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As I arrived in Cheshire Ohio a bit past 12am, the entire world seemed to stand still.
The land itself had an ominous feeling. It almost felt cursed.
Massive cooling towers pumped starch white smoke into the night sky, and the crackling and humming of high voltage power lines pulsated in the distance.
Homes without lights on dotted the rural landscape and I felt as if I was in an episode of Stranger Things.
Unexplained things happened to us that night in Cheshire, and full disclaimer, I’m not one to be superstitious.
Before you can appreciate my story, you must first learn about the stories from Cheshire’s past.
If you want to skip the history and just read my personal account you can click here.
The land Cheshire sits on holds a dark history. A history of being stolen from it’s people time and time again. They say history never repeats itself, but you’ll often find it rhymes.
Like most stories of stolen land, this one starts with the native Americans who first settled the Cheshire area some 300 years ago.
Native Americans Curse Cheshire Land
Long before any coal plants or cooling towers, groups of Shawnee and Algonquian tribes called the Ohio river their home. Looking past the Kyger power plant it’s easy to see why you would want to settle here. The lush surrounding hills were perfect to hunt small game and forage for plants or herbs. The vast Ohio River provided an abundance of fish and proved to be a convenient way to travel long distances.
Evidence of ancient settlers in Ohio can be seen all across the state. From the serpent effigy mounds to the Newark Earthworks of the Hopewell tribes, land across Ohio has been inhabited for over 12,000 years. While not much-documented history is left, the land Cheshire was built on is said to have belonged to a group of Shawnee before they were driven out during the Ohio Indian Wars.
After the Revolutionary War, the U.S won a swath of land from the British under the Treaty Of Paris in 1783. During that time many of the Miami, Shawnee, and Wyandotte tribes had already been driven further west, and now only held on to a bit of land north of the Ohio River.
The new government saw all this land as an opportunity to use it for its resources and ultimately pay back its debts. In 1783 a commission was appointed to negotiate with Indian tribes to acquire their land. While some tribes accepted payments, others did not. Many tribes who did not take payment began to fight back, raiding the white settlements in retaliation.
By 1795 most of the native Americans had been forcibly removed from their land. The Shawnee who had lived in the Cheshire area for hundreds of years were now gone. But not before cursing the land as they left it behind.
Cheshire Township Is Formed
In 1811 the township of Cheshire was formed mostly by Europeans from England and Britain. The soil was rich and earthy which gave way to crops and farms that quickly took shape across the town. The Ohio Blue Sulphur Springs that ran through Cheshire produced clean spring water that was widely believed to cure all sorts of ailments.
The land in Cheshire was so pure and fertile, that barges on the Ohio river would transport their grain and crops as far south as New Orleans to sell. Soon coal was discovered in the southwest hills of Cheshire, and the town got it’s own train station on the Hocking Valley Railway.
The residents continued to live and thrive off of their resource-rich land not knowing of the curse before, or that the resources beneath their feet, would eventually put a target on their towns back. As the farms began to flourish, churches and schoolhouses were erected to support Cheshire’s growing population.
Confederates Invade Cheshire
In 1863 Cheshire would have it’s peace shattered as 2500 confederates rode through the town engaging militia men in combat. The confederate invasion was known as Morgan’s Raid, and Cheshire was just another town in the army’s path. Morgan’s men raided the small town for their supplies and took militia men prisoner in their own hotel and school houses.
While Morgan himself was able to escape the battle, many of his men did not. The confederates eventually moved further up the river to fight in the battle of Buffington Island, but not before causing significant damage to the town of Cheshire.
Ohio River Floods Cheshire
In 1913 Cheshire was heavily damaged when the Ohio river spilled over into the town during a violent rain storm. Several feet of water swept through the town destroying many of the buildings and homes in it’s path. The water eventually receded and the town began to rebuild. Only twenty-four years later another massive flood would hit the town of Cheshire, this time almost destroying it completely.
You’ll find many of the cemeteries in Cheshire are high up on hills, and this is for good reason. Even with the flooding Cheshire scrapes by and continues to rebuild again, this time with a smaller population and less community buildings. But flooding would be the least of this towns worries, as new looming threat would set out to poison the land and pollute the towns air.
Cheshire Ohio Power Plant – Poisoning The Town & Residents
In 1954 the Kyger Creek Power plant was erected which brought jobs to the local area, and was seen as a blessing to those looking for work in the community. In 1975 the much bigger Gavin Power plant was built and stands as the largest power plant in all of Ohio. The Gavin Plant produces over 11% of all of Ohio’s power, and can power over 10 million households.
But this unimpeded progress isn’t without consequence. Slowly the residents began to notice the negative effects of both of the power plants. Cheshire is directly in line with the southern winds that blow north, putting the town directly in the path of the plant’s air pollution. Sulfur dioxide irritated the residents lungs and created numerous cases of bronchitis. Polluted air made managing asthma unbearable and would trigger violent coughing and various other respiratory issues.
On windy days the mountains of ash piled behind the power plant would blow into town, and directly into the nearby Kyger Creek and Ohio River. The clean drinking spring water of Cheshire had become poisoned, and the once fertile ground of Cheshire is now laden with heavy metals and acid rain.
But things we’re about to get worse.
In the early 1990s massive sulfur dioxide scrubbers were installed to protect the environment under the Clean Air Act, but many said that just made things worse. Instead of being blown directly into the atmosphere, fly ash and soot now drifted down towards the ground directly into the lungs of Cheshire residents, covering their homes and vehicles.
Yet again AEP tried to filter the air surrounding the plant but just added more problems. In 2001 a new filtration system was installed that would convert most of the pollutants to water vapor. However, the plant instead released sulfur trioxide which when paired with the humid Ohio air, created a dense toxic blue smog that blanked the entire town as if there was a sweeping plague moving down the river.
The plumes of toxic smoke were absorbed by storm clouds and acid rain fell down on Cheshire residents. This caused severe skin rash, chemical burns, and damage to homes and businesses. Groundwater was polluted to the point where it was undrinkable in certain areas.
As the coal burned, mercury was suspended in the air and eventually accumulated on the ground and into the water table. Cheshire has some of the highest mercury concentrations in the entire state which can lead to neurological damage and birth defects.
In just a few decades the land was transformed by pollutants, creating damage that could take lifetimes to reverse. The town of Cheshire finally had enough, and hired the help of a private law firm to sue the power plant.
Rather than fight a lengthy legal battle, AEP offered to buy out the entire town, offering residents three times their home’s value, and even paying to have homes physically relocated elsewhere. The catch was anyone who took that deal could never sue AEP for anything in the future. This includes health damages from chemicals the plant produced.
A handful of resistant residents couldn’t change the minds of their neighbors. While you might expect the town to fight back, many took the offer and left the community they built behind. Today a handful of mostly elderly residents still refuse to leave.
The 20 million dollar settlement went quick, and in just a few short years nearly the entire town was demolished. Today, you can find about a dozen or so residents still living within the Cheshire village. The residents are locked into a long waiting game with the power company. When they die, no one will be permitted to live on that land, and it will be automatically purchased by AEP.
Many of the residents who refused to leave felt like the land was being stolen from them, and rightfully so.
For the second time residents of Cheshire would be forcibly removed from their land.
Cheshire Township Today
Fast forward to 2020 and not much has changed. A 2011 a Clean Air Task Force study shows that the amount of pollution from the Kyger Creek area can be linked to 305 asthma attacks and 19 death deaths every year. To this day the air quality in Gallia County remains unsafe, yet dozens of residents still refuse to leave. Some of them have two generations of family buried out here, and to them this is their home.
While exploring the area, I met the Bradburys. Their family lives in the nearby town of Kyger just north of Cheshire, and they don’t have any plans to leave. They’ve been here long before either of the power plants were ever built. Up the road from their house is a hilltop cemetery where over a half dozen Bradburys are buried.
They remember the town as it was some 60 years ago. Milk was 69 cents a gallon, and there were multiple shops and grocery stores along the now deserted stretch of highway 554. Cheshire was a bustling community with hundreds of homes and a handful of local businesses.
They could name everyone who lived in Kyger in just a few minutes. Truly a town where everyone knew everyone else. They shared a bit about their health challenges with cancer, and could never be sure if the plant was to blame or not. Meigs County is listed as having the highest average annual number of lung and bronchus cancer age-adjusted mortality rates by population.
The Bradburys are good folks, who didn’t ask for the power plants, and certainly didn’t deserve to live right in the path of it’s pollution.
A Paranormal Night In Cheshire
The first sign something was amiss was when we pulled into a nearby gas station to get some drinks. We go to check out and the old country clerk looks up at us. “Triple six boys,” he says. I look and our total is $6.66. Sure, who hasn’t had this happen. But things would prove to only get stranger as the night went on.
We go to pull out of the gas station and my GPS cannot make up its mind. It’s getting late and we’re looking for a hotel. The suggested route keeps changing even though we aren’t moving. It eventually settles on a road that appears to lead away from where we wanted to go. I trust the GPS’s judgement and navigated us up a steep hill away from the river, and into the darkness.
After only a handful of miles all of our cell phones lose service. We decide to continue on and assume our service would eventually return soon. We were wrong. After not seeing a soul for miles we pull off to the side of the road and debate whether to turn back.
As we turn the car off we hear a strange humming noise coming from outside the car. Rolling down the windows I look up to see we’re right below a pair of power lines that lead to the plant.
The dewy morning air met the power lines to create a buzzing and occasional pop that echoed into the woods. It was the type of energy that made the hair on your arms stand straight, and seemingly gave the surrounding forest a life of its own.
We determined that we could continue on, and that the road would eventually circle back towards the Ohio River. We pulled off not knowing where we were, or where we would end up.
Soon we were overwhelmed with this scent that I couldn’t put my finger on. Was it a chemical? I wasn’t sure because it also smelled fresh. It was strange, but I had a sneaking suspicion that it was coming from the Gavin power plant.
As we continued on we saw our first glimpse of civilization, a single yellow light and a building that illuminated a small crossroads. As we slow down it’s clear this building is old, and likely from when this town was first founded. Further in the darkness the silhouette of an old church from the 1800s comes into view. With it’s back against the treeline it felt almost like the church was watching you.
Fascinated and a bit weirded out, we get out to take some photos. Shortly after a thick blanket of fog made its way down the road. With it, that same chemical smell we experienced earlier came and went. I tried to find the source of this stretch of fog but found nothing.
A dozen or so bats circled overhead and weaved between the lampposts. I tracked them with my eyes and saw that they were nesting in the collapsed roof of a nearby abandoned school house. As I got closer to the school house I heard a rustling and then a loud blood curdling screech from the treeline. It screeched a few more times and then fell silent.
Was it an animal dying? Was it an animal at all? I stop in my tracks and squint into the forest to see at least one pair of eyes looking back at me. A bit unsettled, we pack up our stuff and get back on the road. This night is truly starting to feel more and more like an episode of Scooby-Doo.
We continue down the country back roads for what seems to be an eternity, passing nothing but abandoned farm houses and the occasional unlit home. Suddenly from the roadside a light as bright as a city bursts from the trees. We slow down to find a sort of home made compound, one you’d see in one of those apocalypse movies.
10 or so signs were nailed to the fence “Keep Out!” as spot lights illuminated the entire property and surrounding area. Under the spotlights chickens ran loose as well as several other farm animals. Why did this person have so many warning signs out in the middle of nowhere?
The fence was crude and made out of what seemed to be scrap which gave it the feel of a raiders compound you might stumble upon in a game like Fallout. It was clear whoever this person was, they didn’t want company. Especially us with our cameras in the early morning hours.
At this point it felt as if we had been driving for hours. I check my phone and not a single bar. At this point we could have turned around, but a part of me wanted to see this thing through. I was curious about what else we could find.
We come to pass what looks like an abandoned farm house and slow down. Out in the field, not far from the road, a single white horse stands alone staring at us. It’s eyes reflect our light back to us and it’s skin almost glows against the dark rural backdrop in the presence of our headlights. It was so still I had to squint to make sure it wasn’t a statue. It moved slightly but kept it’s eyes locked on us.
According to Christian beliefs, a white horse is the symbol of death. And if a horse was ever going to make itself known to me as a symbol, it couldn’t have done it in a better way. The horse doesn’t move, but I got the sense that we should probably just leave. It’s nearly 2am, and at this point we just want find a road that has streetlights.
Driving along we see another hazy single yellow light in the distance, much like we did towards the start of our journey. This time we don’t slow, our mission is to get cellular service and find a hotel. As we pass this lonely illuminated farm house a shadowy figure comes into view. It’s large, and it appears to have wings. At first I thought it’s an angel statue, but when I locked eyes with it, it’s very clear it’s not an angel.
A large black figure with wings was standing under the light in front of the barn. We were going too quick to make out what it was, but both of us were way too intrigued to not turn around. After a few minutes we found a place to make a turn and see what this thing was, and if it was even still there. The single light comes back into view and the figure is still hovering over the barn entrance.
It’s hard to make out what it is so we get out to take a closer look. As I get closer it’s features come into light. Standing at six or seven feet tall a grim reaper dawning his scythe stares back at me. It’s other hand is outstretched as if it was inviting me to come with him.
He stood perched atop a pile of skulls, and appeared to be carved from a single piece of solid wood. If you got close enough you could make out his long grin from beneath his hood. It was the middle of June, so writing this off as a Halloween decoration didn’t quite fit the story I was trying to piece together.
As we got back in the car I couldn’t help but think about the white horse we encountered earlier. This place was one weird coincidence after another from the very start. After 20 or so more minutes of driving we finally see streetlights in the distance. I check my phone and I have one bar, It felt as if we were emerging from the Twilight Zone. We book a hotel and thankfully make it there without any more white horses, screeching creatures, or grim reapers.
That morning when leaving Cheshire the feeling had changed completely. The power plant still roared in the distance, but the morning sun broke through the smoke to cover what was left of Cheshire in a golden warm haze. If you could forget about your increased risk of cancer for just a minute, it was almost peaceful.
One last peculiar thing did happen. On our way out of town I noticed an out of place smooth narrow path that ascended steeply into the woods. I thought about it for a second and asked if we could check it out.
We park at the base of this hill and make our way up. It was much too steep for most vehicles and certainly didn’t have any path for people to take. As we reached the base of the hill roughly 50 grave markers came into site.
Almost every gravestone was over 100 years old, and many of them have the last name Roche. We’d come to find that we were in the Roche Cemetery, a family cemetery that was established in the early 1800s.
As I was walking through looking at the graves, a name caught my eye.
“Mary Sission died March 23rd 1867. Aged 86 years, 9 months, 19 days.”
I am in fact related to a line of Sissons. Was this a distant relative? Another strange coincidence leaving the town of Cheshire. I’ll be updating this article if I am in fact related to this person.
As we were getting ready to leave, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Was this from the power lines above the cemetery, or from something up on that hill that couldn’t quite move on? I honestly don’t know.
As we left I thought about how much those power plants impacted the land and the community. With coal becoming less efficient, and the rise of clean energy I can’t help but think what Cheshire would look like if those coal plants closed down.
Hundreds of people would lose their jobs. The monolithic plant would sit abandoned, and it’s endless roar would finally come to an end. The sacrifice the residents of Cheshire had to make would have been in vein, and entire town’s history would be lost. Would people move back? It’s hard to say. Maybe with time.
If you find yourself in southern Ohio be sure to check out the town of Cheshire, before it’s gone for good. If you’re looking for other places to explore, take a look at these 10 abandoned places in southern Ohio.
You can read more about our experience and see other photos from our Cheshire trip on my friends blog as well.