1928 - Alderson High School - 1968

The Journal Of The
Greenbrier Historical Society
Alderson, West Virginia
Written by Kenneth D. Swope


Prior to the coming of the railroad Alderson's Ferry was a small farming community.  It was not close to any of the three county seats; it had little industry except small mills.  In 1868 the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company was organized.  It was the product of nearly ninety years of arguing, organizing, disappointments, intrigue, lost investments and agitation for public transportation.  The C & O's immediate predecessor was the James River and Kanawha Turnpike which missed Alderson as it was about where U. S. Route 60 is now located.  The first company quickly went into receivership and was reorganized under essentially the same management as the C & O, its present title.

This is an account of the first passenger train over the C & O which appeared in the Richmond Whig, Feb. 3, 1873: "When the train left Richmond on Thursday evening, January 23, 1873, Colonel H. D. Whitcomb told the gentlemen who were on it with him that he would deliver them in Huntington over the C & O by Wednesday night the 29th.  Punctual to the hour, the headlight of the engine appeared around the bend and she rushed screaming into town.  The first train from Richmond to Huntington.  To say that the occupants of that train were welcomed would be a feeble way of expressing the enthusiastic display.  A yell burst forth as they came up to the platform and the passengers were almost dragged out by eager hands."

This train was not the first train but must have been a sort of dedicatory or ceremonial train.  The company had a completion date of July, 1872, according to a news account in the Richmond Dispatch, reprinted in the Greenbrier Independent in January, 1871.  Probably the first train went through Alderson in the summer of 1872.

It took six days for the passenger train to travel from Richmond to Huntington.  The dedicatory train must have arrived in Alderson's Ferry Sunday, January 26, 1873.

The C & O made a town out of Alderson's Ferry.  Previously plagued by poor roads and isolation, the little village now boomed.  Lumber, tanbark, cross ties, and live stock could be shipped to market. People could travel.  Alderson's Ferry was in communication by telegraph with the world.  Freight could be shipped in.  The village was not dependent on a road wagon and a team of horses, or oxen, for commerce or travel.

It was recounted by one who saw the first train come to Alderson that a large crowd gathered for the spectacle.  The train stopped, the wondering crowd gathered close about the engine, then the engineer stuck his head out of the cab and yelled, "Stand back, everybody, I'm goin' to turn her around."

At first the fuel used was wood but with the railroad's coming the coal fields on New River opened and coal replaced wood.  The C & O was completed to White Sulphur Springs sometime before it was finished up the New River gorge and Big Ben tunnel built.  Materials for the tunnel were floated down the river on large flat boats called bateaux.  There was a channel in the river for these boats near White Sulphur Springs.  It ran close to the south side bank through Alderson.  Merchandise was hauled to Alderson by wagon from White Sulphur.

The first C & O agent in Alderson was William J. Hancock and the first station was in a freight car.  It is not known who were the first railroad employees in Alderson.  Colonel Whitcomb and Colonel Talcott were evidently in charge of  construction.  A famed old railroad engineer lived for years in Alderson and was certainly on of the first on the line, Captain L. S. Alley.  He was a real old-timer having begun as an engineer in 1852 and was one of the first to run engines through Alderson.

It is strange all railroad men working as civil engineers, engine-men, conductors or section bosses were called "Captains".  Firemen, switchmen and lesser employees had no military title, but men in executive positions were sometimes know as "Major" or "Colonel".  Some early Alderson railroad men were the following, all "Captains".  N. R. Sheppard, W R. Roberts, M. M. Ogg, C. S. Parrott, W. L. Winnall, W. P. Ware and C. S. Vandergriff.

For a long time trains stopped in Alderson for meals.  Timetable No. 43, November 15, 1891, shows that No. 2, the "Atlantic Express" eastbound, was due in Alderson at 7:15 p.m. and stopped thirty minutes for a meal.  The passengers ate at either of the first two hotels.   A. E. T. Scruggs built the Monroe House in 1872 on the site of the present Post Office.  There was covered walkway from the railroad across the street to the hotel.  Later in 1882, J. W. Alderson built the Alderson Hotel much closer to the railroad and got the passenger trade.

All was not harmonious between the railroad and the town.  Shortly after the town was incorporated an engineer was arrested and taken from his engine for either blowing his whistle too long or blocking the crossing.  The three chief sources of friction have remained the same to the present: blocking the crossing, blowing of whistles and the speed of trains through town.

On November 16, 1893, Town Council passed an ordinance forbidding trains from going through town faster that four miles per hour.  On July 3, 1893, the speed was increased to eight miles per hour, and it was then forbidden for a train to blow a whistle in the corporate limits.  On March 3, 1899, an ordinance was passed forbidding any train to stand on the crossing longer than five minutes.  On April 1, 1901, Council repealed that ordinance and made another forbidding any train from block a crossing for any length of time.  As recounted elsewhere, the town had defeated a public water works bond issue.  The Town Council asked C & O to allow the town to use the water for public supply.  On December 3, 1894, the railroad refused.  In 1900 C & O built a new water tank, and J. C. Bright complained that the tank obstructed the road to his mill.  Council immediately passed an ordinance forbidding anyone from building a water tank without permission of  Council, punishable by a $10.00 a day fine.  C & O got out of that threat in three days.  The railroad wrote Council on November 5, 1900 that a double width road would be built around one side  and a single width one around the other side of the tank.

With the coming of automobiles and good roads, the passenger traffic steadily decreased. For a great number of years old No. 13 Westbound and No. 14 Eastbound passenger local were the chief means of transportation for Alderson folks making short trips to small communities, as these trains stopped at just about any place larger than a hog pen.  In 1891 C & O operated three eastbound passenger trains and eight freights a day through Alderson.  There was daily local freight service except Sunday. Westbound, there were four passenger trains daily and five freights including the local freight.  Now Alderson is served by but two passenger trains daily each way, and local freight is picked up every other day.  The freights continue to road through, at least nine each way daily, at high speeds and the old speed complaints continue.  Powerful, high speed diesel power units have replaced the huge steam engines.  C & O. has tried to copy the glorious sound of the old steam whistle.  No one who ever heard the long lonesome sound of a C & O steam whistle far down the Greenbrier late at night, and the steady pounding of a steam engine coming into Alderson can ever forget it.

The C & O is one of the nation's most efficient and profitable railroads.  Alderson and the C & O have been close, very close together, since each its birth.  In fact, the C & O has named one of its fine sleeping cars "City of Alderson."  A program dedicating the sleeping car was held in Alderson on July 11, 1951, attended by Mr. C. A. Taylor, vice-president and general manager of the C & O Railway Company.

Two other railroads were chartered to operate in Alderson.  On March 24, 1891, the Greenbrier and Gauley Railroad Company was charted with its principal office to be in Alderson, to run to the mouth of the Cherry River in Nicholas county.  the promoters were Alex McVey Miller, Enoch and William P. Smith, of Alderson, T. H. Jarrett, Blue Sulphur Springs, and Henry Gilmer of Lewisburg.

The other, The West Virginia, Alderson and Central Railroad Company, was chartered April 11, 1891, with its main office to be in Alderson.  It was proposed to run from the mouth of East River in Mercer County to some point on the Baltimore and Ohio, evidently to connect the Northfolk and Western, the C &  O and the B & O.  This railroad was to be financed by Richmond and Philadelphia men.  The only West Virginian of its charterers was James H. Miller, well known judge, lawyer, and Summers County historian.

Neither of these railroads ever laid a cross tie, and like many such railroad proposals of that time were "paper railroads."

Next: Churches

The contents contained in this series is copyrighted and the sole property of The Greenbrier Historical Society - Lewisburg, WV
Used by permission - November 18, 2008