Planning for a railroad alongside the Elk River in central West Virginia began in 1878, when the Potomac & Ohio Railroad (P&O) was chartered, with the goal of developing a double-track route from the Potomac River to the Kanawha River’s mouth with the Ohio River in Point Pleasant. 10 It was estimated to cost $27 million and include 15,000 feet of tunnels and a bridge over the Ohio River. The P&O estimated that the railroad would carry seven million tons of freight and coal annually with a profit of $357,000.
The ground was broken for the P&O was held in late 1878. 10 Counties along the proposed route were eager to subscribe, and $375,000 was raised towards the adventurous effort. A survey of the route was completed by Major Albert H. Campbell and some grading was completed along the Elk River before financial issues caused the P&O to fold.
In 1881, two separate surveys were completed along the Elk River: 10
- The Baltimore, Cincinnati & Western Railroad, which would follow the Ohio and Kanawha rivers to Charleston, north along the Elk River, east towards Moorefield, northeast to Winchester and Leesburg, Virginia, and east to Baltimore, Maryland. The 601-mile route was estimated to cost $25 million.
- The Doane Railroad, which would follow the Elk River north of Charleston.
The Elk Railroad was chartered in February 1884, with the goal of developing a narrow-gauge route from Charleston north to Sutton along the Elk River. 10 The Elk proposed that Kanawha, Clay, and Braxton counties subscribe $150,000, $18,000 and $75,000 respectively. The proposal was warmly received by Johnson Camden, who owned a narrow-gauge line from Clarksburg south to Weston. Camden proposed to extend his line south from Weston to Sutton if the Elk Railroad was completed. (Camden later purchased other narrow gauges and formed the West Virginia & Pittsburgh Railroad.) But a lack of support in Charleston only resulted in some surveying being completed for the Elk Railroad.
In May, the Chicago, Parkersburg & Norfolk Railway was proposed, which would connect Sutton and Charleston but only follow the Elk River in the vicinity of Sutton. 10 The company requested a subscription of $50,000 from Braxton County. Despite a $12 million bond being issued, no work was ever completed. Later in the year, the Grafton, Buckhannon & Charleston Railroad was proposed by a group of investors who had involvement in the Grafton & Greenbriar Railroad, but it, too, died because of a lack of financing.
Charleston, Clendenin & Sutton Railroad
Worried about the failures of the railroad proposals, a meeting was held by the citizens of Charleston on May 11, 1891, and a charter for a new rail line, the Charleston, Clendenin & Sutton Railroad (CC&S), was issued on May 14. 10 Henry Gassaway Davis, president of the West Virginia Central & Pittsburg Railway (WVC&P), was informed about the new proposal. The WVC&P at the time extended from Cumberland, Maryland south to Elkins, with branches under construction to Beverly and Belington. It was reported that $100,000 could be raised which would be enough to construct a line from Charleston to Clendenin. Davis was approached for assistance in constructing a link from the WVC&P to Sutton, although he declined on the basis of finances and that the Elk River valley was Camden’s territory; Davis and Camden had separated their railroad interests only a year prior.
An inaugural meeting for the CC&S was held on June 18 to elect the directors and adopt by-laws. 10 Elections were held on August 1, and $100,000 in bonds was approved. An additional $80,000 was raised from area business interests and along with a $50,000 subscription in Clay County. Surveying along the Elk River north of Charleston began in September. By October, the first six miles of the route had been surveyed, and by December, the surveying had been completed to Clay County.
A contract to construct the first 20 miles of the CC&S was awarded in late February 1892 with work beginning in March at Mill Creek. By July, nine miles had been graded and 2½ miles of track laid. The CC&S reached Clendenin in June 1893. 10 14 Another $100,000 bond was issued to complete the CC&S in July, 10 with survey work between Clendenin and Sutton completed in October 1894. Construction commenced on October 12 and by mid-December, work had progressed to Queen Shoals.
A $3 million bond was awarded in January 1895 to allow for the construction of an additional 80 miles of railroad. 10 Engineering crews had reached Groves Creek, approximately 50 miles north of Clendenin, and reached Sutton on February 22 and a contract for construction from Birch Run to Buffalo Creek near Clay Court House was issued in April. In July, a new depot opened in July in Charleston and by November, tracks had been laid to Clay Court House. Another contract was let on December 14 to complete the CC&S to Sutton, but all work stopped in July 1896 because of opposition from the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O) and various landowners. Construction did not resume until 1901 when a 12-mile contract to lay track to Ivydale (Big Otter) was awarded, 10 which was finished in 1902. 14
The CC&S stretched for 64 miles between Charleston and Ivydale. It was acquired by Henry Gassaway Davis in 1906 and organized under the Coal & Coke Railway.
The Belva & Elk River Railroad, which followed Blue Creek to Hitop, opened in 1896. 10 The route was later served by Chessie until the Elk Refinery at Falling Rock closed in 1983. It was then acquired by Conrail to access mines owned by Union Carbide. 11 The last train moved over the rails in 1991.
Roaring Creek & Charleston Railroad
The Roaring Creek & Charleston Railroad (RC&C) was formed on April 14, 1893, with a capital of $300,000, for a railway extending from the mouth of Roaring Creek near Coalton in Randolph County to the West Virginia Central & Pittsburg Railroad (WVC&P), with a principal office at Elkins. 4 The WVC&P was one of three branches that radiated out of Elkins. 12 A three-mile extension from Coalton to Flat Bush was laid with track in late 1896, and a seven-mile extension south to Mabie was graded. 9 A press dispatch from 1897 from Piedmont noted that final work on the RC&C’s connection with the WVC&P was being completed. 6 9 A July 8, 1899 edition of The Black Diamond reported that the RC&C was being extended from Belington to Beaver Creek, a distance of eight miles, to tap a six-foot-thick coal seam. 3
The RC&C, then owned by the Davis Colliery Company, purchased the Roaring Creek & Belington Railroad (RC&B) on July 1, 1904. 13 The RC&C was leased by the Coal & Coke Railway (C&C). The B&O, the eventual successor to the RC&C, requested to abandon 3.34 miles of line from Coalton to Mabie on January 6, 1972. 18 The remainder was left intact for car storage.
Roaring Creek & Belington Railroad
The Roaring Creek & Belington Railroad (RC&B) was issued a charter on November 11, 1893, for a line from Belington to the mouth of Roaring Creek. 5 It had an authorized capital of $10,000. The line, which had connections with the B&O’s Belington & Grafton Branch at Belington 2 and with the WVC&P at Roaring Creek, 1 was completed in 1895. 12 The RC&C purchased the RC&B in July 1904. 1
The C&C acquired the RC&C for $2 million on January 25, 1905, the C&C paid the Davis Colliery Company $2 million. 13 After selling the WVC&P in January 1902, Henry Gassaway Davis acquired 19 miles of track owned by the RC&C and the RC&B that served his coal seams on January 25. 8 The RC&B was fully merged into the C&C in 1919.
Coal & Coke Railway
Chartered on May 14, 1902, by former Senator Henry Gassaway Davis, the Coal & Coke Railway was proposed to connect the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad and the Kanawha & Michigan Railway at Charleston to the WVC&P near Elkins. 1 15 Davis had acquired a large amount of acreage in the Roaring Creek area in Randolph County, and in the surrounding counties, that were rich with coal and virgin timber. The C&C had a capital stock of $5 million. 12
Davis sold the WVC&P in January 1902 to facilitate the construction of the C&C 16 and purchased the RC&C and the RC&B. 12 Davis was under pressure from a syndicate headed by George L. Gould, a railroad magnate who was forming a cartel among the nation’s largest carriers in an attempt to fix rates. 15 Gould controlled the Wabash and desired a railroad into Pittsburgh from an area served by the WVC&P. Gould had purchased the Western Maryland Railroad (WM), which reached Hagerstown with an extension to Cumberland proposed. 16
Construction on the C&C began on April 17, and by May, work began on the first tunnel started at Kingsville. 12 By late November, progress had been made at the third, fourth (Shipmans Gap Tunnel), and fifth tunnels (Reeds Tunnel).
Davis then considered purchasing the CC&C in late October, but the railroad was in poor condition because of its numerous wooden trestles, uneven track, and lack of ballast. 12 Undeterred, Davis acquired the line on November 19. 1 7 12
Work on the 2,400-foot Kingsville tunnel was finished in mid-January 1903, and work on the second tunnel had just begun. 12 By February, the track had been laid from Leiter to Loop and on July 20, a contract was let to construct a tunnel between Perkins Fork and Brushy Fork of Little Otter Creek (Little Otter Tunnel). By January 1904, tracks had been laid to the third tunnel work on Reeds Tunnel was nearing completion, and work began on tunnel six (Sago Tunnel) in February. 13 Bids were opened on March 10 for 35 miles of construction between Frenchton and Copen Run.
After encountering issues with securing the right-of-way where the Little Kanawha Railroad had already laid claim, Davis acquired the railway on August 24. The Little Kanawha offered a good alignment and reduced grades from Copen Run to Burnsville and Walkersville. 13
Tunnel eight (Jones Tunnel) was finished by August, and trains were allowed to run between Elkins and Sago on September 19. 13 On January 10, 1905, the largest stone bridge on the C&C, comprising of two 52-segment arches over French Creek, was finished. 13 The Little Otter Tunnel was finished on August 15 one year behind schedule. By November 17, only five miles of track remained to be laid on the C&C, which was finished on December 1 when the last spike was driven at Walkersville. 7 13 15
In its completed form, the C&C included 12 tunnels and 30 steel bridges from Norton to Gassaway; it had no wooden trestles or timber bridges. An extension of the C&C, the Coal & Iron Railroad, had been completed earlier in 1903 from Elkins to Durbin at the headwaters of the Greenbrier River, where it interchanged with the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Greenbrier Division. 15
The C&C opened up the vast natural resources in the central part of the state as expected. The railroad acquired and began operating the Davis Colliery Company acreage, totaling around 20,000 acres in the Roaring Creek region, which consisted of five physical facilities that produced 3,500 tons of coal and 700 tons of coke daily. 1 7 One of the biggest developments came in Clay County when Joseph G. Bradley, who owned 102,000 acres of virgin timber, organized the Elk River Coal & Lumber Company in 1903. 15 Bradley had inherited the land in 1880 from his father, Simon Cameron, a Pennsylvania politician that had served as Secretary of War under Abraham Lincoln. In 1904, Bradley chartered the Buffalo Creek & Gauley Railroad, a proposed 104-mile line from Dundon on the C&C east to Huttonsville in Randolph County. Only 18½ miles were completed to his company town of Widen.
Davis purchased the CC&S in 1906. 14 On November 23, 1912, at the age of 89, Davis relinquished his role of the C&C 17 and died in 1916. 15
The C&C at the time of Davis’ death stretched for 175.6 miles from Charleston to Elkins, with a 16-mile branch from Belington to Norton, Mabie and Coalton, and another 6½ branch between Gassaway and Sutton. 1 It had connections with the B&O at Belington, with the WM at Roaring Creek Junction and at Elkins, and with the Kanawha & Michigan at Charleston. It also had switching arrangements with the Chesapeake & Ohio in Charleston.
In 1917, the C&C was leased to the B&O, which was then operated as its Charleston Branch.
The Dry Fork Railroad extended for 31 miles from Hendricks in Tucker County up the Dry Fork of Cheat River to Horton in Randolph County. 15 The first 29½ miles were owned by the railroad and the remainder was owned by the Spears Lumber Company. The Dry Fork became the Central West Virginia & Southern Railroad in 1913.
Baltimore & Ohio Charleston Branch
The first major improvement of the C&C came on May 12, 1918, when the Hampton cutoff opened, which connected the C&C east of Adrian along French Creek with the B&O Pickens Branch near Hampton on the Buckhannon River. 18 It featured a 313-foot tunnel.
It was then proposed to eliminate the alignment along Oil Creek east of Orlando and along West Fork River from Jacksonville to Arnold in 1922, with a new route constructed from Burnsville to Orlando and then northeast to Arnold. 18 The proposal, which would be less steep than the original alignment, was shelved.
In 1929, the right fork of the Turner Branch was abandoned and the entirety of the branch was dismantled on April 7, 1931, after all available coal was extracted from the area. 18 In December 1930, the B&O was granted permission to the Flatwoods – Sutton branch after encouraging industries and businesses to locate along the mainline, and in October 1933, the B&O was granted permission to abandon 21 miles of the Little Kanawha Railroad.
The C&C proposed selling the railroad to the B&O on October 7, which was finalized on January 5, 1934. 18
Permission was then granted on August 14, 1940, for the B&O and the WM to share trackage rights between Elkins and Belington. 18 The B&O was abandoned between the RC&B at Leiter near Roaring Creek Junction to Belington, and the WM was abandoned between Roaring Creek Junction and Elkins. The B&O was then abandoned between Adrian and Midvale, which included the Hampton cutoff, in 1941. Work began in May 1946 on a major track realignment because of the Tygart Valley River flood diversion project, which necessitated the construction of a levee and diversion channel west of Elkins. 18 The new alignment opened in 1948.
The 1940s and 1950s saw much labor unrest in the coal mining industry, which led to sharp reductions in coal transported during certain months which caused considerable losses for the railroad. In April 1951, the Middle Creek Railroad was abandoned, although the B&O continued to operate a short segment of the line until 1965 to serve a mine. 18
In 1957, the Heathcliff branch was constructed along the Little Kanawha River from Gilmer west to Glenville. A construction contract to build 1½ miles of track was announced on January 10 to serve a mine at Trubada, where coal was trucked to a tipple west of Sand Fork. 18 After a thick seam of coal was discovered, the B&O extended the line west towards the tipple with a contract let in May 1958, with the first movement over the line happening on July 23, 1959. Coal production along the branch exploded to 937,092 tons by 1964 which declined to 596,423 tons by 1966. The mine closed on July 31, 1967, and the Healthcliff branch was abandoned on December 16, 1971.
The B&O requested to abandon 3.34 miles of line from Coalton to Mabie on January 6, 1972. 18 Later in the year, the B&O requested to abandon the Sutton Branch, which was withdrawn. It was formally abandoned on February 14, 1985.
By the mid-1970s, three trains a week traversed between Charleston and Gassaway, 11 but declining traffic led to one of the most significant abandonment of the line in 1977 when the B&O requested permission to abandon 28¾-miles of the mainline from Reamer and Hartland, which was granted on April 1, 1979. 18 Another request was made in 1985 for the abandonment of 5 miles of the mainline line from Hartland to Dundon.
The B&O’s successor, CSX, filed for the abandonment of 61 miles of C&C track from Gilmer south to Hartland. 18 The Elk Refinery closed in Falling Rock in 1983, sapping practically all traffic on the line. To prevent the former mainline from falling into disrepair, Conrail acquired the line in 1985 18 for continued access to the Union Carbide mines along Blue Creek. 11
Elk River Railroad
The saving grace for the Gilmer to Hartland segment came shortly after when it was announced that the line had been sold to the Elk River Railroad (ER), which owned the Buffalo Creek & Gauley Railroad (BC&G) between Dundon and Widen. 18 The ER had hoped to start operations on the line in October 1991, although runs did not begin until May 1996.
The ER also wanted to acquire more C&C trackage from Hartland to Reamer from Conrail, which would give it a line from CSX’s line at Burnsville Junctionsouth via Gilmer, Gassaway, Dundon, Hartland, Falling Rock, and Blue Creek to Charleston.. 18
The ER began work to rehabilitate the former C&C mainline from Hartland to Reamer on September 15, 1996, despite objections from Conrail and CSX. 18 After a mine at Avoca closed in September 1999, regular operations along the ER ceased and it was then used for car storage after a contract was signed with Appalachian Railcar Service on November 15, 2001.
- B&O Charleston Division Part I–Charleston to Queen Shoals by Dan Robie
- B&O Charleston Division Part II–Clay County to Gassaway by Dan Robie
- Poor, Henry Varnum. “Coal and Coke Railway Company.” Poor’s Intermediate Manual of Railroads. NewYork: Poor’s Manual Company, 1917. 550. Print.
- “Coal Fields of Central West Virginia.” The Colliery Engineer. Vol. XXX. Scranton: International Textbook, 1910. 188. Print.
- “Southern Coal and Coke Notes.” The Black Diamond. Vol. XXIII. Chicago, 1899. 641. Print.
- “Corporations.” Acts of the Legislature of West Virginia. Charleston: Moses W. Donnally, 1895. 17.Print.
- “Corporations.” Acts of the Legislature of West Virginia. Charleston: Moses W. Donnally, 1895. 46.Print.
- Havard University Graduate School of Business Administration, and Railway & Locomotive Historical Society. Railroad History, Issues 112-115. Vols. 112-115. N.p.: n.p., 1965. 17. Print.
- “Steam Railroad Companies of the United States.” Poor’s and Moodys Manual Consolidated. Vol. 16. New York: Moody Manual Company, 1915. 267. Print.
- Sullivan, Ken, and West Virginia Humanities Council. West Virginia Encyclopedia. 2006. 148. Print.
- “Roaring Creek & Charleston.” The Railway Age and Northwestern 23 (Jan. 1897): 57. Print.
- Clarke, Alan. “The Charleston, Clendennin and Sutton Railroad: A Brief History.” West Virginia’s Coal and Coke Railway. Lynchburg: TLC Publishing, 2002. 1-12. Print.
- Robie, Dan. “B&O ROW Part I-Charleston to Blue Creek.” West Virginia and North Carolina Rails. N.p.,n.d. Web. 3 Jan. 2012. Article.
- Clarke, Alan. “The Coal and Coke Railway: Construction.” West Virginia’s Coal and Coke Railway. Lynchburg: TLC Publishing, 2002. 13-32. Print.
- Clarke, Alan. “Construction Continues.” West Virginia’s Coal and Coke Railway. Lynchburg: TLC Publishing, 2002. 33-53. Print.
- West Virginia Geological Survey, Charles E. Krebs, and D. D. Teets, Jr. County Reports and Maps: Kanawha County. Vol. 1. Wheeling: Wheeling News Litho, 1914. N. pag. Print.
- Lewis, Ronald L. “The Touch of Capital: Railroads, Timber, and Economic Development of the Backcounties.” Transforming the Appalachian Countryside. N.p.: University of North CarolinaPress, 1998. 73-75. Print.
- Pepper, Charles Melville. “Chapter XII: Business Activities at Fourscore and Beyond.” The Life and Times of Henry Gassaway Davis, 1823-1916. New York: Century, 1920. 185-187. Print.
- Pepper, Charles Melville. “Chapter XII: Business Activities at Fourscore and Beyond.” The Life and Times of Henry Gassaway Davis, 1823-1916. New York: Century, 1920. 185-187. Print.
- Clarke, Alan. “The B&O Years and Beyond.” West Virginia’s Coal and Coke Railway. Lynchburg: TLC Publishing, 2002. 133-. Print.