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Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Levisa Subdivision

The Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Levisa Subdivision was a 22.7-mile coal-hauling line that connected Millard to Dunlap, Kentucky.


The Levisa River Railroad (LRR) was incorporated in 1911 and in 1929, the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad (C&O) applied to the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) for permission to build a 28 mile line up the Levisa Fork from Millard to the Virginia state line. 3 4 Just a few miles of grading were completed in the vicinity of Millard. Every few years, the C&O would return to grade a few more miles to satisfy the requirements of the charter which required that the railroad begin construction of the line within five years and be completed within a reasonable amount of time. 4

In 1931, the Norfolk & Western Railway (N&W) completed their Buchanan Branch from the Tug River at Devon, West Virginia to the Kentucky border along the Levisa Fork. 3 4 Facing the prospect of losing the LRR’s charter, in October 1942 the C&O requested and was granted an extension by the ICC until December 31, 1944, for the completion of their Levisa Fork line.

Playing hardball, the N&W made an application in 1943 to build a 11-mile extension from the Kentucky border to Hunt’s Branch generally along the same right-of-way that the C&O had surveyed along the Levisa Fork, and requested to the ICC that the LRR’s charter be suspended, citing that the LRR had never been constructed 3 4 and that the C&O was merely grandstanding to prevent the N&W from entering the state. 4 Despite the C&O completing the grading from Millard to the Virginia border in the winter of 1943, the ICC revoked part of the LRR’s charter in May 1944 to allow the N&W to purchase nine miles of the graded roadbed from the Kentucky border to the mouth of Second Fork of Big Creek. 3 4

Shortly after, the Haley, Chisholm & Morris Construction Company began work on the remaining nine miles of the LRR from Millard to Big Creek, which included the erection of a temporary wood trestle over the Levisa Fork for the movement of building materials. 3 4 It was soon replaced with a three-span, through truss steel bridge that had been built in 1898 for use on the double-track C&O mainline over the mouth of the Big Sandy River between Kenova, West Virginia, and Catlettsburg, Kentucky.

Upon completion in January 1945, the LRR was operated by the C&O as the Levisa Subdivision and connected from the C&O’s Big Sandy Subdivision at Millard to Dunlap. 1 3 4 There were initially five mining operations:

  • MP .5: Mountain States Coal Corporation’s Milard No. 6 Mine, which was a tipple that was loaded by truck; 2 4
  • MP 4.2: Pompey-Winifrede Coal Company’s Kem Mine; 2 4
  • MP 12.3: Shelby-Elkhorn Coal Company’s Rowe Mine; 2 4
  • Lick Creek
  • MP 20.2: Berwind-White Coal Mining Company’s Kentland-Elkhorn Mine along Big Creek at Dunlap, 1 3 4 which was built in 1945 4 and put into operation in June 1946. 2 It had a production capacity of 5,000 tons or 100 rail cars daily and was one of the largest coal mines in the county. 4

Interestingly, the N&W charged 14¢ less per ton to haul coal than the C&O and therefore carried much of the traffic at Dunlap. 4 The Clark Elkhorn Coal Company opened Clark Elkhorn No. 1 at MP .6 in 1965 and Clark Elkhorn No. 2 at MP .7 a few years later. 2 Despite the number of loadouts along the line, there was only enough coal production for a twice-weekly schedule for the Levisa Subdivision. 4

The impoundment of the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River by the United States Army Corps of Engineers to form Fishtrap Reservoir in 1968 forced the C&O to abandon a significant portion of the branch from Pompey Branch Creek to Millers Creek in 1965, 4 leaving eight miles of the line intact from Millers Creek to Dunlap which the N&W leased from the C&O to access a mine and another 2½ miles intact from the Big Sandy Subdivision to Millard. The leased track later served the United Coal “Karen” tipple at Bama and Apache Mining’s Bane tipple at Bane.

The $4.5 million the C&O received from the Army Corps of Engineers for compensation for the destruction of much of the Levisa Subdivision was used to construct the Coon Creek Subdivision in 1965-66. 4 The branch began a half-mile from miles east of Levisa Junction at Slones Branch along the Levisa Subdivision. 1

A storage yard was built and the name was changed to JC Junction. From there, the Coon Creek Subdivision began a 4½-mile climb up the Pompey Creek valley to a deep cut at the top of Pompey Mountain aptly named Apex. The torturous route had 3% grades and a tight horseshoe curve. 1 2 The line then descended for 8½-miles down Coon Creek to a yard at Winns Branch which included a sanding facility and an office trailer that doubled as a crew shelter. 4 It became Johns Creek Subdivision at mile 14 and turned to follow Johns Creek for 3.13 miles before terminating at a McCoy Elkhorn mine at Simers.

Map of the Levisa Subdivision, Coon Creek Subdivision, and Johns Creek Subdivision. Source: Young, Everett N. “An Operational Look at the Big Sandy.” Chesapeake and Ohio Historical Newsletter, Oct. 1977, p. 11.

The C&O constructed a 4½-mile of the Johns Creek Subdivision that began one mile above Winns Branch to service Pickands-Mather’s mine at Scott Branch that was completed in the fall of 1977. 1 In mid-1979, the line was extended west and south to the Big Sandy Subdivision at Coal Run, four miles north of Pikeville, via Miller and Stonecoal Creeks. The new route featured two 110-car passing sidings and a leisurely grade of 1.5% which crested at a 1,544-foot tunnel and eliminated the mountainous crossing of Pompey Mountain and reduced $1.5 million in labor costs to the C&O. The Coon Creek Subdivision was then abandoned except for a short spur left in place to serve the Raccoon-Elkhorn mine near Frozen Creek. The new combined trackage, encompassing the extension to Coal Run and Johns Creek, was referred to as the Coal Run Subdivision with the spur to Frozen Creek referred to as the Winns Industrial Spur.

At Millard, a new preparation plant at Sloans Branch erected by Clark Elkhorn in 1983-84 centralized the loading of coal on what remained of the Levisa Subdivision 2 4 which was referred to as the Pompey Spur. 5 By 2005, the tipple, then owned by ICG Knott County, was inactive and the spur was used for car storage. A new batch loadout was built by Louis Dreyfus Highbridge Energy in 2011 with a capacity to blend up to three million tons of coal per year. It never met production quotas and the loadout was closed in 2015 and demolished in 2017. 2 The last of the Levisa Subdivision Track from the loadout to Levisa Junction was removed in 2021.




  1. Young, Everett N. “An Operational Look at the Big Sandy.” Chesapeake and Ohio Historical Newsletter, Oct. 1977, pp. 12-13.
  2. Vaughn, Robby. “Appalachian Rails & Mining.” Facebook, 22 Mar. 2022.
  3. Young, Everett N. “The Big Sandy Subdivision.” Chesapeake and Ohio Historical Newsletter, Oct. 1993, pp. 3-12.
  4. LaBreche, Dennis. “A History of the Levisa Subdivision.” Chesapeake and Ohio Historical Newsletter, Nov. 1983, pp. 10-13.
  5. Young, Everett N. “New Role for an Old Bridge.” Chesapeake & Ohio Historical Magazine, Spring 2013, pp. 4-5.

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