April 2012 Article

This Month's Article - April 2012

Connecting to the Virginia Midland (Southern) Railway at North Garden
(The Terrain Series of Articles continues with this, the 2nd in the series) 
It's a time when there are no motorized vehicles.  Teams of horses, oxen, or mules pull wagons of soapstone blocks from the quarry to the mill in Alberene and soapstone products
from the mill to the rail line in North Garden,
a distinct 5 mile journe
y along the north bank of a fork of the Hardware River through Johnsons
Mill Gap crossing the edge of the Fan Mountains just south of
Ammonett Mountain.   
Much of the soapstone will leave Alberene as large blocks, destined for company factories in the north, where artisans will carve them into architectural items.  The road leading to the train depot goes up the mountain side at the north
end of the Fan Mountains and just south of Gay Mountain making turns through the pass to navigate the best possible route.  Arriving at the Virginia Midland railroad depot, you can imagine stevedores grappling with the crates, moving them onto boxcars for shipment primarily northbound.
  A connection with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad is reached by use of the Washington & Alexandria Railway which hauls freight using horse drawn wagons over the Washington, D.C. bridge near Fourteenth street.  Cargo reaches the B&O RR on First Street before moving on to factories in the north from there.      +++++

North Garden was discovered in the early 18th century by scouts traveling along the north fork of the Hardware River while other westward settlers followed the south fork of the Hardware River finding fertile bottom land soil as well in what would become South Garden with both locations being naturally nestled in the surrounding mountains.  A tavern was founded at the Crossroads of the Staunton and James River Turnpike where it crossed Plank Road, but this was at least 2 miles northwest of where the rail line would eventually be sited at North Garden.  The Orange & Alexandria Railroad which completed initial construction by 1854, extended southward to Lynchburg creating a center of commerce in North Garden by 1860.  While the railroad suffered greatly through the War Between the States it recovered quickly and by 1868 new locomotives were being added and the various rail lines of the company were consolidated into the Virginia Midland in 1873.  Locomotives like “Blue Ridge” purchased in 1872 and “Potomac” purchased in 1873 were principal engines on the railroad.  [A great primer on the history of the Southern Railway predecessors, Orange & Alexandria, Richmond & Danville, and the Virginia Midland Railroad can be found in the William E. Griffin, Jr. & Thomas W. Dixon, Jr. book, “Virginia Railroads, Volume 1: Railroading in the Old Dominion” starting on page 41. See the bibliography below for where you can purchase this book.]   The railroad provided a way for entrepreneurs James Serene and Daniel Carroll to get their products out of rural, captivated communities like Johnsons Mill Gap to a serious market where sales could become explosive and spread the name, “Alberene Stone”, around the world.  Because of the very rural nature of the area, much of the community was ‘company-owned’ including housing, general store, and life was not easy working in the mill or the quarries.     +++++ 

When the Albemarle Soapstone Company was founded in 1883, the closest railroad connection was in North Garden, Virginia by travel over Plank Road.  Wet seasons leave the roadway a morass of mud made even worse by the heavy wagons moving back and forth from rail head to mill during this time of incredible growth of this emerging industry in Virginia.  Talk of extending a rail line to the mill comes up frequently, but as the Virginia Midland becomes part of the Southern Railway in 1894, getting across the mountain continues to be too difficult and 15 years go by before serious consideration will finally provide a rail connection to the mill at Alberene.   +++++

This map is currently in public domain, however, for full print of this map from the PCL Map Collection at the University of Texas at Austin, please keep in mind that the source of this map is from "University of Texas Libraries" and a contribution to support their digitization of maps for the PCL Map Collection can be made at: https://utdirect.utexas.edu/apps/utgiving/online/nlogon/?menu1=LCMP
with the Gift Area: Libraries, UT (Amount recommended $15.00);
Sub Department: Area: PCL Maps Collection (A one time gift).
  • Book, "Virginia Railroads, Volume 1: Railroading in the Old Dominion" by William E. Griffin, Jr. and Thomas W. Dixon, Jr.
This is available from the C&O Railway Historical Society at their "ChessieShop.com" store at:
This is our preferred purchase location that would support our sister historical society. The book can also be found at the Amazon.com site at:
  • Photo, North Garden Station (cropped from full photo) by Jeremy Plant taken April of 1968 and available from http://www.railpictures.net/viewphoto.php?id=364032&nseq=3 where a large view/photo can be seen of the entire photograph.  Significant to note is the SD24 leading long-hood forward in the actual photo.  For purposes of this article, the North Garden depot is the focus, therefore a cropped version to fit the specific need.  Membership is free at this site, so consider joining and contributing.  Permission granted to use the above thumbnail and reference in this article by Jeremy Plant.
Send email to NelsonAlbemarle@comcast.net if you have any comments or questions or wish to contribute to future articles.  Copyright 2012 - Nelson & Albemarle Railway Historical Society.