February-March 2010 Article

This Month's Article - February/March 2010
Depots and Stations -
Interchange of Freight & Passengers
The Nelson & Albemarle Railway had two very distinct beginnings starting very close together and combining to form the now-defunct and abandoned railway that interconnected the Southern Railway at Rockfish with the C&O Railway in Warren along the James River.  With the building of the Alberene Railroad (running to Esmont and thence to Warren on the C&O) and the Schuyler Railway and it's interchange with the Southern Railway at Rockfish in Nelson County those two early lines would become the formation of the N&A and only require the addition of track between Schuyler and a point on the Alberene line at Guthrie.  &  Now the Schuyler Railway was an 'electric' railway with cars purchased from the Lynchburg Street Railway that were already old when acquired.  The interchange at Rockfish must have been quite interesting as cars with freight were deposited there and transferred to the Southern's local train.  Passengers travelling along this line and getting off the crack varnish in Rockfish and jumping onto an old, rickety open air car, might have thought better the next time to take another route!  The Rockfish station was built by the Southern Railway (year as yet unidentified) and while an exact diagram of the as-built doesn't seem to exist, similar buildings were noted in a compilation of station diagrams at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Railways that can be found at:  http://www.southernmuseum.org/archives/srha_photos_va.html where a 1957 photo of the Rockfish Station is also available.  Now both freight & passenger service ended on this line in 1944 when a flood took out many small bridges and much roadbed along the route that ran beside the Rockfish River.  Never being rebuilt, the track was formally abandoned and pulled out shortly thereafter.  The station at Schuyler also served as the company store and I don't have a diagram of this combination company store and terminus for what was primarily a company town that was built to support the workers being close to the soapstone works.  Between Schuyler and Rockfish there were many 'whistle' stops, but no shelters that any document has shown.   &  The Alberene Railroad started out trying to reach Warren, going through Esmont to get there.  The builder, H. L. Lane (sounds familiar, doesn't it), had issues with land owners, but persevered, though it would be a tenuous time with local farmers for years to come due to his methods of getting business done.  As the line was completed, the C&O leased it immediately and bought it outright in 1902!  Warren, on the C&O Railway, had a very traditional look with house tracks right behind the depot.  The Esmont Station was built very much in accordance with standard drawings that can be found in the C&O Historical Society's collection in Clifton Forge, Virginia.  I've included a thumbnail photo collection of the Rockfish station, the Schuyler depot, the Esmont station and the Warren depot and URL note for a couple of views of the Alberene depot.  I've included my favorite Warren Depot photo as it is from 1962 just months before abandonment would end the charming little standard gauge line's life into soapstone country.  With careful scrutiny, you might notice that there is a Nelson & Albemarle diesel in the photo though hard to see and even harder to determine which one.  &  Esmont was the site of a great Caterpillar advertisement for the engines in the GE diesel #1.  This type of station is covered well in the latest issue of the COHS periodical, Chesapeake & Ohio Historical Magazine in a feature article by Tom Dixon.  It's interesting that I started collecting this detail about stations/depots several months ago and in the February issue of the COHM, Tom has his great article covering just the data I needed to give basic background to this article.  &  At Alberene, the soapstone company built the station alongside the assembly buildings and while none of this exists any longer, the photo from 1917 of the station shows that the 'company' built integrated buildings with connections to other structures to save costs and space. See the description of the depot (listed as 1900, but likely 1917 as other photos of the immediate area at this time show similar views:  http://repo.lib.virginia.edu:18080/fedora/get/uva-lib:84435/uva-lib-bdef:100/getFullView    &   Between Warren and Esmont, a shed was built at a siding at Boiling Spring and while there are no known photographs of this, there was a diagram from the C&O engineering staff that can be acquired from the C&O Historical Society at www.cohs.org URL.  The 1937 (reprint) of C&O Railway Co. Side Track Records/Charts; Rivanna, Buckingham, V.A.L. & Alberene Subdivisions shows this shed.  Once the Nelson & Albemarle took over operations and extended the reach from Schuyler to Guthrie to interchange with C&O trackage, life changed and the N&A took ownership of everything north of Esmont in the deal while the C&O retained track between Esmont & Warren causing train number changes each time a crew came in from Schuyler headed for Warren for interchange with the C&O.  The only known schedule that I've found was from a collection in the library in Iowa.  See the info at URL: http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/spec-coll/msc/tomsc500/msc468/employtimetables.html as this paper schedule, likely posted on a bulletin board at Schuyler and possibly Esmont, was the only way you'd really know what train you were on and what scheduled was being maintained!   &   It's unfortunate that Alberene ran out of good stone in the 1930's and the factory there closed in about 1936.  On a visit a decade ago, I was hard-pressed to see where buildings had been and how the community had been forged around this industry.  Rockfish station may have been in use for many years after the N&A pulled up tracks in the mid-to-late 40's, serving the business and industry of that community with the Southern system, but is now long gone also.  A sidebar, at URL http://www.wunderground.com/wximage/viewsingleimage.html?mode=singleimage&handle=nobyter&number=18&album_id=12&thumbstart=0&gallery= you can see where the Rockfish PO has been converted for solar webcam use - pointed out at the Southern Railway bridge over the Rockfish River.  Esmont, perhaps my favorite little village, saw the demise of it's depot once tracks were pulled up by the C&O after the 1963 abandonment of the N&A.  And while Warren may have originally been a vibrant community served by a major railroad with an interchange connecting middle Albemarle county, it too saw the loss of it's station.  So what remains?  Nothing except the Schuyler depot as the local office of the New Alberene Soapstone Company.  You can still walk the path along the roadbed albeit covered by brush and almost if not entirely impassable by now.  
  Yes, the shed at Boiling Spring is also gone.  I'm going to have to start a contest to see who can identify the next closest station left on the now Norfolk Southern line north or south of Rockfish as well as the closest station on the CSX line east or west of Warren.    &   There were stations/depots at:  Alberene, Esmont, Warren, (shed at Boiling Spring), Schuyler, and Rockfish.  A small railway that served a great function in a time that can never be recreated and only imagined of how life must have been when the best way to spend your vacation might have been to get on the train at Rockfish and ride down to Warren and back.
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