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The West Virginia Central and Pittsburg Railway (WVC&P) was a railroad that once extended from Elkins into the highlands of West Virginia and eventually to Cumberland, Maryland to serve the coal and timber interests. West Virginia businessman Henry G. Davis founded the Potomac and Piedmont Coal and Railroad Company in 1866, obtaining a West Virginia and Maryland Charter to build a line along the North Branch of the Potomac River to tap coal reserves near Elk Garden, West Virginia.4 The line was built from the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O) near Bloomington, MAryland, with work beginning in April 1880 2 and reaching Elk Garden on November 2, 1881.

Davis then obtained a new charter from West Virginia and Maryland, and renamed the company as the WVC&P, in an effort to develop the market for coal and timber in the Potomac headwaters and the western slopes and valleys of the Allegheny Mountains in West Virginia.2

By November 1884, the WVC&P had reached Davis, which became a center for the timber industry and leather tanning before blossoming under the Davis Coal & Coke Company’s subsidary Marshall Coal & Lumber Company.2 Two years later, the WVC&P began work on the line north from Bloomington Junction towards Westernport, Maryland and Cumberland via the Piedmont and Cumberland (P&C). The P&C reached Cumberland in July 1887, which had a connection the the B&O.

Thomas was reached on August 10, 1884, and a roundhouse and machine shop were completed in 1889, enlarged eleven years later.1 Thomas was settled by Jacob Christian Pase in 1880, with coal mines operated by the Davis Coal & Coke Company opening during the winter of 1883. Timber mills soon followed, as did other resource industries. Thomas, named after Thomas Beall Davis, a brother of Henry Gassaway Davis who was the owner of the WVC&P, saw the addition of a post office, hotel, bakery and two stores soon. The 1920s saw the peak of Thomas and many similar towns in the area, as the coke ovens in nearby Coketon had been rendered obsolete and the mines began being exhausted. On May 27, 1950, the Buxton and Landstreet Building, home to the company store, closed. The roundhouse and machine shop closed when diesel locomotives replaced steam in 1953.

Down the WVC&P was Coketon, the central mining facility of the Davis Coal & Coke Company along the North Fork Blackwater River. The nucleus of Coketon was a 1.5-mile coking facility that began with two experimental “beehive” ovens in 1887. The company converted coal into coke, the purest form of carbon and a byproduct of coal that was used to smelt iron ore into steel through the Bessemer process. Coke was produced by baking coal in huge stone or brick ovens until the impurities were burned, regulated by the amount of oxygen allowed into the oven via the doors. At its peak, Coketon contained 600 ovens, employing 150 men with an operation that ran 250 days per year.

But in 1915, a new type of mining technology allowed the need for coking ovens at the mine site, and by 1919, all of the coking operations at Coalton – and Tucker County, were shuttered. But coal mining continued en mass. Between 1920 and 1940, the Davis Coal & Coke Company operated the vast underground mines until they were exhausted. By 1950, after some restarts, only two mines were in operation – No. 36 and No. 40, and production had fallen to just 100,000 tons by 1954. Two years later, all underground mining had cased, although a few surface mines continued until 1965.

Douglas was the next town down from Coketon, and was founded in 1891 by the Gormon brothers, Douglas Sr. and William H., who were senior partners in the Cumberland Coal & Coke Company, a subsidiary of Davis Coal & Coke.1 While Douglas never incorporated, its population peaked at 600 by 1920. The lumber mill, built in 1893, closed in 1912 and the coal mines, beginning in 1891 and once numbering 12, had closed by 1954. The community also had 175 coking ovens.

Hendricks was a timbering community, first incorporated in 1894. The railroad that was completed in 1888 led to a building boom that outstripped lumber supply from the local sawmills, and wood had to be imported from nearby Rowlesburg. The Dry Fork Railroad was constructed from Hendricks to Horton between 1893 and 1894 before being dismantled in 1936, and their offices and shops were located across the Blackwater River at its junction with Dry Fork. The town peaked at 640 in the 1920s.

Extension South

The WVC&P reached Parsons in 1888 and Elkins in November 1889, and the first passenger train arrived on December 3. A branch west and north along the Tygart Valley River was constructed to Belington in 1891, then the county seat of Randolph County, and another southward to Beverly in 1891 and Huttonsville in 1899. The Huttonsville branch was an attempt to connect the WVC&P south to the C&O near Lewisburg, but the costs were found to be too expensive. In 1899, the WVC&P formed the Coal & Iron Railway (C&I) to construct a railroad from Elkins to Durbin to connect with the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad (C&O)’s Greenbrier Division, which ran south to a point east of Lewisburg, and the C&I was completed in 1903.2 The line included two tunnels, one at Cheat Mountain and the other at Shavers Mountain, and included a five-mile grade of 2.35% to the first tunnel.4

The first improvement to the C&I Durbin Subdivision, as it was called, came in 1931.4 Originally, when the Greenbrier, Cheat and Elk Railroad (GC&E), which was built south and west to Spruce and Bergoo near Webster Springs, the train between Elkins and Spruce had to travel east to Durbin and backtrack. A mile long connector on 2.5% grade was constructed between the GC&E and the Durbin Subdivision, with the Greenbrier Junction on the southern end and Elk Junction on the northern interlocking.4

At one point, the WVC&P had studied a line from Belington west to Clarksburg, to connect with the West Virginia & Pennsylvania Railroad that had been surveyed from Clarksburg to Brownsville, Pennsylvania, but those plans were abandoned.3

In 1902, Davis sold the WVC&P to the Gould interests, and it became part of the Western Maryland Railway Company in 1905.2 It was referred to as the Western Maryland Thomas Subdivision.4

Decline

WM’s operations in the highlands began to decline in the 1950s, when coal mines began to be exhausted and all timber stands had essentially been cut. In addition, the B&O began to consolidate its operations and finances with the WM due to its declining fortunes. By 1975, much of the WM mainline from Connelsville, Pennsylvania to Hagerstown, Maryland had been abandoned as it essentially paralleled a B&O line, and in 1976, the segment of the WVC&P from Cumberland and 21st Bridge, Maryland east of Westernport was abandoned due to the adjoining B&O mainline.4 In addition, much of the WM traffic from Elkins was rerouted north to Grafton and eastward than through Thomas. The classification yards in Cumberland were soon closed, Knobmount converting into a storage yard on January 5, 1976, and the Ridgeley Terminal and Yard was closed soon after.

In 1978, the Thomas Subdivision between 21st Bridge and Hampshire, West Virginia west of Westernport/WVC Junction was renamed the Hampshire Subdivision, with the remainder south to Elkins known as the Thomas Subdivision.4 By the early 1980s, the Thomas Subdivision was considered for abandonment by the Chessie System,, and in 1983, the line was taken out of service from a location north of Elkins to Henry. The last train departed Elkins on September 29, 1983, with future traffic being routed north to Grafton via the B&O from Tygart Junction and then eastward to Cumberland. The rail line was left intact, in the hopeful event that the state or private company would purchase the line, perhaps for a tourist railroad through Blackwater Canyon, but a record flood in November 1985 demolished much of the track and right-of-way between Hendricks and Persons. Soon after, the track was dismantled, with the last section being eliminated north of Elkins towards Montrose in 1989.

In 1985, the C&I (then owned by CSX) from Greenbrier Junction to Durbin was abandoned and converted into the West Fork Trail by the U.S. Forest Service a year later, from MP 295.5 to MP 321.8.4  The line from Elk River Junction to Durbin and from Cheat Junction to Greenbrier Junction were also abandoned.

Also in 1985, the C&O Greenbrier Division from a junction east of Lewisburg north to Durbin was abandoned.

Facing a decline in coal shipments along its Tygart Subdivision, which included the C&I from Elkins to Elk River Junction south of Bemis, and the GC&E southward to Bergoo, CSX petitioned to abandon the Tygart Subdivision east and south of Elkins.4 The Chessie System 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 put out of service on February 13, 1995. In July, CSX abandoned the Dailey Industrial Track from Huttonsville Junction at Elkins to the end of track.4 On January 25, 1997, CSX officially abandoned the entire Tygart Subdivision. Thankfully, the West Virginia State Rail Authority formed the West Virginia Central – one of West Virginia’s newest railroads, and took over operations on the Tygart Subdivision from Tygart Junction and Bergoo.

Today, the West Virginia Central operates freight movements from Tygart Junction to Elkins, Dailey and Bowden. This could be extended to Slaty Fork/Laurel Bank in the future. The Tygart Flyer operates a passenger excursion train on diesel locomotives from Elkins or Belington to High Falls, with some trips continuing back beyond Belington to Tygart Junction. The Cheat Valley Salamender operates from Cheat Bridge north to High Falls, or south via Spruce to Big Cut to serve Cass.3

The Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad (D&GV) was developed to operate a tourist line from Cass to Durbin on the former C&O Greenbrier Division. A five mile segment, which the Authority had already owned under a railbanking program, was given to the D&GV to operate for a tourist steam operation now known as the Durbin Rocket. The Rocket operates from Durbin to Piney Island, with a possible extension south to Cass as the abandoned line is owned by the Authority.3

In addition, the Thomas Subdivision is still active from 21st Bridge to Wilson, where CSX serves the Mettiki deep mine and preparation plant, and the Mt. Storm coal power plant operated by VEPCO via the Stoney River Subdivision. Other customers are located at Keyser, including a Westvaco Paper Mill and the not-often-used CSX Georges Creek Line. Another segment is part of the Blackwater Canyon Trail and the Allegheny Highlands Trail.

Digest
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Dry Fork Railroad

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