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Hiking the C&O South Side Branch to Abandoned Coke Ovens

The warm spring weather of April 2022 was perfect for a hike along the former South Side Branch of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway.

The warm spring weather of April 2022 was perfect for a hike along the former South Side Branch of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway. This railway line, which runs along the New River between South Side Junction and Macdougal, West Virginia, was built between 1889-1903 to serve coal tipples and coking operations in the valley. The branch was abandoned in the 1950s after a significant landslide.

During its heyday, numerous coal tipples and coking operations were located along the nearly 8-mile branch. At milepost 391.5, on the south side of Arbuckle Creek, was the Arbuckle Coal & Coke Company. This company operated the Rend Nos. 1 and 2 mines, which were located further up the hollow towards Rend (later called Minden after 1905). W.P. Rend operated the mines from 1901-04.

To transport the coal from the mines to the tipple and coke ovens located along the three sidings of the South Side Branch, a narrow-gauge railroad was built on the west side of Arbuckle Creek. The coal was transferred to an incline, which led down the steep hillside and across the top of the Rend Branch of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway.

Over the years, the name of the location changed several times. It was called Arbuckle until the fall of 1901, when it became known as Rend. In mid-1904, it was referred to as B. Mine and then as Minden No. 1 by January 1906. By the 1920s, it was called Weewin.

By 1950, only one mine was still operating along the South Side Branch. A significant landslide destroyed the line near Red Ash in 1958, and as the line was not often used, it was left abandoned in place between South Side Junction and Red Ash by the railroad.

Chesapeake and Ohio Railway South Side Branch

Currently, the Southside Trail closely follows the previous route of the South Side Branch at the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. Although the southernmost .6 miles of the trail, from the Rend Trail Connector to South Side Junction, is no longer technically considered a trail due to a disagreement with RJ Corman/CSX over a single railroad track crossing, it has not deterred hikers and mountain bikers from continuing to use it. It is curious that the railway company would choose to restrict access to this well-established legal trail, when it would be more beneficial to enhance its visibility and accessibility. Pedestrian and bicycle crossings of railroad tracks are commonplace, and there is no compelling reason to restrict them in this location.

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