West Virginia Central & Pittsburg Railway

Railroad / Maryland, West Virginia

The West Virginia Central & Pittsburg Railway (WVC&P) is a former railroad between Elkins, West Virginia and Cumberland, Maryland that served coal and timber interests.


History

West Virginia businessman Henry Gassaway Davis founded the Potomac & Piedmont Coal & Railroad (P&P) in 1866, obtaining charters from West Virginia and Maryland to build a line along the North Branch of the Potomac River to tap coal reserves near Elk Garden, West Virginia. 4 The P&P was built from the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O) interchange near Bloomington, Maryland (W.Va. Central Junction) beginning in April 1880, 2 and by November 2, 1881, the railroad had reached Elk Garden.

The P&P was then renamed the West Virginia Central & Pittsburg Railway (WVC&P), and a new charter was formed to state that the line would connect to virgin timber and coal in the Potomac headwaters and the western slopes and valleys of the Allegheny Mountains in West Virginia. 2

The WVC&P was extended to Thomas by August 1884, followed by a branch to Davis in November. A roundhouse and machine shop for the railroad was built in Thomas in 1889 and enlarged in 1900. 1

Thomas had been settled by Jacob Christian Pase in 1880 and named after Thomas Beall Davis, a brother of Henry Davis. Coal mines operated by the Davis Coal & Coke Company (owned by Henry Davis) were opened in the winter of 1883 and were followed by timber mills. The Davis Coal & Coke company store closed on May 27, 1950, and the WVC&P roundhouse and machine shop were shuttered in 1953 when diesel locomotives replaced their steam counterparts.

Davis became a hub for early timber and leather tanning industries and developed further under a Davis’ Davis Coal & Coke subsidiary, the Marshall Coal & Lumber Company. 2

In 1886, the WVC&P began construction of an extension north from Bloomington Junction towards Westernport, Maryland and Cumberland via the Piedmont & Cumberland Railroad (P&C), and reached the B&O in Cumberland in July 1887. 2

Coalton, along the North Fork Blackwater River, was the central mining facility of Davis Coal & Coke. The first experimental “beehive” coke ovens were constructed in 1887, which converted coal into coke, the purest form of carbon, that was used to smelt iron ore into steel through the Bessemer process. Coke was produced by baking coal in stone or brick ovens until the impurities were burned, regulated by the amount of oxygen allowed into the stove via doors.

At Coalton’s peak, 600 ovens, stretching for 1½ miles, employed 150 workers and operated 250 days per year. A new type of mining technology, introduced in 1915, allowed for coke ovens at the mine site, and by 1919, all of the coke operations at Coalton were shuttered.

Douglas, adjacent to Coalton, was founded in 1891 by Douglas Gormon Sr. and William H. Gormon, senior partners in the Cumberland Coal & Coke, a subsidiary of Davis Coal & Coke. 1 While Douglas never incorporated, the population peaked at 600 in 1920. A coal mine opened in 1891, followed by a lumber mill in 1893. The lumber mill closed in 1912, but the coal mines remained operational until 1954.

The WVC&P reached Hendricks in 1888 where a branch, the Dry Fork Railroad, was laid between Hendricks and Horton between 1893-94 to access virgin timber. The railway reached Parsons in 1888 and Elkins in November 1889. 2

The Belington Branch north along the Tygart Valley River was constructed from Elkins to Belington in 1891 (then the county seat of Randolph County), and the Huttonsville Branch was built south from Elkins to Beverly in 1891 and Huttonsville in 1899. The Huttonsville branch was an attempt to connect the WVC&P to the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad (C&O) mainline near Lewisburg, but it was determined to be too expensive to finish.

Another branch, between Belington and the proposed West Virginia & Pennsylvania Railroad (WV&P) in Clarksburg, was never built. 3 The WV&P, which had been surveyed from Brownsville, Pennsylvania, and Clarksburg, was never constructed.

The WVC&P formed the Coal & Iron Railway (C&I) in 1899 to construct a railroad between Elkins and Durbin. 2 At Durbin, the C&O Greenbrier Division connected to C&O mainline near Lewisburg. The C&I, which included tunnels at Cheat Mountain and Shavers Mountain, opened in 1903. 4

Davis sold the WVC&P to the Gould family in 1902 2 which became the Western Maryland Railway (WM) Thomas Subdivision in 1905. 4 The C&I was also sold, which became the WM Durbin Subdivision.

In 1931, the WM constructed a mile-long connector on a 2½% grade between the Greenbrier, Cheat & Elk Railroad (GC&E) and the Durbin Subdivision. 4 Initially, when the GC&E was built between Cheat Junction and Webster Springs, trains between Elkins and Spruce had to travel east to Durbin and backtrack.

Western Maryland System Map

An overview of the Thomas Subdivision, which extended from W.V.C. Junction (W.Va. Central Junction) to Elkins and beyond.

Decline

The Dry Fork Railroad was dismantled in 1936 after all of the available timber had been cut in the region. Coal mining in the Thomas and Davis areas peaked in 1940 and by 1950, only the No. 36 and No. 40 mines were in operation. Production had fallen to just 100,000 tons per year in the region by 1954, and all underground mining ceased in 1956 with just a few surface mines continuing on until 1965. Subsequently, traffic on the Thomas Subdivision began to decline.

The WM became a unit of the Chessie System in 1973 and by 1975, much of the WM mainline from Connellsville, Pennsylvania to Hagerstown, Maryland had been abandoned in favor of using a parallel B&O (Chessie) alignment. Similarly, the WVC&P mainline between Cumberland and 21st Bridge, Maryland (McCoole) east of Westernport was removed from service in 1976. 4 Much of the WM traffic from Elkins was rerouted north to Grafton and east along the C&O, which led to the closure of the classification yards in Cumberland and the Ridgeley Terminal and Yard. The Knobmount Yard was repurposed for car storage on January 5, 1976.

The Thomas Subdivision between 21st Bridge (McCoole) and Hampshire, West Virginia west of W.V.C. Junction (W.Va. Central Junction) became the Hampshire Subdivision in 1978, while the remainder south to Elkins and beyond to Belington, Dailey, Durbin, and Webster Springs remained the Thomas Subdivision. 4 The section between Montrose and Henry was mothballed on September 29, 1983, with traffic rerouted north to Grafton via the B&O from Tygart Junction and east to Cumberland. The line was left intact in the event that the state or another private company would purchase the line for an excursion train along the Blackwater River and canyon. A record-breaking flood in November 1985 destroyed significant portions of the Thomas Subdivision between Hendricks and Persons, and in 1989 the track between Elkins to Montrose was removed.

CSX, Chessie’s successor, abandoned the C&I between Greenbrier Junction to Durbin in 1985 after it shuttered the Greenbrier Division. 4 The line from Elk River Junction to Durbin and from Cheat Junction to Greenbrier Junction were also dismantled.

In 1995, CSX sought to abandon the Tygart Subdivision east and south of Elkins, which included the C&I between Elkins and Elk River Junction south of Bemis, and the GC&E south to Bergoo, after it faced a continued slump in coal shipments. 4 Chessie had been studying efforts to abandon the line as early as 1978, but a few coal mines at Cheat Bridge and Laurel Bank kept the line profitable. CSX, however, ordered that the Tygart Subdivision east of Elkins be placed out of service on February 13, and in July, CSX abandoned the Dailey Industrial Track (former Huttonsville Branch) between Elkins and Huttonsville.

After CSX officially abandoned the entire Tygart Subdivision on January 25, 1997, the West Virginia State Rail Authority (WVSRA) formed the West Virginia Central Railroad (WVC), took ownership of the Subdivision, and resumed operations.

Today

CSX still operates over the Thomas Subdivision between 21st Bridge and Wilson, where the railroad serves the Mettiki mine and preparation plant and the VEPCO Mt. Storm coal power plant.

The WVC operates freight movements from Tygart Junction to Elkins, Dailey, and Bowden, with the possibility of an extension to Slaty Fork/Laurel Bank in the future. The Tygart Flyer excursion train operates between Elkins and High Falls while the Cheat Valley Salamander operates from Cheat Bridge north to High Falls or south to Cass via Spruce. 3

The Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad (D&GV) was formed to operate an excursion line from Cass north to Durbin on the former C&O Greenbrier Division. 3 A five-mile segment, which WVSRA had owned under a railbanking program, was given to the D&GV to operate for a tourist steam operation—now known as the Durbin Rocket between Durbin and Piney Island. The remainder of the route, from Piney Island to Cass, is being rehabilitated by WVSRA.

Rail Trails

After CSX abandoned the C&I between Greenbrier Junction and Durbin in 1985, it was converted into the Greenbrier Rail Trail by the U.S. Forest Service in 1986. 4 Similarly, the abandoned Thomas Subdivision between Elkins and Thomas has been repurposed as the Allegheny Highlands Trail (AHT) and the Blackwater Canyon Trail. The AHT was built as mitigation for the construction of the Corridor H freeway and is open between Highland Park north of Elkins to Parsons and from Bertz to Hendrick. 5 The section between Parsons and Bertz opened in 2015 and the segment from Highland Park to Elkins was finished in 2016. The portion of the AHT between Davis and Mt. Storm, partly along the alignment of the Davis Branch, opened in 2018. The AHT remains to be unbuilt between Highland Park to Elkins and Douglas and Thomas along the Thomas Subdivision, and from Thomas to Davis via the Davis Branch. The Blackwater Canyon Trail, between Hendrick and Douglas and currently under the management of the U.S. Forestry Service, will be upgraded to become a part of the AHT.

Allegheny Highlands Trail Map


Gallery

Dry Fork Railroad


Sources

  1. Fansler, Homer Floyd. History Of Tucker County. 1962. Parsons, W.Va.: Mcclain Printing Company, 1993. Print. Reprint.
  2. Sheets, L. Wayne. “West Virginia Central & Pittsburg Railway.” West Virginia Encyclopedia. WestVirginia Humanities Council, 12 Nov. 2010. Web. 11 June 2012. Article.
  3. Williams, Glyn. “Railways around Spruce.” Glyn’s Trains, 2011. Web. 11 June 2012. Article.
  4. “CSX’s Thomas Subdivision.” West Virginia Northern Railroads, 2002. Web. 11 June 2012. Article.
  5. “Elkins Depot Connection.” Highlands Trail Foundation. Article.