Helltown, Ohio: An Ohio Ghost Town?

There is (or was) a place in Ohio that was so demonstratively evil that the locals stopped referring to it by its name, Boston Mills, and began calling it …

“Hell Town”

It was the site of a Native American massacre in the early days of the country and now filled with the lost souls of the indigenous tribes that used to call that land home.

It was the site of a chemical spill that resulted in various varieties of snakes mutating into evil bloodthirsty monsters.

It was the site of a string of serial killings, back in the frontier days.

Or, it was the site where a number of people killed each other for … reasons, I guess. And many of those who were killed here are said to still reside there, in spirit form.

It is the site where a large group of satanists gather to perform dark rituals, probably in an abandoned church that, lucky for them, featured upside down crosses in its architecture.

It was the site where a bus full of school children were violently killed on a ski trip, lured off the road by an evil woman.

It was the site where a number of children were abandoned or killed by their parents. One is said to haunt the local cemetery. Another is believed to be heard crying from a particular bridge whenever the moon is full.

It was the site where the United States Government performed a number of scientific experiments on the unsuspected public, and when people started to figure it out, they swept in claiming “Imminent Domain” and forced everyone to flee.

It was, and is, the site where a bunch of crazy stuff seems to happen.

The Legend(s) of Helltown

Once I began my research into the area dubbed Helltown, I was quick to discover a seemingly endless stream of stories. For a short time, I nearly forgot I was reading about a real place and not a series of screenplays from 1980’s low budget horror films. For such a small geographic area (as opposed to, say, The Amazon Rainforest, for instance) there did seem to be quite a few legends and ghost stories. Some were about cryptids or other monsters, others involved murder or other crimes. There also seem to be carbon copies of other urban legends, such as a crybaby bridge (where ghostly cries of an infant who was killed when its mother threw it from the bridge can be heard) or The Vanishing Hitchhiker (where a female hitchhiker is picked up, only to vanish from the vehicle as it passes a landmark, usually a cemetery). Witches, demons, and other occult entities also seem to be fairly prevalent. 

Searching the internet for videos on Helltown, Ohio, produces an equally varied set of results. There are some videos that try to document some form of monster attack, such as a so-called “Leaked Video” attack on a teenager that supposedly took place in 2016. Other videos appear to be short documentary features trying to answer questions like, “Is there a witch buried in Peninsula, Ohio” or “What’s up with this abandoned school bus?”

After looking into this for a period of time (which is probably much longer than I really should have) I am starting to think that Helltown is the kind of place where everybody wants it to be haunted, but nobody can agree on how, or why, or …?

And that’s what I want to know more about. 

Helltown, Lies and Truths

If any part of the legends and lore are to be believed, Helltown, Ohio used to be called Boston or Boston Mill, and was located in Boston Township (Summit County). If you were to pull up any map, today, you’d see a place called Boston (located just east of where I-80 and I-271 cross over each other (no, really). You’ll spot a number of great looking homes, The Boston Cemetery, a store or two, a visitor’s center, a Conservancy, what appears to be a delightfully lovely historical farmhouse where you can rent one of its 9 bedrooms for the night complete with heat and air conditioning and free wi-fi. 

So much for this being a total Ghost Town…? But, sometimes things can be slightly misleading until you dig a little deeper.

The town of Boston Mills began, for all intents and purposes, with the opening of The Erie Canal around 1827. This canal was, at the time, one of the main ways people went from place to place in this region, and quite a few people saw Boston Mills and thought “Hey, I’d like to live here” and soon the countryside started to fill with residents.

The next notable history-related event that occurred in the area happened in the 1880s, which was when Boston Mills residents didn’t have to travel via the canal because the first set of train tracks reached the area and people were quick to learn that train travel was so much better than canal boats. Again we see a slight uptick in residency during this period. 

By the 1950s, roads were overtaking railways as people’s preferred mode of transportation and some people were starting to feel like the entire Cuyahoga Valley was soon going to be a little more crowded. Cleveland, you know, the big city north of there, was expanding. It’s suburbs were getting suburbs and those suburbs were encroaching on other small towns and all but taking them over and the last thing these residents seemingly wanted was all the pollution and crime and neighbors getting drunk and playing that new Rock N’ Roll music in their backyards at two o’clock in the morning only to wake up the next day for a quick game of Is Bob Passed Out Drunk In The Bushes Or Is He Dead? The residents were also complaining that the Cuyahoga River, which ran through Cleveland, was getting rather stinky and all that pollution isn’t great for the local plants and animals. Besides, it was becoming a nauseous eyesore.

Enter Gerald Ford. He’s the President of the United States and he hears what people are saying in the Cuyahoga Valley, because that’s part of what his job is, and he comes up with a solution. In order to prevent Cleveland from getting too big for its britches, and to help combat the Cuyahoga River pollution, how about we convert the entire Cuyahoga Valley into one big National Recreation Area. And, at first, everyone who lived down that way was like, “Great! We’d much rather see a National Recreation Area than a stinking polluted city any day.” 

In 1974, Ford signs the bill creating the Cuyahoga Valley Recreation Area and then Congress does its thing, which allows the National Park Service to do their thing and it doesn’t take long for the Cuyahoga Valley Recreation Area to become a thing.

And for the first time in American History, everybody is happy and there are no unintended consequences. Oh … Wait …

So, all of the people who lived in what was now a National Recreation Area (the same people who had been complaining they didn’t want to live near the polluted river and feared their little town would be taken over by yet another Cleveland suburb) – and that included the people living in and around Boston Mills, learned they couldn’t actually own land in a National Park, and therefore they had to move. 

Almost immediately, they heard words like “Imminent Domain” that allowed the government to take their land and at least give them a little money for it. 

The Park Service did give some control over the local municipalities and communities to have some say in how the land was to be used, even if their options were, most often, rather limited. This is part of what led to the modern town of Boston becoming a thing and the reason why you’ll see some residences, and even a church or two, still there.

Back in the 1970s, the way this worked out left quite a few of the area’s residents feeling a bit irritated, if not completely pissed off. Some stayed in the region, moving just outside the National Park boundaries, such as towns like Boston Heights or Peninsula, while others thumbed their noses at the state of Ohio and moved elsewhere.

The idea that the government can step in and take land away from landowners is controversial, but is still often an important tool that can be used for the greater good. Most people can see the importance of Imminent Domain if the government needs to seize your house so they can tear it down and build a much needed freeway through what used to be your living room, even if they don’t like it. However, when it comes to declaring your downstairs loo should be in a National Park, that line is a wee bit less obvious.

This is most likely where and when many of the legends regarding Helltown officially began. It is often very hard (if not downright impossible) to trace the origins of most Urban Legends and Ghost Stories, which is definitely the case here. 

Helltown Truth and Fiction

I am fairly confident that most, if not all, of the legends surrounding Helltown, Ohio are fictitious, and in many cases this is plainly obvious. 

For example, many internet websites tell stories of an old, abandoned church that has a dubious history with Satanists, witchcraft, and demonic activity. Pictures accompany these stories, and a just a small amount of research makes it clear that these photos were taken at one of two nearby churches, both with the same architectural features – most notably a support structure that appears as if it could be an upside-down cross, which everyone knows was put there by the satanists and is not a feature spotted in many other buildings throughout the world.

Both churches whose photos have been used in these articles are still in operation, and I hardly think either of them like being associated with these urban legends of Devil Worship. It’s also worth noting that neither of them were in the precise area of Helltown. One, a protestant church, is located in the countryside a few miles down the road. The other is the Our Lady of Sorrows catholic church in Peninsula. But, like I said – both congregations are filled with nice people, not devil worshiping satanists who pull off the Do Not Remove Under Penalty Of Law tags from their mattresses.

A Church (Near) Helltown

There is also a third structure, located in the woods just north of Boston, that likely was once a church and if the legends are true about a demonic structure, it’s most likely that one. However, all that remains is part of the foundation, no inverted crosses to be found anywhere. Still, the fact that all these legend hunters can’t even agree on where this church is … doesn’t bode well for any historical accuracy.

Helltown School Bus

Many stories tell of an abandoned school bus that for the longest time resided behind one of the Boston Mills houses. While the bus was real (as is evidenced by a few photos floating around the internet) the reality was a lot more mundane than tales of a serial killer, a madwoman, or something that seems to have come out of THe X-Files. The truth of the matter is that a nice couple had, in 1974, began some major repairs and renovations on their Boston Mills house. They purchased an old school bus so that they could reside in that until they finished the work on their house. Uncle Sam, however, had other ideas as their property was seized under imminent domain along with the rest of the town. The two packed up all their belongings they wanted to take with them, but without a use for an old broken down bus, they just left it behind where it sat and rusted while nature tried to reclaim it. Eventually the house was demolished or burned down, but it took even longer for someone to haul the old bus away. But, by then it had been spotted, photographed, and some wild stories about it were being told on the internet.

Just to be clear, there is no evidence at all that any mass casualty involving children had ever taken place in or around Boston Mills. Likewise, opposed to several stories, there is no section of the Boston Cemetery where the children had been buried.

Then again, one of the ghost stories about that same Cemetery states that a ghostly figure can often be seen sitting on a bench, staring off into the sunset. But, considering there are no benches in the cemetery, nor is there any historical data that suggests there ever was … this legend was fairly quick to debunk.

Other legends talk of cryptids living in the woods, or animals or fish that mutated because of pollution or some form of chemical spill or maybe government experiments gone wrong. Such a conspiracy theory is unlikely in this day and age, considering there’s been no real (or supposed) evidence to back this theory up, and a large chemical spill, or some kind of nuclear event occurring would be national, if not international news. Pollution, however, was a problem to some degree, but if polluted rivers caused that kind of mutation in the fish and snake population, then certainly many other cities would have had to have dealt with a much larger mutant river creature problem by now.

Still, I’m leary to dismiss the whole situation out of hand because there could be something going on in Helltown, even if it isn’t what everyone says it is. Legends often have a way of pointing to factual things, just like how so many versions of the Helltown tales talk about the government forcing the residents from their homes to make way for the National Recreation Area. (It was converted to a National Park a couple centuries later.) 

So, maybe there is something there to find of actual historical significance. While Boston Mills might not have been among the largest towns in Ohio (when there actually was a full fledged town there) or among the most important, it did see its share of residents and the mills that operated along the river were vital to the nearby communities. 

Helltown Legend Tripping And Tourism

For those of you who want to go into the woods around Helltown, more power to ya, I’d say. I don’t know what you might find, if you find anything. The woods, even the ones that aren’t haunted by mutant snakes and demonic squirrels can be scary at times. And, who knows, maybe this time you’ll find something that will take this story in a completely new direction.

As far as stuff for tourists, there’s a ton of attractions you might be interested in. There are lots of trailheads around the current town of Boston, Ohio … and there also remains lots that had once been connected to the Erie Canal that ran through the region, as well as some old farms you can tour, some picturesque covered bridges to find … and, depending on what time of year it is, there are even a couple of ski slopes.

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