buying these properties, we had no plan in place on how to manage them," she said. "So, what we were doing at that time was acquiring properties and then boarding them up and putting signs on them that said, 'No trespassing.' People said, ‘Well, what's going on? We all love a good story, and if there's not enough information in place, pretty soon an urban legend will migrate into the area.”
One of the legends was that the government was buying the properties because of a chemical spill. Jones Macko says that has only a slight connection to reality and to an issue which wasn’t resolved until decades later.
“There was a Superfund site within the boundaries of the area. There was the old Krejci dump. And then just to the north lies the Jaite Paper Mill. And in testing the soil of both of these, we find very toxic chemicals,” she said.
The story of the dump even gave rise to rumors of a mutant which preyed on anyone unlucky enough to drive through the park at night. There was also the bridge where one can supposedly hear a crying baby, a myth which Jones Macko says pops up in the stories of many haunted or abandoned towns. There was also the one about the hearse, which supposedly followed people through town. It was actually just rangers in their official park vehicles, encouraging Hell Town thrill seekers to move along after dark.
The Road to Nowhere
Jones Macko says "The Road to Nowhere," or "The Disappearing Road," is really just Stanford Road.
“The road was abandoned sometime, I think, in the early 1980s. It was abandoned by Sagamore Hills," she said. "If you could imagine being a teenager in 1982, driving down this road. Imagine being in that large, old Mercury Marquis, and you come down and there's a sharp turn and your headlights go off into the darkness. At first glance, in that first second, it doesn't seem like there's any road there.”
That sound isn’t teenagers in a land yacht, it’s semis speeding by on the Turnpike. Interstate 80 runs above this section of the National Park, the supposed center of Hell Town.
I visited there last week and ran into a couple from Westerville: Katie Cremar and her wife, also named Katey, who were out hiking.
“Are you finding anything haunted about this area?”
“So far, we haven’t run into anything yet.”
“No not yet, but anything’s possible.”
“You have an PKE meter to test this area?”
“Left it at home.”
Later on, I came across Kathy and John Sachleben from Medina County. I asked if they were familiar with Hell Town.
“I’ve never heard of that. Only thing I’ve ever heard are nice things because people love the park. Wow, ‘Hell Town’?”
Not haunted by ghosts
Jones Macko says that the only haunting is for residents who aren’t happy about the lingering reputation of Hell Town.
“What it would be haunted by is the fact that they've lost so many of their neighbors when the land was bought up. And it's haunted by late night teenagers looking for Hell Town thrills and driving through the town at great rates of speed,” she said.
“Boston is a lived-in community. This is still somebody's hometown. It is private property, and Rangers do patrol Peninsula roads. So be respectful of the fact that it's still somebody’s town.”
So, one can’t say Hell Town is gone, because it never physically existed except in gossip, rumors, and myths. But to learn about the actual haunted history of the park, next month the CVNP is hosting a program titled “Train Wrecks, Ship Wrecks, and Spooky Tales.”
The theme for the short-lived series "Hell Town" is available here: