During a recent trip to New Albany, I made a stop by the Silver Hills Historical Nature Trail and Wildlife Sanctuary. Located on New Albany’s west side, Silver Hills is a delightful retreat through 16.5 miles of forest along a trail that partially follows the old New Albany Highland Railway Trolley Car Line. If you find yourself in New Albany, Clarksville, or Jeffersonville this year, make a trip to explore Silver Hills.
Like much of nearby Kentucky, the landscape due west of New Albany is covered in hills. These hills, historically known as knobs, also cover parts of southern Indiana and hug the northern side of the Ohio River from New Albany to Tell City.
The knobs west of New Albany are generally known as Silver Hills, though the knob closest to the city carries the same name. In the earliest years, Silver Hills was also known as “the Knob west of the city” or “Caney Knob,” in reference to wild cane that grew (and still grows) on the hill.
New Albany was officially established in 1813, but it wasn’t until the 1850s that residents made “the Knob west of the city” their home. Much of the land was cleared for agricultural use, and some early roads made it into the knob in the latter half of the 19th century.
In 1892, the Silver Hills Land Company divided the land for development. Taking advantage of the relatively new technology of electric street railways, the company also built a trolley like into the hills from New Albany. The route became enormously popular at the turn of the century as visitors traveled on the line into the splendid forested hill. After the arrival of the trolley line and associated electric lights, several homes were built on the hill.
The trolley line also connected to the Oakwood Recreation park, the Silver Heights Campground, and the Highland Club. Like most of the trolley systems in the United States, the Great Depression killed the Silver Hills Trolley.
In 2012, the Silver Hills Historical Society was formed under the mission “to provide stewardship for the Silver Hills Community’s history by nurturing respectful discovery, preservation, collection, and public dissemination for the benefit of the Silver Hills community and the surrounding New Albany/Floyd County community.”
In 2016 the society opened the Silver Hills Historical Nature Trail and Wildlife Sanctuary. The trail through the sanctuary follows ⅓ of the trolley line and part of the Market Street Road (which existed from 1870-1937).
The trail is easy to follow, even for a novice hiker, and really does take you ‘out of the city’ and into nature. Some of the steps can be slippery, so make sure you wear hiking books and pay attention along your journey. The society has also done a really great job in interpreting the site. Visitors will encounter several historical signs along the way, each featuring relevant details about the site and some great images.
Silver Hills is worth the trip...as always, take sunscreen and bug spray when exploring the trail in warmer months.