A car moves slowly along a single-track dirt road, its wheels treading cautiously. They alone break the silence. Against cloudy skies and a night already fallen, its headlights challenge a darkness that crushes from all sides. To the left, through a thicket of trees, stands a dilapidated barn with no visible means of access. To the right, old, broken furniture is scattered at the edge of a dense forest.
This is Church Road.
Twelve miles east of campus via Bacon Road, this small stretch, unplowed in winter, connects with Pittsford Road. But it’s far more than a long patch of dirt. For if one accepts local legends, then Church Road is unholy.
“It is so said that…a man killed his family and himself,” according to StrangeUSA.com, ‘the ultimate collection of the strange.’ “That if you go down the road that you will see red eyes running beside your car and on a still night if someone rides outside of the car you will hear him running beside you!”
Charlie Winans, a former Hillsdale Academy student who frequented Church Road while in Hillsdale, knew this urban legend.
“Supposedly, a guy who lived at the barn murdered his family,” Winans said. “I don’t know if it’s true, but that’s the story, anyway, and that’s why the barn and the whole road is haunted.”
Senior Justin Fawley, who visited Church Road last fall, heard about it from a friend with a map of all the paranormal occurrences in Ohio that also spilled into southeastern Michigan, where it described both Church Road and the 1966 Hillsdale UFO sighting.
“I just knew that it was supposedly haunted,” Fawley said.
As with most urban legends of this type, however, no one is really sure from where it came. Though Academy graduate Hunter Murray heard about Church Road through Winans, he said awareness of the place is locally a priori.
“I heard about it through Charlie. But I don’t know how people first learned about it,” he said. “It seemed liked something people already knew about.”
Regardless of its source, the mystery attracts seekers of the paranormal — and people just looking for something to do.
“We weren’t supposed to go there. So I drove everyone out there. People told us not to, so we decided we had to,” Winans said. “You have Wal-Mart, you have McDonald’s, and you have Church Road. That’s a Friday night in Hillsdale.”
Church Road visitors have had some frightening experiences. Winans said he and his friends would get out of their cars and walk from one end of the road to the other and back, have bonfires, and try to scare other people who had come for investigations of their own.
“Go there on Halloween, because kids are always being dared to go there,” Winans urged.
He has also encountered police, as well as squatters camped out in one of the road’s broken-down buildings rumored to be a drug house.
A ghostly car once chased Murray and his friends.
“Driving back from a party rather late at night, we were driving slowly through the road because it was dangerous, and then all of the sudden we noticed a car close behind us that was not there before,” he said. “We sped up and were like, ‘woah, that was freaky.’”
Despite these rumors, however, no one has reported any verifiable paranormal activity on Church Road.
“It was creepy, but nothing that could be construed as supernatural per se. We didn’t actually see anything,” Winans said.
“No, we didn’t see anything. We were driving 15 mph the whole time and we didn’t see anything,” Fawley said. “We drove along the road while it was pouring, with lightning and thunder. Everything you need for a great ghost story — except for the ghost.”
Yet Church Road’s amateur investigators agree that, despite the lack of evidence, some ineffable ghastliness clings to the road.
“It’s just a creepy place, but there’s not much going on as far as I can tell,” said Winans.
“I don’t believe there is any supernatural occurrence or presence at Church Road,” Murray said. “But the rumors circulating about this lonely country road bring about an air of the macabre.”
Fawley agreed about the eerie atmosphere.
“[Church Road] is just a perfect storm of things being brought together to create a pretty crazy atmosphere,” he said.
The truth of Church Road may never be known. But if you ever find yourself alone there on a dark, cloudy autumn night, you had better be careful. Some things belong to the dark.