The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O) Fairmont Subdivision was once the railroad’s main entry from Cumberland, Maryland west to Wheeling, West Virginia. The segment from Fairmont to Wheeling was all but discontinued in 1956.

The B&O alignment through Littleton, West Virginia

History

The B&O, incorporated in 1826 in Virginia and Maryland in 1827, was the first railroad in the United States chartered for commercial transportation of freight and passengers. 1 Its goal was to connect Baltimore, Maryland to the Ohio River at Wheeling, Virginia. 2

The B&O selected an alignment west from Baltimore through Pennsylvania to Wheeling, but political barriers in Pennsylvania forced the company to build through western Virginia. 2

Construction began in Baltimore on July 4, 1828 and by January 1830, the B&O was open from Mount Claire, Maryland to a small station on Pratt Street in Baltimore. 2 Within a few months, 13 additional miles opened to Ellicotts Mills. Frederick was reached in 1831 via a branch, to Harpers Ferry, Virginia in December 1834 and to Cumberland, Maryland on November 5, 1842.

Westward to Wheeling

Further westward expansion was halted while the B&O upgraded its hastily constructed route. 2 The railroad had elected to use iron strap rails that proved dangerous, as worn straps would break apart and rip through the floors of early wooden cars, killing or injuring passengers on a routine basis. The introduction of the solid iron “T” rail led to an elimination of such incidents.

Construction resumed in late-1848 on the B&O’s westward expansion to Wheeling. The railroad opted for an alignment southwest of Cumberland to Grafton and Fairmont, Virginia before turning northwest to Wheeling. 2 The route was unforgiving, cutting through the Allegheny Mountains on an alignment and terrain that had not been attempted by any railroad.

Despite the challenges of building through the mountains of western Virginia, the last spike on the extension was driven on December 24, 1852 at Rosbey’s Rock, seven miles east of Moundsville, Virginia. 1 4 The B&O’s extension required 113 bridges and 11 tunnels. 1 It included the Tunnelton Tunnel, which at 4,100 feet, was the longest in the world, and the world’s largest iron bridge at Cheat River and Tray Run.

“We have now laid the last bar of the long link of Railroad which connects the Chesapeake Bay and the waters of the Ohio; and I call upon all to give three hearty cheers for our President, Thomas Swan, and three more for our Chief Engineer, Benjamin H. Latrobe. May they both live to make many more connexions of the western waters and the seaboard.”
Roseberry Carr, Superintendent 4

The first train over the new route reached Wheeling on January 1, 1853. 1 A grand day-long ceremony was held on January 12, 3 which included 400 passengers from the B&O, the Governors of Maryland and Virginia, members of both legislatures, and various elected officials.

Board Tree Tunnel, 1872. Source: Historic American Engineering Resource (HAER WVA,26-LIT.V,1–1)

The B&O was instrumental in developing the nascent timbering industry in the north-central West Virginia in the 1860’s, with Mannington and Cameron being developed to serve as seats of commerce and industry. 8 Both towns also contributed to the “third-wave” of development in the natural gas and oil industry, eventually leading the state of West Virginia to top Pennsylvania in oil production by the end of the 19th century. Other industries along the route included small potteries and glass companies.

Abandonment

In later years, the B&O designated its route from Wheeling southeast to Fairmont and east to Cumberland the Fairmont Subdivision. The timbering industry had all but dried up by the close of the 1890’s and natural gas and oil fields began to terminally decline in the 1940’s. 8 Most of the potteries and glass companies were closed by the middle of the 20th century.

In 1956, 7 most of the freight destined for Wheeling was rerouted to the B&O’s Short Line Subdivision between Clarksburg, West Virginia and New Martinsville, where it followed the Ohio River north to Wheeling, or through Pennsylvania on the B&O’s route between Wheeling and Pittsburgh. 5

The B&O requested to abandon its Fairmont Subdivision from Moundsville to Board Tree Tunnel, a distance of 26.78 miles, on January 5, 1972. 2 The route, from Moundsville southeast to Fairmont, had become lightly used with much of its through traffic diverted. A later filing requested abandonment from Board Tree Tunnel to Mannington, where a proposed coal mine was to be built. The B&O received permission to abandon both segments and the Fairmont Subdivision was dismantled from Moundsville to Mannington.

Consolidation Coal Company constructed the Nailler No. 79 coal mine 6 near Mannington which was in operation until around 2000. Afterwards, the tracks from Mannington southeast to Fairmont were removed.

Sources