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