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Chapter 17

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of North Carolina

The Lewis Publishing Company
Chicago and New York, 1919
Volume III by
J. G. de Roulhac Hamilton

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 19
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Vol. III
Chapter 18
Railroad Development since 1860

In 1860 there were less than nine hundred miles of railroad in North Carolina. Of the roads the most important were the North Carolina, opened in 1856, running 224 miles from Goldsboro to Charlotte; the Wilmington and Weldon, opened in 1840, running between the points named, with a branch sixteen miles long, opened in 1849, between Rocky Mount and Tarboro; the Raleigh and Gaston, opened in 1844, running ninety-seven miles from Raleigh to Weldon, and the Atlantic and North Carolina, opened in 1858, connecting Goldsboro with Morehead City, ninety-five miles away. The other roads were the Wilmington and Charlotte, partly constructed; the Wilmington, Columbia and Augusta, which had sixty miles in the state; the Atlantic, Tennessee and Ohio, running from Charlotte to Statesville, forty-five miles away; the Western, opened in 1860, from Fayetteville to Egypt, a distance of forty-three miles; the Seaboard of Roanoke, connecting Weldon and Plymouth, Virginia, opened about 1850, which ran for twenty-two miles in the state; the Petersburg road, connecting Petersburg with Garysburg, about ten miles of which was in North Carolina; and the Charlotte and South Carolina, opened in 1852, which connected Charlotte with the South Carolina Railroad at the state line eleven miles distant. All these roads were poorly equipped and, under the strain of war, all suffered severely, even before the advent of federal troops brought intentional injury which was well-nigh destruction.

During the war little building of railroads was possible. Some grading was attempted on the Wilmington and Charlotte, and the Piedmont road was built in 1862, connecting Danville, Virginia, with Greensboro. This was a military road built at the urgent request of the Confederate government  p395 to afford a new line of communication between the armies in Virginia and the South.

At the close of the war the Department of Military Railroads of the United States seized the Raleigh and Gaston, the Wilmington and Weldon, the Atlantic and North Carolina and a part of the North Carolina, and during the period of military occupation an extensive work of repair and improvement was kept upon on all of them, greatly to their benefit, at a total cost of more than two and a half million dollars.

In spite of the poverty of the people, plans were made for a large extension of railways, the war having sharply emphasized their importance to the whole community. The legislature of 1866 passed acts in aid of the Western North Carolina, which had been chartered in 1855 and which had reached a point eleven miles east of Morgantown in 1860.

The frauds and scandals of reconstruction connected with railroads failed to destroy public belief in the necessity of railway extension. It did make state aid unpopular, but every legislature saw the chartering of a number of private companies. In 1869 the Western North Carolina had reached Old Fort, but the construction of the road across the mountains was an immense task and little more was accomplished for some time.

In the decade which followed the construction of many short lines and sections was accomplished and the way paved for later consolidation and extension. The Atlanta and Charlotte Air Line, with forty-three miles of road in the state, was completed in 1873. The Northwestern, opened from Greensboro to Winston and Salem in the same year, continued to extend towards Wilkesboro, 100 miles away, which it did not, however, finally reach until 1890. The Chatham road, which had received rather an evil name in Reconstruction, became the Raleigh and Augusta Air Line in 1871, and was completed from Raleigh to Gibson, 107 miles away. In 1886 the Pittsboro branch to Moncure was opened. The Suffolk and Carolina, from Suffolk, Virginia, to Montrose, a distance of thirty-four miles, and the Jamesville and Washington, twenty-two miles long, were opened in the same period.

By 1879 there were 1,300 miles of road in the state, but  p396 much of it was scattered and unconnected; and forty-nine of the ninety-four counties had railroad connections. Obvious necessities were the completion of the Western North Carolina, which was finally about to reach Asheville, but which had to be extended to the Tennessee line at two points; the connection of Goldsboro and Winston with Greenville and Washington; and of Edenton and Elizabeth City with Norfolk. Other desirable points for connection were Edenton and Suffolk, Scotland Neck and Halifax, and New Bern and Onslow County.

The sale of the Western North Carolina by the state assured its completion, and its later acquisition by the Richmond and Danville meant better connections and through traffic. The opening of the western part of the state was also furthered by the completion of the Asheville and Spartanburg, which reached Hendersonville in 1879 and Asheville in 1886. Other western roads constructed in the decade following 1880 were the Chester and Lenoir, connecting Lenoir with Lincolnton and Charlotte, which had been begun before the war and finally reached Lenoir in 1884; the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina, completed in 1882, between Johnson City and Cranberry; the Statesville and Western, opened in 1887, from Statesville to Taylorsville, a distance of twenty miles; the Marietta and North Georgia, later absorbed by the Louisville and Nashville, which ran thirteen miles through Cherokee County towards Knoxville, and the Charlotte, Cincinnati and Chicago, which connected Marion with the South Carolina line. This became the Ohio River and Charleston in 1894. These roads transformed the western part of the state and brought a prosperity never before known.

In the central part of the state construction was more rapid. The most important single road was the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley, which succeeded the Western in 1879. An extension of four miles from Egypt to Gulf was finished in 1879 and extended by Greensboro to the Virginia line in 1884. In the same year the road was extended from Fayetteville to Maxton and on to the South Carolina line toward Bennettsville, a distance of forty-six miles. In 1886 another  p397 branch was carried from the Greensboro line to Belew's Creek and on to Ramseur, and the next year a second one to Pilot Mountain, and on in 1888 to Mount Airy. The Madison branch was built in the same year, and the extension of eighty-two miles from Fayetteville to Wilmington in 1890.

In the period the Wilmington and Weldon built four branches: the Scotland Neck branch, from Halifax to Kinston, a distance of eighty-five miles, in 1885; the Fayetteville branch, running seventy-four miles from Wilson to Florence in 1886; the Clinton branch, from Warsaw to Clinton, a distance of thirteen miles in 1887; and the Nashville branch, running nineteen miles from Rocky Mount to Spring Hope in 1888. The Cheraw and Salisbury was built in 1880, but only reached Wadesboro. The Albemarle and Raleigh, running fifty-six miles, from Tarboro to Plymouth, was opened and later acquired the Williamston and Tarboro. The Oxford and Clarksville, from Durham to Bullock's, was finished in 1888, and the Durham and Northern, from Durham to Henderson, was opened the next year. The High Point, Randleman and Asheboro was opened the same year. The Roanoke and Southern, from Winston and Salem to the Virginia line towards Martinsville, was built in 1887.

Minor roads and extensions of the same period were the Oxford and Henderson, and the University, both built in 1881; the Danville, Mocksville and Southwestern, from Cascade Junction, Virginia, to Leaksville, built in 1882; the Maxton, Alma and Rowland, in 1887; the Atlantic and Danville, connecting Danville and Norfolk, a small part of which was in North Carolina; the Roanoke and Tar River, from the Virginia line to Lewiston; and the Georgia, Carolina and Northern, from Monroe to the South Carolina line, all built in 1887; the Carthage road to Cameron, built in 1888; and the Midland North Carolina, from Goldsboro to Smithfield.

In the East, the Norfolk and Southern, connecting Norfolk with Elizabeth City and Edenton, was completed in 1881; the Wilmington, Chadbourn and Conway, and the Wilmington, Onslow and East Carolina, the latter between Wilmington and Jacksonville, were in operation in 1887; and the Chowan and  p399 Southern, later the Norfolk and Carolina, from Pinner's Point to Tarboro, was completed in 1889.

By 1888 there were 2,550 miles of road in the state, owned by fifty-one companies, and several times as much more planned with a considerable part under way.


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A. B. Andrews

R. R. Bridgers, President of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad

The Railroad Builders

In 1890 the Durham and Lynchburg and the Aberdeen and Asheboro, the latter connecting Aberdeen and Candor, were completed, and the following year the Yadkin road from Salisbury to Norwood, the North Carolina Midland, from Winston to Mocksville, and the Egypt, from Colon to Egypt, were added.

When in 1891 the railroad commission made its first report there were sixty-seven railroads in the state with a mileage of 3,433, penetrating every county except Alleghany, Ashe, Clay, Davie, Graham, Hyde, Pamlico, Transylvania, Tyrrell, Watauga, Yadkin and Yancey. They had been assessed for taxation in 1890 at $12,321,704 and in 1891 they were assessed at $18,423,298. Several roads were still exempt from taxation under the terms of their original charters, notably the Raleigh and Gaston and the Wilmington and Weldon.

The period which follows, while one of continued construction, was notably one of consolidation. That process had commenced in 1871, when the North Carolina Railroad was leased to the Richmond and Danville for thirty years at 6 per cent interest on $4,000,000, which was, on the whole, a good bargain for the state. The Richmond and Danville also operated the Piedmont road and thus was begun the first great railroad system in the state. About 1880 it began to extend and by 1891 had either acquired or leased the Atlanta and Charlotte, the Atlantic, Tennessee and Ohio, the Asheville and Spartanburg, the Charlotte, Columbia and Augusta, the Danville, Mocksville and South Western, the High Point, Randleman and Asheboro, the Milton and Sutherlin, the North Carolina Midland, the Northwestern North Carolina, the Oxford and Clarksville, the Oxford and Henderson, the Danville and Western, the Statesville and Western, the University, the Western North Carolina and the Yadkin, which with the ones already controlled gave it a mileage of 1,091 in the state. In 1894 the Southern Railway was organized to take over the  p400 Richmond and Danville, which had gone into the hands of a receiver during the year. The North Carolina Railroad was necessary to its existence and to make sure of its control the Southern applied for a new lease, that to the Richmond and Danville being due to expire in 1901. As will be recalled, the new lease was made for ninety-nine years. Between 1895 and 1900 the portion of the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley from Sanford to Mount Airy with all its when branches was acquired when the road was sold. In 1916 its total mileage in the state was 2,092.

The second great system in the state was the Atlantic Coast Line, In the eighties the Richmond and Petersburg and the Petersburg roads united as the Atlantic Coast Line of Virginia. This system operated by agreement the Wilmington and Weldon and the Wilmington, Columbia and Augusta, which the latter had leased in 1885; the Cheraw and Salisbury; and the Albemarle and Raleigh. The total mileage in 1891 was 537. In 1892 the Norfolk and Carolina was added, and by 1900 the Wilmington, New Bern and Norfolk, formerly the Wilmington and Onslow, now completed to New Bern, and the eastern portion of the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley from Sanford to Wilmington had been acquired. In addition, the Washington branch from Parmele to Washington had been built. In the years since that time the road from Pender to Kinston has been completed and several smaller sections acquired. In 1916 the system, which in 1899 was consolidated into one road, owned 1,033 miles in the state.

The third great system was the Seaboard Air Line, also formed in the eighties, with the Raleigh and Gaston and Seaboard and Roanoke as its chief constituents. The former already owned the controlling interest in the Raleigh and Augusta, the Durham and Northern, the Carolina Central, and the Georgia, Carolina and Northern; the latter had a large interest in the Raleigh and Gaston, the Raleigh and Augusta, the Georgia, Carolina and Northern, the Roanoke and Tar River, the Pittsboro and the Carthage roads. All these were grouped together and operated as one. Their total mileage in North Carolina was 600, which had increased to 616 by 1916. In 1900 a consolidation into one road was effected.

 p401  In 1892 the Norfolk and Western Railway of Virginia leased the Lynchburg and Durham and the Roanoke and Southern, a total of eighty-seven miles, which it still operates and controls as a part of its system.

In 1906 the fourth great system was formed. The Norfolk and Southern, the Virginia and Carolina Coast, formerly the Suffolk and Carolina; the Raleigh and Pamlico Sound, and the Atlantic and North Carolina, the last of which had been leased from the state in 1903 by the Howland Improvement Company, were consolidated into the Norfolk Southern Railroad. In 1914 a further consolidation took place with the Raleigh and Southport, running from Raleigh to Fayetteville; the Durham and Charlotte, connecting Sanford and Troy, and the Aberdeen and Asheboro, which in 1912 had merged into the Raleigh, Charlotte and Southern Railway. In 1916 the system owned and operated 941 miles of road in the state.

Since 1900 the most important new road is the Charleston, Clinchfield and Ohio, which now runs across the state from the South Carolina line by way of Rutherfordton and Marion through Mitchell County to Virginia, a distance of 117 miles.

During this period forty-five small roads, with a mileage ranging from three to ninety-five, have been built. Their combined mileage is 983. They have helped the state immensely and will doubtless in time be absorbed by the larger roads or the great systems.

In 1916 there were fifty-four railroad companies in the state with a total mileage of 4,958. Every county of the state, with the exception of Alleghany, Dare and Hyde, is now touched by at least one road. Their value as assessed for taxation was $125,836,003.

The creation of the railroad commission in 1891 was of great benefit to the people of the state and to the railroads as well. The latter had held quite the contrary opinion and had resisted its creation with all their influence. But the fact of the existence of the commission and its forcing the roads to better service tended to remove from the minds of the people a great deal of the prevalent ill-feeling against the roads. Railroad property was assessed much more equitably  p402 and much higher. In two years after the creation of the commission the assessment was nearly double what it had been before. The table indicates the rise of assessed valuation, chiefly explained, of course, after the first year or two by the growth of the roads.

1890 $12,321,704
1891 18,423,298
1892 19,726,760
1893 24,228,954
1902 42,627,261
1906 57,247,650
1908 85,580,803
1916 125,836,003

The Raleigh and Gaston, the Wilmington and Weldon, and the North Carolina, it will be remembered, claimed exemption from taxation. By the early nineties there was much popular feeling against them on this account and a growing conviction that all the roads should be subject to the taxing power of the state. The legislature and the state authorities began a determined effort to force or persuade them to submission and finally by indirect means won their point. The Raleigh and Gaston claimed exemption for the Seaboard and Roanoke and the state treasurer brought suit for the taxes. In a resulting compromise the road agreed to surrender its immunity. In 1893 the Wilmington and Weldon was forced to take the same action in order to secure the re-charter of the Petersburg Railroad, which was vital to the operations of the Atlantic Coast Line. When the North Carolina was leased to the Southern the abandonment of exemption was part of the agreement.

From time to time there have been bitter quarrels about rates for both passengers and freight. Of the former the most notable was that of 1907, elsewhere described. So far as freight rates are concerned, discrimination against North Carolina towns has aroused more discussion than anything else, and the question has never been fully settled. The railroads have been, of course, a most vital factor in the development of the state. They have had to contend with much popular criticism and unpopularity, in part deserved, without a doubt, but in part scarcely based on sufficient grounds. The railroads were active in politics during the first three decades following the close of the war, and their participation was not,  p403 on the whole, beneficial to the state. Nor was it in the long run a good thing for the roads. It excited hostility and suspicion which were slow in dying. When political activity on the part of the roads lessened, the habit of "baiting" railroads had been formed by many politicians, while many private citizens were unable to rid themselves of instinctive dislike and distrust of the roads. And for this the roads were to blame. For many years, too, there was no policy of consideration for the people and the demand, open or implied, for special privileges fostered public hostility. But in recent years, particularly within the last decade, there has been a growth of a very healthy and friendly public sentiment towards the roads, due partly to a better knowledge of their difficulties, partly to a recognition of the interdependence of the roads and people, and partly to the changed attitude of the railway managers, who have come to realize their position as public servants.

The growth and development of the four systems has meant much to the territory served by them. Through traffic better and cheaper service, and the stimulation of agricultural and industrial development along their lines have everywhere resulted. Their managements have all faithfully sought to accomplish this, moved, of course, by self-interest, but also by a sincere and patriotic ambition to play a large part in the making of the new South.

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